The Great Agrarian Conquest
This book examines how, over colonial times, the diverse practices and customs of an existing rural universe – with its many forms of lifelihood – were reshaped to create a new agrarian world of settled farming. While focusing on Punjab, this pathbreaking analysis offers a broad argument about the workings of colonial power: the fantasy of imperialism, it says, is to make the universe afresh.
Such radical change, Bhattacharya shows, is as much conceptual as material. Agrarian colonisation was a process of creating spaces that conformed to the demands of colonial rule. It entailed establishing a regime of categories – tenancies, tenures, properties, habitations – and a framework of laws that made the change possible. Agrarian colonisation was in this sense a deep conquest.
Colonialism, the book suggests, has the power to revisualise and reorder social relations and bonds of community. It changes the world radically, even when it seeks to preserve elements of the old. The changes it brings about are simultaneously cultural, discursive, legal, linguistic, spatial, social, and economic. Moving from intent to action, concepts to practices, legal enactments to court battles, official discourses to folklore, this book explores the conflicted and dialogic nature of a transformative process.
By analysing this great conquest, and the often silent ways in which it unfolds, this book asks every historian to rethink the practice of writing agrarian history and reflect on the larger issues of doing history.
NEELADRI BHATTACHARYA taught at Jawaharlal Nehru University for forty-one years, from where he retired in 2017 as Professor of History. He has been a Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford, and has held visiting professorships in Europe, South Africa, and the USA.
From the reviews" It is a rare but exhilarating experience to realise, some way through reading a book, that you are holding what is destined to become a classic. This book is nothing less than a tour de force of the historian’s craft: making a profound point with analysis that is at once sweeping yet detailed, comprehensive and careful; filled with novel approaches and entertaining stories; and beautifully written throughout. But Neeladri Bhattacharya’s brilliant book provides much more than only historical insights: it opens up various terms, categories and analytical constructs that are regularly deployed in various social sciences, including in economics, politics and sociology, to generate a much more thoughtful and nuanced understanding of their origins and meanings"Jayati Ghosh, Economic and Political Review
"The Great Agrarian Conquest represents a massive intervention into the contemporary historiography of South Asia, elaborating upon some conventional wisdom but upending a great deal more of it. Readers might well place this book in conversation with works like Ranajit Guha’s A Rule of Property for Bengal (1963) and Bernard Cohn’s Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge (1997), to which The Great Agrarian Conquest owes some preliminary inspiration. Yet what Bhattacharya oﬀers is a wholly original account of the transformation to agrarian colonialism . . ." Benjamin Siegel, Social History
"Writing a nuanced and historically deep account of agrarian life while, simultaneously, never losing sight of the ideas that animate those who would shape that history, is exceptionally difficult. Neeladri Bhattacharya has done for the Punjab what Marc Bloch did for much of France, John Furnivall for Burma and Paul Gourou for Indochina, and William Cronon for colonial New England. The sweep and intellectual ambition of The Great Agrarian Conquest ensures that it will become a touchstone even for those who would nurse a divergent narrative" James C. Scott, Studies in History
"The importance of Bhattacharya’s book is difficult to overstate. It is a field-defining book for agrarian histories of colonised societies during the 19th century, when vast new regions and peoples were incorporated into a global capitalist system.” Tariq Ali, Asian Studies Review
Hedgehog and Fox series, copublished with Ashoka University
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