Anxieties of distance. Codification in early colonial Bengal

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Historians of political thought tend to emphasize the continuous flow and transmission of concepts from one generation to the next, and from one place to another. Historians of Indian ideas suggest that India was governed with concepts imported from Europe. This article argues instead that the sense of rupture that British officials experienced, from both the intellectual history of Britain and Indian society, played a significant role in forming colonial political culture. It examines the practice of “Hindu” property law in late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Bengal. It suggests that the attempt to textualize and codify law in the 1810s and 1820s emerged from British doubts about their ability to construct viable forms of rule on the basis of existing intellectual and institutional traditions. The abstract and seemingly “utilitarian” tone of colonial political discourse was a practical response to British anxieties about their distance from Indian society. It was not a result of the “influence” of a particular school of British thinkers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7 - 23
Number of pages17
JournalModern Intellectual History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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