Louis dumont Biography and Contributions

Louis Dumont was a French anthropologist, sociologist, and Indologist who was an outstanding person in the field of sociology and anthropology. He was determined and debated on India and the West. He studied different societies and did an inter-civilizational comparison. His father was an engineer and his grandfather was a painter. He acquired traits from both his father and grandfather. He had the creative imagination and had zeal in tactile.

louis dumont biography

Somewhere in the 1930’s under the surveillance of Marcel Mauss, Dumont began his academic career. Marcel was a great Sociologist and Sanskritist. Dumont’s studies were disturbed due to World War II. Later he was imprisoned and transferred to the factory somewhere on the outskirts in Hamburgh. There he continued his studies and studied German. Dumont also studied Sanskrit and spent one year in Tamil Nadu learning about PramalaiKallar. He spent a few years in India roaming and gathering knowledge from different parts of India. He visited Tamil Nadu and Gorakhpur. His main focus studies where on Hinduism, kinship, caste in ancient India and Sociopolitical movements of modern India. He also succeeded M.N Srinivas as a Lecturer at Oxford University in the field if Indian Sociology.

The contribution of Louis Dumont:

  1. Methodological perspective
  2. Caste system and Implication
  3. Pure and impure
  4. Varana system
  5. History, Politics, and religion in India
  6. Homo aequalis
  7. Criticism of Dumont


Dumont’s Homo Hierarcbicus here Homo Hierarcbicus means analyzing the caste hierarchy and hegemony nature of lower castes to which they follow the habits of higher castes. The Same concept was termed as Sanskritization by M.N Srinivas. Homo Hierarcbicus gives new ideas and visions of social structure in the caste system.

He thinks Indian civilization is the set of ideas and values used to unify. Indian civilization was seen to create unity. It was said that it was good against evil. It encouraged equality among one another.

Hierarchy played an important role in Dumont’s study of a caste system. Hierarchy meant to him conflict between pure and impure. In the caste system purity holds on the impure. The study of the caste system done by Dumont gave birth to many debates.

In the 1970’s somewhere Dumont’s study of caste system provoked interest in other scholars. He wanted to know the reason and ideology behind the caste system prevailing in India.

Caste system and its Implications:

In 1966 he produced a work named The Caste System and its Implications. It had a unique concept, pattern, and projection. It gives us a lot of information regarding caste. His work is different from others in the sense that it uses a cardinal explanatory way to the hierarchy to which it gives a whole new model.

In modern Indian society, the main concept is Equality, unlike earlier Indian society. Hierarchy helps to differentiate Indian society from earlier society. If an equalitarian system exists there also exists the group of people who are against it, mostly those people are against it in which they are on the disadvantageous side. If they are enjoying advantages they would support it and if it is not then they will oppose it. Individuals or groups of people who are placed low in the hierarchy are said to be disadvantageous and exploited by those who are placed on a higher level.

Caste System:

Louis was attracted and gave importance to the ideology behind the caste system. He analyzed caste by understanding all the characteristics of caste. This is why he was said to use the attributional approach. According to him, caste has a relationship with each other in terms of economy, political and kinship surviving by following certain values that are said to be religious.

He says that caste is a special type of inequality therefore sociologist have to understand its essence and solve it.

Louis Dumont on Three main characteristics of the caste system:

  1. There should be separation among different castes in terms of marriage and contact ( not even sharing of food)
  2. Division of labor, people can only depart certain professions and limitations were set.
  3. A range of status which arranges different groups differently some are superior and some are inferior

Louis Dumont on Concept of Pure and Impure:

While analyzing the pure and impure concept. Two questions arose in his mind why only Hierarchy groups face this distinction and if we talk in the perspective of Brahmin and untouchables then does this equally apply for division of society into a larger number of groups and then extremely subdividing it?

Brahmins were placed on the higher level and untouchables were placed lower in the hierarchy. Brahmins were considered pure and untouchables were considered impure. They were restricted to many works and to many places. They were not allowed to share food, enter temples and many more.

Dumont saw changes due to Gandhi and after the independence of India. Untouchability was then considered illegal.

Louis Dumont on Varna system:

When we talk about caste there also takes place Varna system. Dumont believed caste and Varna go hand in hand. Hindu follow Varna system in which four classes are listed 1) Brahmins places highest 2) Ksatriyas ( wariors) second highest 3) Vaishyas ( merchants) and lastly 4) Shudras (servants)

There comes one more category “untouchables” which is expelled out from these four classes and said to be impure.

According to Dumont castes that are placed on higher strata enjoy political, economical, social powers and the one which is placed at the bottom of the strata suffer the most and are exploited.

 Louis Dumont History, Politics and Religion:

In some of his work, he tried to explain that there is unity in the thought and practice of Hindus in regard to a few structural principles. He tried to make a single framework all about Hindu norms and thoughts in their diversities.

Points he gave importance were throughout his book were:

  1. India is a whole
  2. Here unity is much important than any ideas and values.
  3. In Hinduism caste is a basic institution.
  4. The concept of impure and pure is center to caste system.
  5. The notion of purity and impurity takes place because of Hierarchy and separation.
  6. Caste is seen as an embracing idea and power is given according to the status.
  7. In modern society, equality is a big notion, unlike Indian society which have Hierarchy.
  8. No revolutionary sociology exists.
  9. In today’s time India is more “organized” rather “structured”

Homo Aequalis: It was one of the most prominent works of Dumont. Here Dumont went back to West to understand and observe Western societies values and ideologies.  In his book he talks about two societies. First being Holistic Societies here the key ideas are social hierarchy and social conformity.

Secondly being Individualistic Societies here main ideas are equality among individuals but this society is less to be seen.

Criticism Dumont faced:

  1. Gupta says that Dumont’s understanding of the hierarchy of caste is not right.
  2. In some of his work, it shows that Dumont thinks the caste system in Indian society has not changed but in reality, it has changed over time.
  3. Bailey and Yogendra Singh that Dumont has left many key ideas in the sociology approach to provide into Sociology of Development.
  4. Dumont’s contradicting ideas of purity and impurity are not universal.
  5. Dumont left out many protest movements that took place in Indian history as he questioned the ideology behind the caste division.
  6. McKim Marriott opposed Homo Hierarchicus as he thinks it is all noted down from a textual perspective of social science.

After the criticism, he faced he still has given a lot to Indian Sociology. Dumont’s idea of Homo Hierarchicus is proved to be a marvelous contribution to Sociology.

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Hello, I am Samreen Sagheer pursuing Journalism and Mass Communication from Amity. I am an aspiring writer, ready to give my best. I like to keep things simple and straightforward just like my personality.