The Nation and its Deviants: Sexuality, Science, and Fiction in Colonial India, 1880-1950


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This project rethinks the global historiography of sexuality by tracing the history of modern sexual subject-formation in India alongside anti-colonial scientific and literary nationalism. Histories of sexuality, pace Michel Foucault, have shown that sexuality was invented in Europe in the late nineteenth century by sexology, psychiatry, and biomedicine. This project argues that the “invention” of sexuality in its modular forms—the homosexual, the couple, the sexed child, and the hysteric—was underpinned by liberal understandings of autonomous personhood. In colonial India, however, the genres understood to produce the modern individual like auto/biography, novel, and history, and allied scientific genres like case study and questionnaire were seen as lacking, even as Indians self-consciously adopted them at the turn of the twentieth century. Assembling archives in English, Hindi, and Marathi, the project argues that an Indian grammar of sexuality emerged through contests over genres they were thought not to have due to their “collective” modes of expression.