Ritu Birla talks to us about the Stages of Capital, the challenges of writing about political economy and culture, the archive of financial laws and her new work on legal fictions.
Ritu Birla is Associate Professor of History and Director of the Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Toronto. Recognized for bringing the empirical study of Indian economy to current questions in social and political theory, her research has sought especially to build new conversations in the global study of capitalism and its forms of governing. She is the author of Stages of Capital: Law, Culture and Market Governance in Late Colonial India (Duke University Press, 2009; Orient Blackswan India, 2010), winner of the 2010 Albion Book Prize from the North American Conference on British Studies, and recipient of reviews in journals as wide-ranging as The Journal of Interdisciplinary History; The Harvard Business History Review; Law, Culture and the Humanities; The Journal of Economic History; The Law and Society Review; The Times of India and Studi Culturali (Italian). Stages of Capital foregrounds the worlds of vernacular capitalism in the context of the colonial legal regulation of the bazaar to chart the modern emergence of "the economy" as an abstract site of governance, name for "the public" and model for social relations. With Faisal Devji, she has co-edited Itineraries of Self-Rule: Essays on the Centenary of Gandhi's Hind Swaraj, a special issue of the award-winning journal Public Culture. Based on conferences in Johannesburg and Mumbai,it reflects her interests in new paths for political/social theory via non-western engagements with economic and political liberalism. Birla has published on themes such as the gendered social imaginaries of economic modernity, from family, to trust to corporation; the culturalist and identitarian discourses that accompany economic codings of the social; the temporal and spatial staging of "embedded" value-systems; postcolonial intellectual history and theory; and economy as a legal performative. Selected recent articles include "Maine (and Weber) Against the Grain: Towards a Postcolonial Genealogy of the Corporate Person," Journal of Law and Society (2013); "Law as Economy: Convention, Corporation, Currency" in the inaugural volume of the UC Irvine Law Review (2012); "Performativity Between Logos and Nomos: Law, Temporality and the Non-Economic Analysis of Power" Columbia Journal of Gender and Law (2011); and "Postcolonial Studies: Now that's History" in Rosalind Morris, Ed. Can the Subaltern Speak?: Reflections on the History of an Idea, (Columbia, 2010). Birla is also actively involved in interdisciplinary, inter-area conversations: At Toronto's Asian Institute and Centre for South Asian Studies, she has been a founding member of the Markets and Modernities in Asia and the Asian Futures groups, addressing formations of capital in Asian sites as well as the contemporary speculative production of "Asia" itself. Recent representative examples of invited engagements include talks at Columbia Law School's symposium on Judith Butler's thought; the Institute for Global Law and Policy at Harvard Law School; the Harvard Program on the Study of Capitalism; The Columbia University Centre for Comparative Literature and Society's "Worlds of Capital" project; the New Economic History conference at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi; and the Godrej Archives Lecture in Mumbai, where she spoke on histories of philanthropy and public culture in India.
Rachel Sturman is a historian of modern South Asia and Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies at Bowdoin College. Her recent work has explored the contours of colonial legal and political economic thought in the governance of the family. Her first book, The Government of Social Life in Colonial India: Liberalism, Religious Law, and Women's Rights, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2012. A study of colonial Hindu law in practice, the book situates the systems of personal (religious) law within a broader framework of colonial liberal political economic thought and its legal and administrative imperatives. Her current project is a study of histories of manual labor since the late nineteenth century, focusing on vernacular as well as internationalist ideas of labor and human emancipation in colonial and post-colonial Bombay.
Professor Sturman's interests span the fields of law, labor, histories of human rights, political economy, intellectual history, gender & sexuality, and imperialism and colonialism. She has been a Fellow of the University of Michigan Society of Fellows, and a recipient of a Fulbright Senior Researcher Award.
Mitra Sharafi is a legal historian of South Asia and an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Law. She holds law degrees from Cambridge and Oxford and a doctorate in history from Princeton. Her book, Law and Identity in Colonial South Asia: Parsi Legal Culture, 1772-1947 is forthcoming in 2014 with Cambridge University Press "Studies in Legal History" series. It explores the legal culture of the Parsis or Zoroastrians of British India, an ethno-religious minority that was unusually invested in colonial law. Currently, Sharafi is at work on a project on medical jurisprudence in colonial India (including bloodstain analysis and poisoning). She is also writing a study of non-Europeans from across the British Empire who studied law at London's Inns of Court during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Since 2010, her South Asian Legal History Resources website has shared research guides and other tools for the historical study of law in South Asia.
Sharafi's research interests include South Asian legal history; the history of the legal profession; the history of colonialism; law and religion; law and minorities; legal consciousness; legal pluralism; and the history of science and medicine.
Iza Hussin is Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago. Her recent work has focussed upon the mobility of law and legal projects in empire, and upon the politics of Islamic law in both contemporary and colonial periods. Her book on the transformation of Islamic law and the Muslim state during British colonisation in India, Malaya and Egypt, The Politics of Islamic Law: Local Elites, Colonial Authority and the Making of the Muslim State, is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press. Her new research includes a collaborative project on Internet fatwa and a second book project on the mobility of law across the Indian Ocean arena.
Professor Hussin's work is based upon comparative, archival and textual research in Arabic, Malay and English texts across various sites of empire and legal transformation,. She has been a Fellow in Islamic Legal Studies at Harvard Law School and is a recipient of awards from the American Political Science Association and the International Convention of Asia Scholars.