The Production of Colonial Legal Knowledge: Colonial Agency and Structures of Power in British India
The late 1980s and 1990s marked the proliferation of studies which vested colonialism with a singular directionality whereby colonial state institutions dictate discourses and ideologies, knowledge, policies and outcomes in colonial society. More recently, an alternative "revisionist" understanding of the formation and unfolding of colonialism is being proposed. Colonialism becomes an ever changing project of dialogical encounters between colonizers and colonized incorporating various agendas and diverse world views on both sides of the imperial divide. The decentring of the colonizer as the only active maker of colonial society ascribes a central role on non-European agency, especially in the production of colonial knowledge and the consolidation of colonial rule. This paper examines the production of colonial legal knowledge in India. It argues that the new historiographical accounts of colonialism undermine the asymmetrical power relations within which colonial knowledge is produced; they overlook the selective and eclectic appropriation and use of knowledge made available to colonizers by colonized subjects; and, they do not take into account the many instances indigenous knowledge is rejected as subversive and counter-productive to colonial rule.
Keywords: Colonial law, Colonial state, Hindu and Muslim Law, Property, Inheritance, Adoption, Courts, Administrative and religious elites
Dr Despina Iliopoulou
Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Saskatchewan