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From Comparative Sociology to Global History: Britain and India in the Pre-History of Modernity

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image of Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient

The concept of Modernity is presently very problematic in the social sciences. Included in those problems is a tendency to hypostasise ‘the West’ as possessed of an originary and authentic culture and history, which distinguished it absolutely from all Other and Traditional cultures and histories. These distinctive qualities laid a unique pathway to Modernity, which subsequently became ‘universally’ available to the rest of the world. This paper explores historical conditions in Britain and India at one of the key moments of Modernity's ‘emergence’: the mechanisation of cotton textile manufacturing. It argues that Britain's modernisation is inconceivable except in a broader global context of which India already comprised a vital part. And, reciprocally, that India's role in the construction of Britain's Modernity, so far from opening up possibilities of it following the same course itself, conveyed imperatives which took its society towards a reverse process of ‘Traditionalisation.’

Affiliations: 1: St. Antony's College, Oxford


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