A Measure of Value: Life, Land, and Agrarian Finance in South Asia, 1830-1950


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation tells the unknown history of how agrarian populations in South Asia have long been targeted as objects of financial experimentation and reveals the origins of agrarian finance as a project of governance from the late nineteenth century to the early postcolonial period. It brings the question of political economy as method to bear on how material processes inform the historically slippery questions of what value is and how it is created. Specifically, the dissertation examines the emergence of life insurance and credit instruments as financial tools for extracting value from the Indian countryside and their redeployment as a mechanism of state-directed development after 1947. Calling this process the “economization of life,” the project argues that it transformed social relations across South Asia and the wider British imperial world while producing new imaginaries of national sovereignty premised on both the actuarial and affective lives of South Asians.