Building on, yet defying and interrogating the subaltern studies paradigm for the understanding of South Asian history, this book re-examines some of its tacit assumptions and introduces the category of ‘white subalternity’.
Harald Fischer-Tine? explores, innovatively, the intersection of the various systems of differentiation and hierarchy in British India between 1780 and 1914 that neatly demarcated the rulers from the ruled. In examining the history of white non-elite groups such as European sailors, vagrants, criminals and prostitutes, and elite efforts to either ‘reclaim’ or hide them from the ‘native gaze’, this book challenges received ways of interpreting colonial rule. The study makes a strong case for understanding colonial power relations not in terms of a fixed ‘white-over-black’ contestation but rather as a situational, contextual and dynamic system. It argues that racial identity, including ‘colonial whiteness’ was a fluid category. It faced the constant threat of being undermined in the colony along the lines of class, gender and deviance—a result of complex stratifications within European society. Importantly, the study shows how the discourses and practices of the British ‘civilising mission’ in India bore striking similarity to the project of educating and disciplining the lower classes at home.
Drawing on a wealth of archival and published material, travelogues, autobiographies and an exclusive collection of insightful illustrations, this book combines cutting edge theoretical approaches with thorough empirical analyses. Fischer-Tine?’s innovative examining of race and class and his elegant and fluid style combine to make this an exceptional book, especially useful for anyone interested in the social and cultural history of British imperialism and in the history of colonial South Asia as a whole.
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