Author's Roundtable 3: Ritu Birla, Stages of Capital

Thursday, November 19, 2009

posted under , , by Unit for Criticism
On Monday, November 16, the Unit for Criticism held the last of its Fall 2009 Author’s Roundtables on the first day of a historic strike for the University of Illinois and beyond. When we asked various student and faculty affiliates if they thought we should cancel the event, one student, John Claborn, replied that he thought that “the project of critical theory should continue unabated in the face of a work-action against the corporatized University” since such actions “are indebted to the spaces of critique opened up by groups” like the Unit. We wish to reply that the debt is, to say the least, a mutual one. We congratulate and thank the Graduate Employee Organization for their stirring example of courage, fortitude, principle, and pertinacity. In the months and years ahead, as the University of Illinois rebuilds its leadership, we hope that the GEO’s exemplary commitment to the core needs of teaching and research will serve as a model and inspiration.

In the focus of Monday’s roundtable, Stages of Capital: Law, Culture and Market Governance in Late Colonial India (Duke, 2009), Ritu Birla, associate professor of history at the University of Toronto in Canada, charts a new history of market society and the modern subject in India through the study of colonial governmentalities. The book describes how the standardization of the Indian economy—a transition from vernacular capitalisms to “the ideal of Indian Economic Man”—took the form of a “translation across hegemonies,” indigenous as well as colonial. Central to this process, was the growing distinction between a privatized and Orientalized realm of culture, on the one hand, and, on the other, the supposedly neutral and impersonal public realm of the modern market. Neither a celebration of “native” capitalist voices, nor a description merely of capitalist-imperial structures, Birla’s study shows us a different way of thinking through the history of globalization—an account in which the institution of the market actually creates the Indian capitalist through a process that sees colonial subjects negotiating, contesting and appropriating the new technologies of rule.

The Unit for Criticism invited three responses to the book (from Matt Hart in English, Zsuzsa Gille in Sociology, and James Warren in History) all of which we are pleased to published below. We are also pleased to feature a post from Guest Writer,Okla Elliott, a graduate student in Comparative Literature. And here is the rest of it.


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