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Open Access Publications from the University of California

'The State in Disguise of a Merchant': Extractive Administration in British India, 1784-1834


An argument in state formation theory—particularly the development of the state's fiscal infrastructure—holds that the form of a state's administration is shaped by rulers' attempts to maximize resource extraction as constrained by local social structure. This view, however, does not adequately account for the variation in administration in British colonial India ca. 1784-1834. The British developed at least two systems for extracting land revenue. To account for this variation, I offer an approach derived from pragmatist theories of action which emphasizes contingent administrative development and fluid standards adjudicating between competing models of rule. Further, I suggest administrative variation was at least partially formed by struggles between administrations over visions of the imperial bond with Indian subjects and that this struggle had a fractal structure.

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