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Business and Philanthropy in the Vernacular: Episodes from

Colonial Legal History

Prof. Ritu Birla, University of Toronto

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Date: 15th December 2010

Venue: Max Muller Bhavan, Kala Ghoda, Mumbai

Timing: 6.00 pm – 7.00 pm


About the Speaker

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, law and economy, and the cultural and intellectual history of modernity. 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 legal standardization of commercial and financial practice to tell new histories of law, capitalism, and market society in India. Noted for its innovative method and novel content, the book is the winner of the 2010 Albion Book Prize of the North American Conference on British Studies and has garnered applause in a broad array of academic journals, including the Business History Review (Harvard University Press), the Law and History Review (Cambridge University Press) and the Journal of Interdisciplinary History (MIT Press), among many others.


Professor Birla is currently involved in a range of conversations on law, economy and global culture, including the Asian Futures group at the University of Toronto, the Cultures of Finance research group at New York University, the Harvard University Workshop on Political Economy and the History of Modern Capitalism, and the Sister Cities Project of the award-winning journal Public Culture (Duke University Press). A special issue of Public Culture presenting new academic approaches to Gandhi's thought and global presence, edited by Birla and Dr. Faisal Devji of Oxford University, with a foreword by Professor Arjun Appadurai, will appear in Spring 2011. Birla received her BA in History and South Asian Studies summa cum laude from Columbia College, Columbia University. She holds a second BA and MA from Cambridge University, where she held a Euretta J. Kellett Fellowship, and a PhD from Columbia University.


Synopsis of the talk

In the late nineteenth century, the colonial regime in India sought aggressively to standardize market practice under the principles of contract law. Again and again, modernizers confronted the operations of vernacular Indian firms which were organized through bonds of family rather than the formal ties of contract. This lecture will highlight ways in which colonial market governance translated customary forms of trade and social welfare into its formal legal regime. Broadly, it uncovers new stories about the history of capitalism in India by examining the history of law.



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