Capitalism, Colonialism and Development

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSLS2EC1074

Semester and Year Offered: Winter Semester, First year

Course Coordinator and Team: Arindam Banerjee

Email of course coordinator: arindam[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in


Aim: This course introduces students to a historical understanding of the present development questions in the society and its evolution from the past. It also allows students in the programme to develop a grasp over India’s colonial past to evaluate contemporary social and economic problems in a historical framework. The course consists of the core teaching of economic history in the programme. It also seeks to train students in the political economy perspectives of economic development. The course delves upon the issue of emergence of capitalism in Western Europe and engages with the debates regarding the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Various theories regarding the role of colonialism in the development of world capitalism and the persistence of underdevelopment in the colonies are dealt with in this course. The relationship between the advanced capitalist nations and the colonial world and its centrality to the development of early western capitalism is studied primarily through the economic relationship between Great Britain and India during the colonial period. Some selected post-colonial experiences are also studied in the course.

Course Outcomes:

  1. Develop a grasp over the various theoretical perspectives on the historical development of Capitalism as a system of production.
  2. Develop the capacity to engage with the debates surrounding the relationship between colonialism and capitalist development in a historical perspective.
  3. Acquire an in-depth knowledge of various aspects of the colonial economic process in India and also the historiography of colonial India.
  4. Develop the ability to understand contemporary problems of the Indian economy in a historical perspective.
  5. Develop the capacity to comprehend and articulate complex arguments and perspectives through their term papers and essays.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

1. Feudalism and Transition to Capitalism:

Decline of Feudalism – transformation of the mode of production and its causes – role of mercantile capital – origin of industrial capital and the emergence of the proletariat – the Industrial Revolution – the contribution of world trade expansion in the decline of feudalism – production versus exchange – Dobb-Sweezy debate

Comparative study of world economy before the emergence of capitalism

2. Role of colonialism in the development of capitalism:

Theories of Imperialism: Hobson, Lenin and Schumpeter - A survey of the expansion of colonialism – Development and underdevelopment under colonialism – International division of labour - patterns of labour and population migration during colonialism – monopoly capital and transfer of surpluses to the core – Dependency theory and the core- periphery trade relationship

Case Studies of Colonialism in Chile and Indonesia

3. Economic relationship between Great Britain and India during colonial period:

Historical Timeline:

1757-1813: (The Mercantile Phase)

East India Company and extraction of Tribute - Inland Trade, Diwani of Bengal, 1765, famines and Drain of Surplus - The land revenue settlements in British India - its implications for agrarian development – Export of Cotton handicrafts

1813 – 1910: (the Industrial Phase)

Industrial revolution in Britain – The philosophy of free trade and de-industrialization in the colony – Thorner-Bagchi exchange and other debates on de-industrialization – Export-oriented strategy and commercialization of Indian agriculture – Indebtedness, immiserization and tenancy reforms – Foreign Trade and Drain of Wealth – Triangular Settlement of Trade – Multi-lateral Settlement of Trade and Council Bills – Role of Tribute Transfer in the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain

1913 – 1947: (Inter-war period)

Changes in trade policies and modern industry in India – the crisis of the Great Britain’s economic supremacy – Global agricultural crisis and the Great Depression – New forms of drain and Deflationary policies – Sterling Balances – Great Bengal Famine, 1943 – Implications for the post-colonial economic development and policies

Assessment Details with weights:

The assessment for the course will be the following:

Group Presentations (20%): Students are expected to make 20-minute presentations on various contending theoretical arguments regarding the evolution of capitalism and the role of colonialism.

Term paper (40%): Student will write a 2500-word paper on topics covering various theoretical debates and contentions regarding the development of capitalism and colonialism and the relation between the two.

End-semester examination (40%): An in-class examination where students will have to answer reflective questions related to topics taught in the course.

Reading List:

  • Abu-Lughod, Janet. 1991. Before European Hegemony: The World System AD 1250-1350, OUP
  • Dobb, Maurice. 1946. Studies in the Development of Capitalism. Routledge
  • The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism: Introduction by Rodney Hilton (and essays by Paul Sweezy, Maurice Dobb, Chritopher Hill and Kohachiro Takahashi), Verso, 1976
  • Magdoff, Harry. 1978. ‘European Expansion since 1763’ (Ch 1) and ‘Imperialism: A Historical Survey’ (Ch 3) in Imperialism: From the Colonial Age to the Present, Monthly Review Press, 1978
  • Patnaik, Utsa. 1999. The Long Transition, Tulika (Selected essays on commercialization of agriculture, tribute transfer and famine)
  • Dutt, R. C. 1902. The Economics History of India. Volume 1
  • Bagchi, Amiya, 2010. Colonialism and Indian Economy, Oxford
  • Habib, Irfan. 1995. Essays in Indian History. Tulika Books (Selected Chapters)
  • Kumar, Dharma and Meghnad Desai 2008. The Cambridge Economic History of India, Volume II, Cambridge University Press
  • Roy, Tirthankar. 2000. De-industrialisation: Alternative view. Economic and Political Weekly, 35 (17). 1442-1447. ISSN 0012-9976
  • Roy, Tirthankar. 2011. Economic History of India, 1857-1947. Oxford


  • Frank, A. G. 1967. Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America, Monthly Review Press
  • Dutt, R. C. 1904. The Economics History of India. Volume 2
  • Bagchi, Amiya, 2000. The Political Economy of Underdevelopment, Orient Longman
  • Mukherjee, Aditya. 2010. Empire: How Colonial India made Modern Britain
  • Upadhyay, S. B. and Vijaya Rajani, 2011. ‘The Indian Economy, 1857-1947’ in K.N. Panikkar (ed.) Perspectives on Modern Indian History, Popular Prakashan, Mumbai
  • Tomlinson, B. R. 1998. The Economy of Modern India, 1860-1970, Cambridge University Press