South Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - From Desh to Desh: Contractual Commensurability across the Indian Ocean

Friday, July 6
10:20 AM - 11:50 AM
Location: Marigold, New Building

Gujarati and Arabic contracts circulated alongside each other in the Indian Ocean, connecting the commercial and intimate lives of people in and of western India, Oman, and East Africa in changing ways. Proceeding from a close and comparative analysis of these financial instruments, this paper charts their increasing commensurability during the final quarter of the nineteenth century. Indian Ocean instruments had long inscribed the shared valuations of people and things that facilitated entrustment across communal boundaries, but in the last decades of the nineteenth-century creditors and debtors adapted the formal properties of these documents to make them more negotiable and translatable. This paper locates these transformations in changing economic and intimate relations in and between Indian Ocean spaces; legal and socio-economic uncertainty precipitated by fluctuating global commodity markets and the expansion and consolidation of the British Empire encouraged traders from western India to both invest more deeply in commercial relations and property in East Africa and distance themselves from the obligations of ‘home’. Focusing on material cultures and moral economies of credit/debt, rather than culturally bounded trading networks, this paper interrogates ethnically or nationally determined understandings of financial expertise and commercial success. By examining adaptations within a dynamic regional space of obligation and entrustment, moreover, this paper challenges the teleologies of colonial/capitalist rupture.

Hollian Wint

Northwestern University, United States

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