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Mitra, Sarbajit (2024) Intoxicants and Hindu Subject Formation in Nineteenth-Century Bengal. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Restricted to Repository staff only until 14 February 2027.


The PhD dissertation traces the history of two categories of intoxicants, namely alcohol and opium, in nineteenth century Bengal. The dissertation contributes to the historical literature on intoxicants by concentrating on the colonial state’s attempt to regulate these intoxicants and on how the Hindu bhadrolok Bengali society responded to such exercises of governance. The dissertation argues that a study of these intoxicants could provide an interesting prism to understand how complex the process of subject formation was in the nineteenth century. The dissertation identifies two competing strands in this process, one led by the colonial state while the other crafted by the Bhadrolok elite. The dissertation argues that these two separate strands, despite their apparent conflicting nature, often operated within the same structures of logic and knowledge. The dissertation demonstrates how the formation of colonial knowledge, often purposefully and at times unwittingly, created a rationale for the consumption of these intoxicants in the subcontinent, thus facilitating the colonial state’s fiscal collections. The rationalisation of the consumption of opium and alcoholic liquor among the natives also reinforced the connections between race, bodily characteristics, and climate. The dissertation also focuses on the response of the colonised elite, in this instance epitomised by the Hindu Bengali bhadrolok. The reactions of the Bengali bhadrolok to the regulatory policies of the colonial state reveal an anxiety to reinstate control over the bodies of the natives. The contemporary Bengali elite discourses on intoxicants thus reflect a process of establishing hegemonic authority over society, which was felt over a wider range of social issues including gender relations, domesticity, caste, as well as religious identity.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Eleanor Newbigin
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 15 Mar 2024 11:50
Funders: Other

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