My research looks into the evolution of everyday commercial and especially financial practices in northern India from the late 19th century onwards, combining historiographic and ethnographic approaches. The late colonial and early post-colonial periods in India are marked by wide-ranging market framing policies that delineated economic behaviour and dissected it into a range of binary categories – among others as “organized/unorganized”, “formal/informal”, “proper/improper”, or “capitalist/non-capitalist” – in an endeavour to “modernize” the Indian economy and strengthen development. In the process, significant economic segments and a large variety of commercial procedures prevalent across most of India were relegated to a sizable “grey” area of the Indian economy that has by and large been left beyond the reach of the Indian state as both regulator and registrar of economic transactions.
In turn, entrepreneurs engaged in these activities have resisted and evaded state regulations, and adapted economic procedures, especially to cope with the resulting inability to address the state as guarantor of contractual relations and trust. The resulting divergence between economic segments has mostly affected the poor, e.g. through the prevalence of highly (and increasingly) exploitative credit structures, but has also widened fissures within the Indian bourgeoisie in dissecting (typically) petty and small town capital from big (and often) metropolitan capital.
My research stay at IIAS is intended to enlarge the perspective of this project from its original focus on monetary markets by conducting research into the growing schism between economic procedures associated with “capitalist modernity” and economic segments that have often been portrayed as the “bazaar economy”. In particular, I am interested in looking into related developments in the Dutch colonial context in order to embed the Indian context into a larger framework of historical development in Asia and the Indian Ocean region.