In two papers published in 1991 and 2004, James G. Scoville analyzed the traditional Indian caste system using a matrix algebra format. Matrix algebra provides a simple way of expressing and analyzing large sets of equations involving numerous variables.
In these papers, Scoville employed a conceptual device called the Jajmani matrix. This matrix, denoted J, has as its elements the flows of goods or services produced by a household of one caste to households of other castes (as well as to itself). Thus, a farming household provides foodstuffs to the carpenter household based on a reciprocal flow of carpentry services; a barber provides haircuts to the washerman based on a reciprocal flow of laundry services. In practice, these transactions are highly complex, but J abstracts from all that complexity and measures (in theory) flows between typical households.
The system of reciprocal flows described is called the jajman system, from the Hindi word for patron. Hence the descriptive adjective is applied to the matrix: Jajmani.
The conceptual utility of the Jajmani matrix is to serve as a key tool in a social accounting framework for the exchange relations associated with the occupational hierarchy of the Hindu caste system. These output and income flows are built into an essentially classical economic model of the traditional Indian caste system. This accounting framework shows the flow of goods and services to a particular caste; one can then compare those flows with some vector of basic needs to see if those needs are met. If there is a surplus, a classical economist might expect that caste’s population to grow; a shortfall would cause that caste’s population to shrink. The mechanism by which caste populations adjust to surpluses or shortages compared to needs is argued to be through changes of marriage rules (age of marriage, number of children, widow remarriage practices). Scoville found some support for the predicted population effects in Indian Census data, and outlined these findings in his 2004 paper.
SEE ALSO Caste; Hierarchy; Inequality, Political; Stratification
Scoville, James G. 1991. Toward a Model of a Caste Labor Market. In Status Influences in Third World Labor Markets: Caste, Gender and Custom, ed. James G. Scoville. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
Scoville, James G. 2004. Discarding Facts: The Economics of Caste. Review of Development Economics 7 (August): 3.
James G. Scoville