Changing places: the rule of law in British India: a proposal

Steller, Verena

In the nineteenth century, Free Trade played a crucial role in Victorian visions of global order and was of paramount importance for the self-perception of Britishness. The implementation of Free Trade with its core conceptions of liberty and justice did not render state intervention redundant. On the contrary, it became a crucial part of British jurisdiction and concepts of governance in the British colonies. In fact, Free Trade and the Rule of Law evolved side-by-side, as competing principles. The research project focuses on the tension between these two conceptions. It proposes to analyze two forums of justification: The first is the arena of local Indian courtrooms of the Raj. Here, conflicts of normative orders that implied moral, legal and religious pluralism occurred on a regular basis. In this forum, experiences of (in)justice might be articulated and laws of difference be negotiated. How were the (legal) subject and subjectivity, the individual and identity formed in this arena? Secondly, questions about the legal validity and legitimacy of law vis-à-vis the colonial rule provoked 'scandals of Empire', i.e. major discursive events, in the British public about law and justice, justification and Britishness. The project is interested in the impact of these debates: In how far did they not only affect the transformation of the legal order in India, but also the style of legal reasoning in Britain? By linking these two forums of justification, this research project strives to bridge the gap between ideas and cultural practice, text and practice and to mediate between oftentimes opposed conceptions of discourse and action theory.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Published Here
January 26, 2011


Presented at the Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference on the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa, Columbia University, April 15-17, 2010.