The Discourse of Colonial Enterprise and Its Representation of the Other Through the Expanded Cultural Critique

  • Reena Dube
Chapter
Part of the Language, Discourse, Society book series (LDS)

Abstract

Within colonial capitalism it is not just wealth, raw materials, and trade balance that shifts from the periphery to the centre. This shift is preceded, accompanied, and followed by a powerful and pervasive discourse event. I name this discourse event “British colonial enterprise” and its binary half “the discursive devaluation of native labour and culture.”1 Colonial historiography and literature mark this discourse event by inscribing into language the supra-valuation of British colonial enterprise and the devaluation of native culture and work practices. The supra-valuation of enterprise is made possible through making indigenous work and play appear inherently unproductive and valueless. Enterprise depends on the following binary oppositions: colonial enterprise names the industriousness and productive labour of empire building; it is a discourse that represents itself as primarily oriented towards work, even play within enterprise is oriented towards work and is a means of learning the rules of work; the binary half of the discourse is indigenous work and play, described as wasteful and unproductive exercises in valueless activity. The discourse of enterprise designates indigenous work habits, cast of mind, physiognomy, habits of work and play as primitive, childish, and pre-modern.2

Keywords

Burning Migration Corn Dust Europe 

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Notes

  1. 3.
    My choice of the Defoe text, as well as my locating the colonial capitalist discourses of labour in the English Enlightenment is influenced by Marx’s brief but intriguing interpretation of Defoe’s Crusoe. Marx says: “All the relations between Robinson and these objects that form his self-created wealth are here so simple and transparent … And yet those relations contain all the essential determinants of value” (Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. I, intro. Ernest Mandel, trans. Ben Fowkes [1977] 170). In the Grundrisse Marx coins the word “Robinsonades” which for him means utopias along the lines of Robinson Crusoe. He says: The individual and isolated hunter and fisherman, with whom Smith and Ricardo begin, belongs among the unimaginative conceits of the eighteenth-century Robinsonades, which in no way express merely a reaction against over-sophistication and a return to a misunderstood natural life, as cultural historians imagine. As little as Rousseau’s Contrat social, which brings naturally independent, autonomous subjects into relation and connection by contract, rests on such naturalism. This is the semblance, the merely aesthetic semblance, of the Robinsonades, great and small. It is, rather, the anticipation of “civil society”, in preparation since the sixteenth century and making giant strides towards maturity in the eighteenth. In this society of free competition, the individual appears detached from the natural bonds etc. which in earlier historical periods make him the accessory of a definite and limited human conglomerate. Smith and Ricardo still stand with both feet on the shoulders of the eighteenth-century prophets, in whose imaginations this eighteenth-century individual – the product on the one side of the dissolution of the feudal forms of society, on the other side of the new forces of production developed since the sixteenth century – appears as an ideal, whose existence they project into the past. Not as a historic result but as history’s point of departure. (Karl Marx, Grundrisse Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy, trans. and Foreword, Martin Nicolaus [1973] 83)Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    All the quotations from Robinson Crusoe are from Daniel Defoe’s, The Life and Strange and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719) An Authoritative Text/Backgrounds/Sources/Criticism, ed. Michael Shinagel (1975) 58.Google Scholar
  3. 18.
    I refer to one of my chief influences, Ranajit Guha’s, A Rule of Property for Bengal: An Essay on the Idea of Permanent Settlement (1963). Guha has consistently pointed to the Enlightenment as an important watershed of European ideas, discourses, and philosophies for the making of Britain’s colonial capitalism in India. While he studies the eighteenth-century physiocrats, I use a text that has become part of the colonial imagination, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, because it became part of the European imagination, giving rise to multiple variants and reinventions of the ur-narrative of the “man on the island.”Google Scholar
  4. 24.
    John Bowring, A Visit to the Philippine Island (1859) cited in Syed H. Alatas, The Myth of the Lazy Native, op. cit., 59.Google Scholar
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  6. 35.
    Interestingly the two sites, Bengal and Awadh, are also linked by way of military history and resistance. Not only were the Company’s Bengal regiments primarily composed of men from Awadh, the 1857 armed resistance (variously termed the Mutiny, Rebellion or First War of Independence) by the sepoys of the Company began in the Bengal stations of Berhampore and Barrackpore. For a full account of events see John Pemble, The Raj, the Indian Mutiny and the Kingdom of Oudh 1801–1859 (1977) 165–248. Earlier in the 1764 Battle of Buxar fought by Shuja-ud-daula, then Nawab of Awadh, he led the combined forces of Shah Alam (the fugitive Mughal Emperor of Delhi) as well as Mir Quasim (the nawab of Bengal after Mir Jafar). One of the objectives of the Battle of Buxar was to restore the territories of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa to Mir Quasim. When the combined forces of Shuja-ud-daula lost the battle, and he was again repulsed in the Battle of Kara where he fought the Company forces with the help of the Marathas, he entered into treaty in 1765 with the Company whereby the nawabi of Awadh was restored to him on the payment of fifty lakh rupees to the Company as compensation. At the same time, Governor-General Clive also negotiated a treaty with Emperor Shah Alam, the Treaty of Allahabad (1765) by which the diwani of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa was granted to the Company by the Mughal Emperor, and the nawabs of Bengal became the titular rulers of Bengal. It was the beginning in Bengal of the dual government, a strategy that the Company was to follow later in Awadh. Through the friendship treaty of 1801 half of Awadh became Ceeded Territories under Company rule. On the Battle of Buxar, seeGoogle Scholar
  7. Surendra Mohan, Awadh under the Nawabs (1997) 98–128. For a detailed account of Awadh and Company relationsGoogle Scholar
  8. Richard B. Barnett, North India Between Empires: Awadh, the Mughals, and the British, 1720–1801 (1980);Google Scholar
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  10. 36.
    James Mill, The History of British India, intro. William Thomas (1975) 478.Google Scholar
  11. 38.
    Historians have widely accepted the fact that land as private property was not a prevalent concept in pre-British India. See Irfan Habib, The Agrarian System of Mughal India (1963);Google Scholar
  12. Asiya Siddiqi, Agrarian Change in a Northern Indian State Uttar Pradesh 1819–1833 (1973);Google Scholar
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  16. 42.
    Chattrapati Singh notes: It is evident that till the end of the last century and in all historical periods before that, at least 80 per cent of India’s natural resources were common property, with only 20 per cent being utilised. … This extensive common property has provided the resource base for a non-cash, non-market economy. A whole range of necessary resources has been freely available to the people. Thus commonly available wood, shrubs and cowdung have been utilised for cooking and heating; mud, bamboo and palm leaves for housing, wild grass and shrubs as animal fodder, and a variety of fruits and vegetables as food. (Chattrapati Singh, Common Property and Common Poverty [1985] 2)Google Scholar
  17. 43.
    Samir Amin, Unequal Development: An Essay on the Social Formations of Peripheral Capitalism, trans. Brian Pearce (1976).Google Scholar
  18. 46.
    In contemporary ecological debates in India, wastelands and common property resources (land, water, air, and forests) have become a major political issue. The scholarly, historical debates centre around the colonial British definition that designate common property resources as wastelands because they did not generate revenue for the colonial government, regardless of their value as a common subsistence resource for the poor, local population. The postcolonial state inherits from its colonial past a range of persuasive/coercive strategies that continue to disinherit the poor from their traditional homelands by turning them into ecological refugees by privatizing the ownership of commons for the purpose of “development” and “progress.” This development has been characterized as enriching a very small segment of the population and creating poverty for the rest. The most recent examples of this struggle between the government and the people is to be witnessed in the political, legal battle that is being fought against the building of the Sardar Sarovar dam(s) in the Narmada Valley. See Arundhati Roy, The Cost of Living (1999); Vinay Krishin Gidwani, “ ‘Waste’ and the Permanent Settlement in Bengal,” Economic and Political Weekly (25 Jan. (1992) PE 39–46; S. Jodha, “Waste Lands Management in India Myths, Motives and Mechanisms,” Economic and Political Weekly (5 Feb. 2000) PE 466–473;Google Scholar
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  20. 48.
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  22. 54.
    Tarashankar Banerji, “Jalsaghar” in Noon in Calcutta: Short Stories from Bengal, ed. Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson (1992).Google Scholar
  23. 57.
    Ben Nyce, Satyajit Ray: A Study of His Films (1988) 49.Google Scholar
  24. 59.
    Ray’s description of the function of music in the last jalsa is interesting: “that was the high point of the film, where music comes into the foreground almost” (ibid., 116–117). Interview with Satyajit Ray by Dhritiman Chatterjee, “Towards an Invisible Soundtrack?”, Cinema Vision India, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Oct. 1980) 16.Google Scholar
  25. 61.
    According to John Pemble, “in 1856 the British were averse to repeating the experiment of 1793” (146). He suggests that the failure of the Permanent Settlement in Bengal was followed by the discovery of the village coparcenary communities of north-western India which came to be regarded by the British as the “missing key,” the ignorance of which had led them to misrecognize the zemindars of Bengal as the English freeholder when in fact they were “the modern and alien phenomenon . .. thrown up by the distorting convulsions of the Mughal empire’s death throes” (147). Thus began a short-lived romance of British district officials like Martin Gubbins, Sleeman, and Outram with the authentic unit of Indian rural society, “the coparcenary village, immutable and primordial” (ibid.). In this they were again wrong of course. But by following an official policy based on an oversimplified understanding of the relationship between the two British officials villified and punished the taluqdars through rack-rents and championed the cause of small village shareholders. This policy led, according to Pemble, to the destabilizing of the Awadh countryside and the banding together of the taluqdars and the small shareholdes and peasants in the events of 1857. See J. Pemble, op. cit. (1977) 119–164. For an informed and historical account of the revenue arrangements and policies of the British in Awadh see Imtiaz Husain, Land Revenue Policy in North India the Ceded & Conquered Provinces, 1801–33 (1967).Google Scholar
  26. 64.
    W. H. Sleeman, Sleeman in Oude: An Abridgement of W.H. Sleeman’s Journey Through the Kingdom of Oude in 1849–50 (1858), ed. and intro. P. D. Reeves (1971).Google Scholar
  27. 65.
    Bishop Heber, Narrative of a Journey through the Upper Provinces of India (1828) in Selections from Heber’s Journal, ed. M. A. Laird (1977) 172, 182.Google Scholar
  28. 66.
    For an almost contemporaneous account of this cultural renaissance, see Abdul Halim Sharar, Lucknow: Last Phase of an Oriental Culture, trans. and ed. E. S. Harcourt and Fakhir Hussain (1976); for more contemporary evaluations of Awadh as a composite Hindu–Muslim culture, see Surendra Mohan, op. cit. (1997);Google Scholar
  29. Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, “Lucknow, City of Dreams” in Lucknow: Memories of a City, ed. Violette Graff (1997) 49–66; andGoogle Scholar
  30. Amaresh Misra, Lucknow: Fire of Grace (1998).Google Scholar
  31. 67.
    Robinson, ed., The Chess Players and Other Screenplays (1989) 18.Google Scholar

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© Reena Dube 2005

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  • Reena Dube

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