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date: 23 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Political thought in colonial Bengal, starting in the second half of the nineteenth century, could plausibly be characterized as a debate about the social significance of labor. This chapter sketches a rough typology of the different characterizations of the relevance of labor to political thought in the region, distinguishing between (a) the discourse of poverty, in which labor is understood as a source of wealth, (b) the discourse of culture, in which labor is understood as a source of ethics, and (c) the discourse of property, in which labor is understood as a source of rights. The chapter argues that the centrality of the labor question to Bengali political thought in this period should be understood as a recognition of and response to the practical impossibility of imagining political futures without reference to the constraints and possibilities generated by capitalist social relations.

Keywords: Bengal, labor, poverty, culture, property, capitalism

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