Imagining Economic Space in Colonial India

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This article argues that the process of imagination is moulded by the intersecting notions of space, time, and measurements. It shows that economic spaces are shaped by notions of particular space-time held by historical actors and by imaginations of their past and future fictional spaces. The case study of colonial period South Asia examines how financial accounting and other measurements were co-opted to give form to future ‘fictional’ expectations. South Asian economic spaces are shown to be the locus for control and dominance of future economic relationships which were visualised in particular ways by the colonial rulers.

A conclusion reached is that economic spaces are not just enclosed spaces within borders where economic activity occurs shaped by the dominant culture and economy of a state. The economic spaces in colonial India were sites of economic conflict and violence, where contesting notions of economic time collided, and where widely contrasting economic futures were imagined. Indian nationalists looked into the past to spur their imagination of a different future for India. In fact, the conflict or violence that was part of the recasting of India’s national economic space was not entirely between racial groups (European colonists and native Indians) or strictly between economic classes (bourgeoisie upper castes and proletariat lower castes). Contrary expectations amongst the nationalists themselves are apparent. The process of imagination reveals the ensemble of cultural, social and technical practices that actors use to in giving form to fictional expectations of the future and the spatialisation of economic spaces.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-128
JournalResearch in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2018


  • Colonial India
  • colonial imaginaries
  • Economic thought
  • Political Economy


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