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Accepted Paper:

Gods and Capitalists: rebellion and enchantment in early 20th century tea plantations in colonial Bengal  

Author:

Prem Kumar Rajaram (Central European University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper studies capitalism's enchantments and fetishes, its concepts of meaning and value, and how some groups are excluded from these and rendered surplus. The colonial plantation economy sheds light on contemporary racialisations central to capitalism and how its enchantments exclude.

Paper long abstract:

In 1916 in Jalpaiguri district in the Duars region of colonial Bengal, tea estate managers reported a series of stop work protests and groups gathering at night to sing songs and chant verses calling on Kaiser Wilhelm to come and save them from the injustices of colonial and zamindari rule. The Oraons were a 'tribal group' brought to work the tea plantations of northeast India. A series of pseudo-millenarian movements had rent Oraon life since the early 20th century. Dismissed by colonial ethnographers as superstition engendered by German Lutheran missionaries, and disappearing in studies of capitalism and colonialism, these millenarian movements may be seen as attempts at re-enchantment. Capitalism in the colony and in the plantation both mobilised workers (in a literal sense, enabling their migration to where work was required) and immobilised them, containing them in restricted plantations and identifying them with reference to derogatory ethnographic characteristics. They were enchanted as productive labourers, and disenchanted as groups who did not deserve to take part in the fulness of capitalist enchantments. This paper studies the problem of capitalism's enchantments and fetishes, its concepts of meaning and value, and how some groups are excluded from these enchantments and rendered surplus. The colonial plantation economy sheds light on contemporary racialisations central to capitalism, and the exclusions of its enchantments.

Panel P033
Bringing race-making and class struggles in plantations and export industries back to the research agenda