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Legislating the Labor Force: Sedentarization and Development in India and the United States, 1870–1915

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 October 2019

Divya Subramanian*
History, Columbia University


Scholars have treated British colonial rule in India and the internal colonization of the United States in the nineteenth century as analytically distinct moments. Yet these far-flung imperial projects shared a common set of anxieties regarding land and labor. This paper seeks to conceptualize the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 in India and the Indian Appropriation Acts of 1851–1871 in the United States as part of a congruent effort to manage and define the labor force in the context of the intensified expropriation of land. In the complement to agricultural improvement programs, British and American colonizers sought to rehabilitate itinerant populations to create a labor pool endowed with suitable qualities for unleashing the productive capacity of land. While in India the cumulative effect of criminal tribes legislation was inclusive in that members of criminal tribes were purportedly reformed in preparation for joining the colonial labor force, reservation policy in the United States excluded Native Americans from lands that were the preserve of white labor while simultaneously laying the groundwork for assimilation.

Mobility and Sedentarization
Copyright © Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 2019 

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