Voluntary Institution Building in India
: An investigation of non-state interventions in Technical Education and Training, 1905-1958

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis provides a distinct framework to explore the voluntary interventions of non-state actors, and organisations and understand how they shaped the nature of technical education in local spaces, where the state’s (colonial and postcolonial) capacity, authority, and power was limited. This thesis argues that the practical voluntary initiatives of non-state actors formed a part of India’s broader voluntary institution building efforts. This focus allows us to re-evaluate Indian ideas and conceptions of the function of the state, and the role of non-state actors and organisations within this framework. Therefore, this thesis argues that development, whether during the colonial or postcolonial period, was not just about the institutions, power, and structures of the state, but also driven and shaped by voluntary non- state actors and organisations. Within this thesis this is explored through non-state interventions in shaping the nature of technical education through various case studies. Additionally, this thesis also outlines the broader developments that shaped the nature of technical education for non-elite Indians between 1905 and 1958.

This thesis argues that the provision of technical education by the colonial state was anchored in a narrow and functional framework. The provision of technical education was to produce the skilled labour that was critical to the political economy of the colonial state, such as the construction of public works infrastructure. This thesis argues that the introduction of technical education within colonial India was not accidental, it had definitive objectives, and became a ‘functional tool’ to further and consolidate forms of imperial sovereignty. This reveals a clear distinction between the state and non-state during the colonial period. On the one hand the imperial state pursued the provision of technical education on narrow and functional lines, which connected its provision to the consolidation of imperial control over the colonial environment; on the other hand, Indian actors demanded more of it, believing that technical education would stimulate, or at least facilitate economic and industrial development, and improve welfare standards amongst non-elite Indians. Crucially, as this thesis argues, the limited authority of the colonial state in local spaces created a space for Indian actors to establish and operate technical education schemes that satisfied this demand. It was these practical initiatives that were undertaken by indigenous non-state actors that this thesis argues formed a part of India’s wider voluntary institution building efforts that took root firmly in spaces beyond the structures, authority, and control of the state. As this thesis argues, these voluntary non-state efforts, were highly localised, and geographically scattered, and often owing to a lack of state financial assistance, were funded through public donations or subscriptions.

Up until the outbreak of the Second World War, this thesis argues that reluctance characterised the imperial state’s approach to establishing a permanent infrastructure of technical education at all levels across India, the development of its fragmentary provision was built from below, because of the intervention of non-state actors. Whilst the imperial state took on a more interventionist role during the Second World War to increase the provision of technical education in local spaces, as this thesis shows, this reflected its broader narrow and functional vision of education within the colonial environment; this intervention was geared only to skill Indian labour to produce increase wartime munitions production.

As we move from the colonial to the postcolonial period, this thesis argues that India’s voluntary institution building efforts transitioned independence. After independence this thesis argues that voluntarism became propelled by the postcolonial state as a tool of development and nation-building. Significantly, during the postcolonial period the state took on a more interventionist role and asserted greater levels of authority and control. This thesis argues that the interventionist nature of the postcolonial state can be explained as a realist response and acknowledgement of the state’s limited capacity to fulfil its developmental aspirations. Therefore, the postcolonial state’s move to emphasise collective voluntary participation was its attempt to overcome its limited capacity. This thesis shows that within this framework, technical education was used by the postcolonial state to skill non-elite Indians to transform them into useful, informed, and disciplined citizens of the nation.

However, despite greater levels of state (central and state-level) intervention, this thesis argues that non- state actors and organisations continued to have an important role in shaping the nature of technical education in local spaces, where the capacity, authority, and power of the state was limited. Like the colonial period, after independence, non-state efforts continued to emphasise the relationship between technical education and securing improvements in welfare standards in local spaces for non-elite Indians. Crucially, it was during the postcolonial period (after 1947) where we gain greater insight into the complex nature of the state and counter arguments of a ‘strong state.’ During the postcolonial period, due to the absence of effective state authority and control, this thesis shows how non-state actors were able to operate within the structures of the state, and yet retain authority and control over its initiatives because the overall authority of the state was limited.
Date of Award1 Nov 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJon Wilson (Supervisor) & David Edgerton (Supervisor)

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