Organizing Empire

Individualism, Collective Agency, and India

Organizing Empire

Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: 1 b&w photo Published: September 2003

Author: Purnima Bose

Asian Studies > South Asia, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Feminist Theory

Organizing Empire critically examines how concepts of individualism functioned to support and resist British imperialism in India. Through readings of British colonial and Indian nationalist narratives that emerged in parliamentary debates, popular colonial histories, newsletters, memoirs, biographies, and novels, Purnima Bose investigates the ramifications of reducing collective activism to individual intentions. Paying particular attention to the construction of gender, she shows that ideas of individualism rhetorically and theoretically bind colonials, feminists, nationalists, and neocolonials to one another. She demonstrates how reliance on ideas of the individual—as scapegoat or hero—enabled colonial and neocolonial powers to deny the violence that they perpetrated. At the same time, she shows how analyses of the role of the individual provide a window into the dynamics and limitations of state formations and feminist and nationalist resistance movements.

From a historically grounded, feminist perspective, Bose offers four case studies, each of which illuminates a distinct individualizing rhetorical strategy. She looks at the parliamentary debates on the Amritsar Massacre of 1919, in which several hundred unarmed Indian protesters were killed; Margaret Cousins’s firsthand account of feminist organizing in Ireland and India; Kalpana Dutt’s memoir of the Bengali terrorist movement of the 1930s, which was modeled in part on Irish anticolonial activity; and the popular histories generated by ex-colonial officials and their wives. Bringing to the fore the constraints that colonial domination placed upon agency and activism, Organizing Empire highlights the complexity of the multiple narratives that constitute British colonial history.


“A valuable addition to the ever-growing field of cultural studies. Well-documented and informative, it enhances our understanding of the discursive textuality of the colonial construction of power.” — Manish K. Thakur , South Asia Research

"Organizing Empire . . . serves to reveal the ideas of postcolonialism and to provide a bridge . . . over the immense divide that has developed between so much of contemporary literary studies and the discipline of history." — Terry Crowley, Canadian Journal of History

"A dense, thoughtful book about individualism and group identity in the colonial era and in the formation of Indian nationalism." — Foreign Affairs

"An interesting and useful contribution to the field of postcolonial studies." — Nayantara Pothen , Asian Studies Review

"Bose is strongest when, through careful research, she demonstrates sites where subaltern knowledge and agency have been elided in the narratives she examines. . . . Subaltern knowledge is that which elites cannot hear because the very structures of their knowledge, such as narrative form, cannot contain them. That Bose is attentive to the effects of this disconnect makes Organizing Empire so compelling." — Laura Winkiel , NWSA Journal

"Bose's multi-sited research lays rich new grounds for complicating issues of documentation and representation as she questions the means by which various agents of struggle can or cannot be recognized within elite-imperial narratives. Bose's Organizing Empire undoubtedly enriches potential sites for postcolonial work, while reconfiguring the geopolitical and historical scopes of subaltern studies." — Lucienne Loh , Interventions

"One of the most noteworthy achievements . . . of the book . . . is the attention that it devotes to the traffic between the different colonies of the British empire, especially Ireland and India. . . . Bose's analysis . . . is assured and persuasive. . . . A sober and useful contribution to studies of empire." — Parama Roy, American Historical Review

"The outpouring of works in the field of what is called post-colonial studies has, over the last few years, substantially enriched our knowledge of the British Raj in India and the nationalist movement that eventually toppled it. Purnima Bose's book is a worth addition to their number. . . . Organizing Empire offers an array of suggestive insights into the lives of those who lived and worked within the Indian Empire." — Thomas R. Metcalf , International History Review

Organizing Empire is an excellent discussion of colonial subjectivities and, in particular, how concepts of individualism and collectivity form a binary that is used by both colonial power structures and anticolonial formations.” — Inderpal Grewal, author of Home and Harem: Nation, Gender, Empire and the Cultures of Travel

Organizing Empire makes an important contribution to postcolonial theory. Through her theorization of individualism, Purnima Bose opens up in compelling ways the counterpossibilities of collective agency and helps move the discussion of anticolonial resistance from a generalized ‘subject’ to the analysis of specific conjunctures of resistant practice.” — David Lloyd, author of Ireland after History


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Purnima Bose is Associate Professor of English at Indiana University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. Rogue-Colonial Individualism: General Dyer, Colonial Masculinity, Intentionality, and the Amritsar Massacre 29

2. Feminist-Nationalist Individualism: Margaret Cousins, Activism, and Witnessing 74

3. Heroic-Nationalist Individualism: Kalpana Dutt, Gender, and the Bengali "Terrorist" Movement 128

4. Heroic-Colonial Individualism: Raj Nostalgia and the Recuperation of Colonial History 169

Notes 223

Bibliography 251

Index 265
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2768-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2759-2
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