How much should a country eat?

The past decade has seen a spurt in studies on consumption practices in contemporary South Asia as scholars seek to understand the expansion in the purchase and use of material goods accompanying globalization and the growth of the middle classes. However such research rests on a thin understanding of the past.

Towards a History of Consumption in South Asia, edited by Douglas E. Haynes, Abigail McGowan, Tirthankar Roy, Haruka Yanagisawa (respectively at Dartmouth College, the University of Vermont, the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Chiba University) examines new ways of conceptualizing consumption historically in South Asia through a series of case studies on different commodities and consuming groups.

[The book] argues that notwithstanding the widespread character of poverty and the absence of a mass consumer society, consumption practices and attitudes about consumption have been critical factors in the constitution of South Asian society, culture, and economy since the late eighteenth century. The introduction examines patterns and trends; outlines the subject and arguments; and points to ways in which the collection challenges and enriches existing understandings of the subcontinent and its past.

Individual essays examine the consumption of British manufactured goods in the early stages of colonialism and rural consumption patterns during periods of profound socio-economic change. They investigate the relationship between Indian craftsmanship and shifting consumer preferences; contra-dictory and ambivalent attitudes of urban groups toward material commodities; and new forms of public activity like shopping, theatre, and cinema. They also study the ‘social lives’ of particular goods as their uses were transformed during the course of the colonial period.

By exploring both demand for commodities and the articulation of identities through goods, this book sheds new light on class, gender relations, modernity, tradition, production, and exchange in South Asia. Going beyond traditional explanatory frameworks based strictly on colonialism or nationalism, it offers new interpretations of India’s past.

In our History and Culture sections, Rs 750, in Hardcover, 334 pages. ISBN: 9780198063643