The Nomos of the Globe: Currency, Empire and Financialization

This lecture returns to themes in the history of British imperial finance via approaches from the new interdisciplinary history of capitalism. Informed by attention to historical processes of economization as well as to theorizing contemporary modes of financial profit and their social imaginaries, recent approaches have begun to examine infrastructures—legal, governmental, digital, material—of securitization and speculation, arguably the dominant mode of financial capitalism today. British India offers a deep site through which to historize shifts in the cultures, practices and political meanings of finance and its globality. To elaborate, I revisit a rich historiography on Indian currency and imperial sovereignty through new attention to financial governing and its forms of mediation.

Ritu Birla is Associate Professor of History at the University of Toronto and directs a research project in Global Governance, Economy and Society at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy there. She has previously held positions as the Richard Charles Lee Director of the Asian Institute at the Munk School, and before that, Director of the Asian Institute’s sub-unit, the Centre for South Asian Studies. Via India, her research addresses the global study of capitalism and its forms of governing, attending especially to its cultural codings and the making of entrepreneurial economic subjects. She is the author of Stages of Capital: Law, Culture and Market Governance in Late Colonial India (Duke University Press, 2009; Orient Blackswan India, 2010), cited for its foundational analysis of colonial law on markets, the imperial staging of the “public” as that modern abstraction we call “the economy” and the practices of “vernacular” kinship-based capitalism. Investigating the global circulation of ideas on economy, her writing has highlighted the legal fictions that animate capitalist modernity—from the family to the trust to the corporation—investigating law, culture and economy as gendered and mutually constitutive value-systems. She is currently completing a manuscript solicited by Duke University Press posing an imperial genealogy of contemporary neoliberal governing. Building on that work, her new research has turned to the dynamics of speculation and mediation in the production of value. She is on the Senior Editorial Board of the award-winning journal Public Culture (Duke University Press) and a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Capitalism: A Journal of History and Economics (University of Pennsylvania Press).

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