The entrance to the Department of History’s office in Sidney Smith Hall

Ritu Birla

Associate Professor

On Leave: January 1, 2020 to June 30, 2020

Office Location:  Sidney Smith Hall, Room 3056


Asian Institute, Munk School of Global Affairs


Ritu Birla is Associate Professor of History and Director of the Centre for South Asian Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto. Recognized for bringing the empirical study of Indian economy to current questions in social and political theory, her research has sought to build new conversations in the global study of capitalism and its forms of governing.

She is the author of Stages of Capital: Law, Culture and Market Governance in Late Colonial India (Duke University Press, 2009; Orient Blackswan India, 2010), winner of the 2010 Albion Book Prize from the North American Conference on British Studies. It highlights the worlds of Indian vernacular capitalisms in the context of the colonial legal regulation of the bazaar to chart the modern emergence of “the economy” as an abstract site of governance, name for “the public” and model for social relations.

Birla has published on themes such as the gendered social and legal imaginaries of economic modernity, from family, to trust to corporation; “embedded” value-systems in processes of economization and financialization; the culturalist discourses that accompany economic codings of the social; economy as a legal performative; non-western engagements with political and economic liberalism; and postcolonial intellectual history and theory. She is the co-editor, with Laura Bear (LSE) and Stine Simonsen Puri, (Copenhagen), of Speculation: India and Futures of Capitalism, with a foreword by Arjun Appadurai (Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and Middle East, Dec. 2015), a project that delves into the subcontinent to uncover practices that engage instabilities of value for profit and for survival in emerging markets. She is also co-editor, with Faisal Devji (Oxford) of Itineraries of Self-Rule: Essays on the Centenary of Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj, a special issue of Public Culture (23:2, Fall 2011) which engages Gandhi’s ethico-political concept of self-rule through a global intellectual history. She is currently working on two book projects, the first elaborating the history of neoliberal thought and governance via questions in the long history of India’s economic liberalization, entitled Neoliberalism and Empire, and the second, a history of global governance as market governance, as seen especially through interwar imperial relations.

Selected recent articles include “Speculation: Illicit and Complicit: Contract, Uncertainty, and Governmentality” Comparative Studies of South Asia Africa and Middle East 35:3 (Dec 2015); “Jurisprudence of Emergence: Neoliberalism and the Public as Market in India” in South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 38:3 (Fall 2015); “The Rule of Law and Economic Development: Global Scripts, Vernacular Translations” in Austin Sarat and Patricia Ewick eds., The Wiley Handbook of Law and Society (Wiley, 2015); “Maine (and Weber) Against the Grain: Towards a Postcolonial Genealogy of the Corporate Person,” Journal of Law and Society 40:1 (2013); “Law as Economy: Convention, Corporation, Currency” in the inaugural volume of the UC Irvine Law Review 1:3 (2012); “Performativity Between Logos and Nomos: Law, Temporality and the Non-Economic Analysis of Power,” Columbia Journal of Gender and Law (2011); and “Postcolonial Studies: Now that’s History” in Rosalind Morris, Ed., Can the Subaltern Speak?: Reflections on the History of an Idea, (Columbia, 2010).

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