Interviews - Ritu Birla


Ritu Birla

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.