Reply To: 1. Mon 3 Feb: Course intro & India and the Environmental History of Imperialism

Start Forums Courses Current Debates and Themes in Global Environmental History 1. Mon 3 Feb: Course intro & India and the Environmental History of Imperialism Reply To: 1. Mon 3 Feb: Course intro & India and the Environmental History of Imperialism

Author Replies # Posted on February 5, 2014 at 12:03

Reply to Michael Deflorian’s reflection

For the sake of clarity I will follow the tripartite structure that Michael himself employs in his reflection. He addresses three crucial issues that emerge after reading Cederlöf’s text and are well worth of further scholarly attention and debate.
In the first paragraph the bureaucratic categorization of nature and people and possible further reflection of the bureaucratic practices employed in north-eastern Bengal by the EIC along foucauldian lines of thought are proposed; however, contrary to Michael I am not surprised that a foucauldian theoretical apparatus is missing in Cederlöf’s text, since I think that we have to keep in mind that we are dealing with a pioneering *historical* account that tackles massive amounts of legal texts. Of course, various approaches might be applied, among them a deconstructive approach to legal texts; but that is beyond the aim of Cederlöf’s text. Though, I agree that applying Foucault’s theory of governmentality might have merit, but on the other hand, I think we first have to question to what an extent the aim of a mercantile bureaucratic apparatus can be explained with the concept of governmentality, since the EIC could not really penetrate the social network through the land classification system and indeed it seemed as if they did not concern themselves much with that. In fact, the majority of population were excluded from the highly abstract revenue system, precisely because the EIC avoided getting too enmeshed in property rights, because that would inevitably bring the real, concrete governed bodies into play. Also, there was no homogenous tendency or goal of the bureaucratic governance, in contrast to modern modes of governing that aim to homogenize and disciplinize bodies.
In Michael’s second paragraph the blatant discrepancy between the land revenue system and the ecological conditions is criticized as being anthropocentric; I have to argue that this is a bit careless use of the word, since it probably has more to do with bureaucratic practices the officers were acquainted with. They were moulded to the geographical and ecological conditions of a temperate climate and also keep in mind the cadastral origin of European bureaucracy, which explains the seemingly arbitrary separation of forested land from cultivated land. Also, the original Chakrabarty’s quote might have been beneficient, since the jump from Stalin to Collingwood is not that self-evident and it also sounds like name-dropping. Why are these two figures influential and relevant to our subject?
Third paragraph questions the rigid view of natural phenomena serving as political borders; again such a maneuver seems completely out of place in a landscape that shifts drastically in a span of few months. The EIC officers’ frustration with landscape’s noncooperative traits truly is amusing and to know that their confused foot steps created a political reality and a modern valid border points makes me wonder what chaotic bifurcations in history are at work.
All in all, a good reflection that made me think and also come up with a few new ideas on my own. So, thank you Michael.