SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Misra, Sanghamitra (2004) Spaces, borders, histories: Identity construction in colonial Goalpara (India). PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

PDF - Submitted Version
Download (12MB) | Preview


The thesis traces the construction of a regional identity in the historically transitional area of Goalpara, located on the western borders of the colonial province of Assam, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The relationship between the emergence of new concepts of political space and changes in the political economy informs this work, which begins with the entry of the colonial state into the region and its transition from an initially hesitant power, relying on the symbolic memory of previous empires, to a more confident and decisively interventionist one, dependent on rent collection and a centralized and effective apparatus of control. The second chapter locates the emergence of a cultural identity in a region of overlapping and multiple sovereignties, as new concepts of territoriality and sovereignty were imposed under colonial rule. It studies the subsequent displacement of indigenous concepts of space and the refashioning of social relationships between local groups. It explores the attempt at a construction of communities into singular, substantive entities in a region where, despite increasing sedenterisation, the adoption of sedentary or non-sedentary lifestyles was far from rigid and determined. Discussed here is the relationship between topography and politics. The narrative is then carried on to the third chapter, on the colonial state's determination of social and political space through the discourse of mapping and the creation of a centralized, integrated structure and system of social action, evident in the role of colonial law. The thesis does not argue for a seamless hegemony of the colonial state. Rather, it views colonial projects as being shaped in varied encounters with the colonised which involved a frequent circumvention and contestation of the state's claims to superiority. The significance of the autonomy and agency of the colonised becomes evident in history writing, a discourse of legitimacy used by both the colonial state and Assamese nationalism. The fourth chapter explores the ways in which the delimiting of different forms of space in the modern colonial district of Goalpara was both reinforced and resisted through the narrative structure of history. It recognises the role of history writing in the imagining of a 'Goalparia' identity and views such writing, which resisted singular narratives of Assamese nationalism, as discourses that always exist marginally in certain areas, challenging, destabilising and displacing the dominant discourses. The last chapter looks at similar resistance and imagining of a collective identity by Goalpara's traditional elite within the realm of language. The educated middle class who spoke in a rational and liberal voice offered better potential for political investment for the colonial state than the traditional powers but the framework of colonial law still allowed for a continuance of aspects of the 'old regime'. This chapter studies the concerns of this marginalised traditional elite and explores their reinvention of roles within the newly emerging and expanding public sphere, which centred around producing a political consciousness through a contest over the use of language.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:03

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item