Exchanging words and things: Vernacularisation of political economy in nineteenth-century Bengal

Research paper by Mitra, I.

Indexed on: 01 Dec '16Published on: 25 Nov '16Published in: The Indian economic and social history review


There have been quite a few significant studies on the relationship between political economy as a discipline and the modes of colonial governmentality in India, emphasising the contradictions that were perceived to exist between the universality of the discipline and the irreducible concreteness of local conditions. In this article, I shall try to argue that a nuanced study of these contradictions would require exploring the modalities of vernacularisation of the economic discipline in the colony. The central focus of this article will be at three Bengali textbooks of political economy, mostly inspired by the famous Irish educationist Richard Whately’s textbook for children. A close reading of these books will demonstrate how a modality of translation was operative in the second half of the nineteenth century where the equivalence between ‘illustrations’ from the original and translated texts produced curious displacements and defined the vernacular domain on the basis of an exchange-based sociality grounded in the notion of the family.