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Publication Detail
Indian Paperworlds: Indian Paperworlds: Clerical Practices, Material Culture and Spaces of Provincial Governance in Colonial Bengal
  • Publication Type:
    Conference presentation
  • Authors:
    Sengupta T
  • Date:
  • Name of Conference:
    A Wolrd of Architectural History
  • Conference place:
    The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, UK
  • Keywords:
    Architecture of colonial governance, Colonial architecture, colonial architecture South Asia, Architecture of Governance, Governmental architecture, architecture and material culture, Paper bureaucracy, architecture and bureaucracy
British colonial governance in India was fundamentally based, as analysed by the historian Christopher Bayly, on the extraction of Mughal administrative knowledge embodied within a Persianette Indian clerical class, its subsequent materialisation into official forms such as paper documents, and further, as shown more recently by Bhavani Ramani and Hayden Bellenoit, on a scribal clerical culture or ‘habitus’. A paper-centred culture of documentation, surveys and bureaucratic practices was also the hallmark of the early nineteenth century colonial government in Bengal (eastern India) that Jon Wilson identifies as one of the earliest modern states in the world. This paper focuses on the architectural, spatial and material culture of paper-bureaucracy associated with the provincial governance of colonial Bengal. It argues that such paper-based and writing-oriented habitus of colonial administration also mandated a chain of related materialities and spatialities – from paper records to specific types of furniture, rooms, spaces and architectures of colonial governance. Here, I look at the colonial cutcherry [office] complex which formed the nerve centre of zilla sadar [provincial administrative] towns of Bengal in the nineteenth century, analyzing in particular its ‘papered spaces’ such as record rooms and clerical offices. Paper became a key agent of colonial governance, not merely in itself, but also through the expanding spheres of its logic, which impacted on and permeated in a profound manner the material-spatial culture and ‘lifeworld’ of the cutcherry. I also reflect on how paper based material practices of colonial governance had to necessarily work in conjunction with and was often subverted by other, more immaterial and mobile circuits of information.
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