Louis Charles Jean Dumont has been Directeur d'Etudes in the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris since 1955. From 1951 until 1955 he was Lecturer in Indian Sociology at the University of Oxford. He began field research in India—among a single Tamil-speaking caste—in 1949, when the post-war generation of Anglo-American anthropologists was undertaking fieldwork on Indian villages. He had been trained in indology, Sanskrit and Dravidian studies; reared in the heritage of French sociology descended from Emile Durkheim through Marcel Mauss; and influenced by those intellectual currents that later took the name of structuralism. Thus, his perspective on India was different from that of his colleagues in the English-speaking world, and the results of his research were initially puzzling to them. There is no doubt that his work is now increasingly well understood outside France, especially since the appearance in 1970 of an English translation of his Homo Hierarchies: An Essay on the Caste System, originally published in 1967 in Paris. However, a great deal of uncertainty about the meaning and significance of much of what Dumont has written continues to be expressed in both anthropology and Asian studies. This symposium was organized in the hope that aspects of his thought might be clarified for a wide scholarly audience and some assessment made of his contribution to comparative sociology.

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