Thursday, June 19, 2014

Abstract Arun Kumar

Arun Kumar, Centre for Modern Indian Studies, Göttingen University

Histories of Miscalculation and the Politics of the Possible: The Reproduction and Production of Subjects in Colonial Industrial Schools
Inserted within the pages of contemporary accounts, yet mostly absent from the mainstream historiography are the histories of ‘industrial schools’ of colonial India; this paper is an exercise to uncover the records of these ‘absent institutions’ of educational and labour histories. Such industrial schools were set up by Christian missionaries, factory authorities and subsequently the colonial state to educate poor children who were deemed unfit for book-centred, “proper” schooling. This paper limits itself to the industrial and technical schools managed by the colonial authorities. As per the A. P. MacDonnell memorandum, forty-five industrial schools had already marked their presence with 1, 379 students and 4 schools of Arts with 655 students in British India by 1886. The number of industrial schools expanded as the requirement for skilled and docile labour grew in the labour market. The objective behind this joint venture of colonial officials and ‘native’ elites was to produce a modern disciplined, semi-skilled, and productive labour force out of unruly lower-caste artisans by dignifying manual labour. This further reinforced rather than erased social hierarchies. Industrial schools were envisaged as a space where the processes of social reproduction and material production would occurs simultaneously and within which economic productivity and manual labour was formulated as core. This process of reproduction and production was not constrained only by social and cultural inequalities but was also crucially shaped by the economic values of colonial political economy. However, reproduction and production processes did not always meet with grand success, as noted in the colonial state records. And these contradictory outcomes can be read as histories of subversions, failures and miscalculations. The contradictory outcomes provide a crucial entry point to enter this class reproduction debate from a different angle as these very institutional apparatuses could be subverted to produce very different end results by the actors involved. How to recover such a history from the dusty files of the archives is a crucial question, which concerns many historians. Colonial knowledge production on industrial and technical education is absent on the voices of pupils who attended these institutions and seems to be a confused, repetitive, and conflicted epistemic space. To recover the other side of story in order to unpack the categories of social and material reproduction, class and caste nexus, one has to look for alternative ways of doing history. How to reconfigure the presence of these voices and experiences in our histories? Reading histories of miscalculation opens up the possibility of a methodological procedure through which these absent voices and experiences can be recovered and interpreted to some extent. State formulates its policies with some calculations (as an experiment with some prospect of success). It is the failure of these policies that state records in order to measure its success or failure for future purpose, and these can be read as histories of miscalculations. These histories of miscalculations provide a glimpse of the other side of the story as part of its failure. This paper will be based on the reading of colonial records and contemporary writings.

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