The Economy as Governing Imaginary-Podcast-Ritu Birla

Speaking Otherwise is a podcast series on the Contemporary, hosted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).  In this podcast, we speak to well-known scholars from the humanities and the social sciences on the critical questions of our times. 

The Economy as Governing Imaginary 

In this episode, Prathama Banerjee speaks to Ritu Birla on how economic thinking operates as the language of governance in our contemporary.  What is the relationship between law, economics and culture? What is the relationship between the economic public and the democratic people?  Is economics politics by another name? What does it mean to rewrite the history of economic thought from a colonial and postcolonial perspective?  How does this history inform our global contemporary often described in terms of neo-liberalism? How should humanities scholars engage with the discipline of economics?

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Ritu Birla is a historian and theorist who brings the study of capitalism to political, social and cultural thought.  She is tenured in the Department of History at the University of Toronto, where she directs a project on global governance, economy and society. She earlier held positions as the Richard Charles Lee Director of the Asian Institute at the Munk School, and before that, Director of the Asian Institute’s sub-unit, the Centre for South Asian Studies. Professor Birla has deployed the (post)colonial site as an analytical lever to unpack that lived imaginary we call “the economy.”  She has published widely across the humanities and social sciences on capitalism’s forms and media of governing, the production of the economic subject, and the legal fictions that animate market society. 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). Recognized for its foundational analysis of colonial law on markets alongside the practices of “vernacular capitalism,” it has mapped the installation of “the economy” as abstract public as distinguished from native “culture.”  Birla’s writing has contributed to building and globalizing a “new history of capitalism” since the financial crisis of 2007-8.  She has also co-edited Speculation: India and Futures of Capitalism, in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and Middle East 35:3 (Dec. 2015), a project that delves into the subcontinent to uncover new global practices that play with instabilities of value for both profit and survival. Her recent research investigates genealogies of speculation and financialization, themes that structure her current book project solicited by Duke University Press, Neoliberalism and Empire, for which she received a Jackman Humanities Institute Faculty Research Fellowship. Other current projects include research on law and the history of philanthropy; currency and global governance; family law as constitutive “outside” for liberal market society; and the historiography of capitalism as seen from non-western sites. She is a member of the Senior Editorial Board of the award-winning journal Public Culture and on the Editorial Advisory Board of Capitalism: A Journal of History and Economics.