Caste, Class, and Culture

This ESRC-funded project (2013-2017) aims to carry out a comparative, socio-historical study of two large, highly significant, and yet understudied, Nepali groups, namely, the Bahuns (Brahmans) and Dalits (ex-Untouchables), the apex and base respectively of the traditional caste hierarchy. Hill Bahuns make up above 12% of the country’s population of 26.5 million, and hill Dalits about 8%. Bahuns are ostensibly the most successful group in Nepal, whereas Dalits are the most disadvantaged, excluded, and ‘backward’.
Caste, Class and Culture

Girls playing at a community school in Western Nepal.

Photo: Krishna Adhikari (2012)

As well as documenting recent history, this research project will analyse caste, class, and culture through a combination of sensitive ethnography and quantitative methods. It aims to examine in detail exactly how patterns of disadvantage and exclusion, on the one hand, and achievement and success, on the other, are produced and reproduced.

We hope to go beyond stereotypical or simplistic interpretations of the successes of some groups and lack of success of others. Methodologically, we hope to innovate by combining, as part of a single approach, the analysis of both successful and disadvantaged groups, rather than just focusing on the latter as is usually done. Such an approach should provide both analytical insights, co-produced with the community being studied, as well as important policy lessons.

Three major aspects of the study are:
1. documenting and analysing interconnected local socio-historical discourses, lived relations, and social changes;
2. documenting and analysing changing identities and discourses; 
3. examining the pathways of differential outcomes.

Furthermore, this study will examine cultural predispositions towards literacy, education, and professional success (or failure), and how such dispositions and outcomes are created and change over time, with particular reference to geographical mobility (migration). Aspects that will be included are: local social histories, cultural capital, social capital, local genealogies, caste relations and identities, education, employment, migration, social mobility, and social reproduction.

While the primary focus of the empirical study is the Bahun and Dalit population of the target villages, Chhetris and Gurungs, who are also present in the area, will be included in the survey and in some of the ethnographic work.

For further details, including the project's impact plan, please click here.

For a brief discussion of the project, in the context of a round table on the middle class in South Asia held at the LSE, click here.

For some publications from the project, click here.

Watch a lecture on ‘Dalits, Migration, and Intercaste Relations’, based on material from the project.


Field research area: Rural villages of Western Nepal and their migration destinations in Nepal (rural and urban; Mountain, Hill and Tarai), India, and the Middle East.

Principal InvestigatorProf David Gellner
Co-InvestigatorDr Krishna Adhikari


Women’s communal work group preparing a field for off-season vegetables in Western Nepal. Photo Krishna Adhikari

Women’s communal work group preparing a field for off-season vegetables in

Western Nepal. Photo Krishna Adhikari