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Accepted Paper:

Unweaving the impact of colonialism on Indian cotton  
Soumithri Mamidipudi

Paper short abstract:

Colonialist exploitation of cotton in India was an extractive process that warped local methods to suit its needs. These changes to the diversity of traditions in farming, spinning, dyeing, and weaving persist in today's globalised production. We present and theorise some of this history.

Paper long abstract:

Export pressures do not simply incentivise local communities into producing in ways that suit remote needs, but also actively harm ways of production that prefer to remain local (Goldsmith 2014). Cotton prices move in tandem with financial markets but do not reflect constraints faced by farmers or artisans. As a result, artisans who require cotton in order to practice their craft do not find themselves able to charge proportionately more for their products when their input costs rise.

Cotton was key to colonialist exploitation in India (Logan 1958). In order to make exploitation more efficient, traditions of cotton farming and textile production were made to suit British manufacturing rather than local constraints (Riello 2013). Such changes included making indigo dye into solid cakes rather than liquid paste, baling cotton to better transport it to England, and preventing weavers from accessing yarn. These changes persist, if through new inferiorities, in today’s modern world. Baling technology has become more efficient, indigenous cotton varieties are abandoned in favour of a standardised American BT crop, and yarn is spun in cone - rather than hank - form to better suit electrically powered looms. All these changes benefit the highly capital-dependent Western production that does not value local knowledge or skill.

In this way, the driving force behind British exploitation of Indian cotton remains intact, as does the eventual result of such exploitation. Correct understanding of how exactly such exploitation has persisted in today’s world is key to unmaking them.

Panel P08
The colonial roots of commodity dependence
  Session 4 Thursday 27 June, 2024, -