ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Random Selection in Agrarian History

happy to see the category of experience rescued from its precipitate ejection by post- structuralist theory, its effective theorisation requires a more active engagement with the relevant historical context of contemporary India and Tamil Nadu. The notion of 'conjuncturalism' offered in the book as a way of dealing with interactive global cultural processes does not quite address the site of fieId work/home work in India as a sociopolitical location constituted by intellectual and political engagements. There is something abstract about the brief discussion of nationalism, the family and marriage that is offered; moreover, the very plausibility and ordinariness of the problems Visweswaran encountered get crowded out in the process. Thus, for instance, the fact that one of the women she interviewed, Uma, did not reveal to Visweswaran that she had been a child widow (which was betrayed to the author by Uma's friend and co-nationalist Janaki) seems quite understandable, considering the over-determined status of the 'widow' ever since social reform movements produced her as the emblematic figure most in need of redemption. I am therefore unclear what to make of Visweswaran's claim that the family does not change during nationalism (p 57). In different parts of India south and north the family changed intensely, if under complex patriarchal and colonial THIS book contains a selection of essays on agrarian history of colonial India, presented with a well-written introduction on the evolution of the discipline, and with a useful and comprehensive annotated bibliography. The essays themselves are taken from works well known in the field, and arc deservedly reprinted, Beyond a shared concern in 'commercialisation'of agriculture in a loose sense, there is little in common among the essays, as one can guess from the book's generous all-inclusive title. Some, in fact, are more about regions than about agriculture. The detailed themes include: rise of commodity production (B B Chaudhuri on Bengal, A Satyanarayana on coastal Andhra), production and exchange relations (Sugata Bose on Bengal, TC A Raghavan on central India, Shahid Amin on eastern UP sugarcane), migrant labour (Crispin Bates on central India), and explanations of eco-nomic growth or stagnation (Eric Stokes on UP, Vasant conditions that precluded 'autonomous struggle' by women. (For instance, the breakup and transformation of the Namboodiri- Nair alliance in Kerala under the pressures, amongst other things, of the nationalist ideology of conjugality, may not even be the most dramatic historical example one could cite.) Given the crucial importance of regional, as well as caste/class/gender difference (which is another way of saying that the very shape caste, class and gender issues take are fundamentally affected by regional considerations), one must also pause before applying an essay such as Partha Chatterjee's 'Nationalist Resolution of the Women's Question' without any mediations: Can an analysis of 19th century Bengal speak directly to 20th century Tamil Nadu? I have raised these doubts in order to point ahead to the fuller exploration of questions of the family, marriage, social reform and agency for women during Tamil nationalism that Visweswaran's present book leads us to expect. Having overturned the orthodox anthropological requirement of writing a monograph before venturing into the essay, there is no telling just what may lie in store, when so much of the western ethnographic structure has broken down. Given Visweswaran's accountability to multiple audiences, and her recognition that such an accountability may require different acccounts, we are not likely to be disappointed.

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