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'A Cultural Project'?

Dhirendra Datt Dangwal

By Sanjay Joshi
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 326, Rs. 795.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 9 September 2010

The role of the middle class in transforming India is being discussed and debated from the late 19th century. In the first two decades of Independence historians gave a lot of attention to the role of the middle class in the national movement, but from the 1970s the focus shifted to the peasants and subalterns. The focus has shifted again recently to the middle class in the rapidly globalizing world of the 21st century where India is being seen as an important economic player. The middle class is seen as a driving force in this so called economic rise of India. This collection of essays by Sanjay Joshi is a timely intervention to give a much needed impetus to the study of the middle class in colonial India. Joshi is right in suggesting that ‘We cannot write the history of colonial India without centrally engaging with the history of middle class’ (p. ivx). The wide range of themes covered in this volume shows diversity of scholarly interest in the middle class. This volume has been published under the series ‘Themes in Indian History’ which primarily focuses on historiographical trends on a particular theme. In line with the standard maintained by this series, this volume brings together nineteen high quality essays. Arranged in four sections these essays have been written over a long period of time covering more than a century, the oldest being that of 1888 and the latest 2009. Except the essay by Boria Majumdar, all others have been reproduced. The essays focus on the emergence and activities of the middle class. While many scholars treat the middle class as a ‘fully formed, sociologically bounded, category defined primarily by economic indicators’, to others it is constituted of the activities of its members. Joshi, basing his argument on works of E. P. Thompson, believes that any social class does not simply ‘emerge’ but is ‘made’. In line with his previous work (Fractured Modernity) Joshi suggests that the making of the middle class ‘was a project of self-fashioning’. He gives precedence to the ‘process stressing the agency of the middle class’ in its formation rather than to ‘objective factors’. To him the formation of the middle class was a ‘cultural project’. And this considerably influences his selection of essays for this volume. The middle class grew rapidly in the 19th century and effectively participated in the ‘public sphere’. Many associations and organizations were ...

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