Stages of Capital: Law, Culture, and Market Governance in Late Colonial India
Ritu Birla
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Between 1870 and 1930, the British regime in India implemented a barrage of commercial and contract laws directed at the “free” circulation of capital, including measures regulating companies, income tax, charitable gifting, and pension funds, and procedures distinguishing gambling from speculation and futures trading.

Ritu Birla argues that this understudied legal infrastructure institutionalized a new object of sovereign management – the market – and along with it, a colonial concept of the public. In jurisprudence, case law, and statutes, colonial market governance enforced an abstract vision of modern society as a public of exchanging, contracting actors free from the anachronistic constraints of indigenous culture.

Birla reveals how the categories of public and private infiltrated colonial commercial law, establishing distinct worlds for economic and cultural practice. This bifurcation was especially apparent in legal dilemmas concerning indigenous or “vernacular” capitalists, crucial engines of credit and production that operated through networks of extended kinship.

Posing the story of the Marwaris as an archive for reading the history law and capitalism together, Birla demonstrates how colonial law governed vernacular capitalists as rarefied cultural actors, so rendering them illegitimate as economic agents.

In Stages of Capital, Birla brings research on nonwestern capitalisms into conversation with postcolonial studies to illuminate the historical roots of India’s market society. Highlighting the cultural politics of market governance, the book is an unprecedented history of colonial commercial law, its legal fictions, and the formation of the modern economic subject in India.

Dr Ritu Birla is tenured Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Toronto.  Her research and writing brings expertise on modern India and colonialism, political and social theory, and legal and gender studies to questions in the global history of capitalism, the history of law and economy, and the cultural and intellectual history of modernity.  
Birla holds a BA in History and South Asian Studies (summa cum laude) from Columbia College, Columbia University, a second BA and MA from Cambridge University, where she held a Euretta J. Kellett Fellowship and a PhD in History from Columbia University.
Professor Birla is currently involved in a range of conversations on law, economy and global culture, including the Asian Futures Group at the Munk School for Global Affairs, University of Toronto, the Harvard Workshop on the Political Economy of Modern Capitalism, and the Sister Cities Project of the award-winning journal Public Culture (Duke University Press). A special issue of that journal presenting new academic approaches to Gandhi's thought and global presence, co-edited by Dr Birla and Dr Faisal Devji of Oxford University, will appear in Spring/Summer 2011.
Her new book, Stages of Capital: Law, Culture and Market Governance in Late Colonial India (Duke University Press, 2009; Orient BlackSwan, December 2010), uncovers the workings of colonial market governance and its distinctly new vision of Indian society as a market--as a public of exchanging, contracting economic actors.  
A history of the unprecedented colonial legal standardization of commercial and financial practice, and of the negotiations of indigenous or vernacular capitalists with this market governance, Stages of Capital unpacks the governmental reasoning that distinguished economic from cultural practice, speculation from gambling, and public investment from private interest.  
Noted for its groundbreaking method and content, the book is the winner of the 2010 Albion Book Prize of the North American Conference on British Studies, and has been applauded in a wide range of journals, including the Institute for Historical Research's (University of London) Reviews in History, the Business History Review (Harvard University Press), the Journal of Interdisciplinary History (MIT Press), The Law and History Review (Cambridge University Press), the Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History (Johns Hopkins University Press), Enterprise and Society (Oxford University Press), and the Italian journal Studi Culturali (Il Mulino), among others. 
Her recent articles have addressed the emergence of “culture” and “economy” as gendered categories of modern governing; the formation of the economic subject as precursor to the citizen; legal history and theory, especially the legal fictions of contract, kinship and group life; and history as critical practice.

Part 1 A Non-Negotiable Sovereignty? 
1. The Proper Swindle: Commercial and Financial Legislation of the 1880s
2. Capitalism's Idolatry: The Law of Charitable Trusts, Mortmain, and the Firm as Family, c. 1870-1920
3. For General Public Utility: Sovereignty, Philanthropy, and Market Governance, 1890-1920
Part 2 Negotiating Subjects 
4. Hedging Bets: Speculation, Gambling, and Market Ethics, 1890-1930
5. Economic Agents, Cultural Subjects: Gender, the Joint Family, and the Making of Capitalist Subjects, 1900-1940
Conclusion: Colonial Modernity and the Social Worlds of Capital


"Stages of Capital is a triumph of learned and nuanced interdisciplinarity. 'Stage' as temporal metaphor undoes the great narrative of universal capital. 'Stage' as spatial metaphor illuminates the culture of market governance and community in the colonial theater of South Asia. Richly theoretical, provocatively empirical-an indispensable book."

Columbia University

"Deeply rooted in precolonial pasts and yet somehow fully modern, family firms have remained an important but understudied feature of Indian capitalism. Ritu Birla's book breaks new ground by analyzing the legal and institutional debates that attended maneuvers by the British to manage and transform this institution into the modern capitalist enterprise. A sophisticated and original study of some critical cultural issues in the history of Indian economy, this book will interest all students of modern India."

DIPESH CHAKRABARTY, Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor of History, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, and the College,
University of Chicago

"This remarkable book shows that the history of colonial capitalisms need not, and cannot, be divorced from subtle changes in ideas of legal subjectivity, gender, and corporate risk taking as subjects of archivally based cultural analysis. Ritu Birla's story of the transformation of the Marwari business clans of northern and eastern India into giants of contemporary capitalism is both impeccably scholarly and resolutely post-Orientalist. This book is a must read for all those who sense that the mammoth global meltdown of this decade is powered by myriad regional an cultural capitalist trajectories."

ARJUN APPADURAI, Goddard Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication,
New York University

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