Colonialism and Social Identities in Flux

Rosalind O’Hanlon

in India and the British Empire

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199259885
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191744587 | DOI:

Series: Oxford History of the British Empire Companion Series

Colonialism and Social Identities in Flux

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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This chapter offers an overview of key long-term processes of social and economic change associated with the coming of colonialism in India, and stresses the regional contexts which played such a dynamic role in shaping the transformations that were being experienced. In addition to forces of demilitarization and ‘peasantization’, through which the colonial state worked to separate the military and agrarian spheres of India's rural societies, emphasis is placed on the growing divide between landed, commercial, and scribal power. Commercial communities developed their own specialist economic operations in the colonial environment, and distanced themselves from lordly and warrior elites. New classes of wealthy farmers prospered as the setting for commercial agriculture grew more favourable. Brahmans and other literate elites developed their power in the context of the colonial bureaucracy. In this setting, political power and social worth became much more tightly linked to the possession of land, capital and scribal skills than had been the case for much of the eighteenth century, and the social consequences of their absence incomparably harsher.

Keywords: caste; class; community; demilitarization; labour; language; identity; sedentarization; peasantization

Chapter.  13745 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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