The Biopolitics of Liberal Colonialism in India
The history of colonialism is generally associated with the authoritarian regimes of the sixteenth century that expanded their reign for the purpose of material aggrandizement. Problems arise, however, when colonial regimes espouse explicit concern for the welfare of the subject population. Through a reading of British colonial discourse on India, as represented by the Economist newspaper, John Stuart Mill, George Campbell, and John William Kaye, I argue that market capitalism was seen as the means by which ‘backward’ Indian subjects would be ‘improved.’ But this ‘civilizing mission’ exposed Indian society to unprecedented violence as the British sought to enforce its conformity to a system of proprietorship and commercial production. To explain the paradox inherent to liberal colonialism I will employ the concept of biopolitics as developed by Michel Foucault. Biopolitics explains how the prioritization of ‘life’ leads, not to peaceful existence, but to efforts to eliminate elements of human activity deemed inimical to the reproduction of the species. In colonial India this took the form of adjudicating subjects’ ability to adapt to, and create, the circumstances for industry to flourish, showing that at its core, British rule in India represented an assault on the indeterminacy of life itself.
Biopolitics, Liberal modernity, India, British empire, Political economy
Master of Arts (M.A.)