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Rethinking Labour & Capitalism: New Evidences from the Joseph Stephens Archives
23 oktober 2018 @ 13:30 - 15:00
Using archival documents from Joseph Stephens – discovered at Huseby bruk, Småland – Arun Kumar gives a lecture of aspects of labour and capital relationships.
Joseph Stephens, a Swedish national, went to colonial India in 1859 to try his luck and make a career. With the help of his brother-in-law, John Hallen Abbott, who was an assistant engineer of the Great India Peninsular Railway Company, Stephens completed a civil engineering apprenticeship, later becoming a full-fledged railway contractor by himself.
During his stay until 1869, Stephens built railway lines, bridges, viaducts, station houses, cotton factories, warehouses in the rural Maharashtra. Joseph made no less than 600,000 Swedish Riksdaler (about today’s 34 million Swedish Krona) in India which allowed him to buy the impoverished Huseby Estate in Småland in 1867.
Stephens’ India papers were recently discovered in the attic of the Huseby mansion which tells his relationship with thousands of men, women, and children he employed as workers. His archive includes contracts with workers, workers’ wage data, his personal diary, correspondence with the colonial officials, railway company, and father, George Stephens.
Using the archive of Joseph Stephens and of other contractors, Kumar will discuss three aspects of labour and capital relationship – contracts, advance wage payments, and the authority of the overseer/jobber – to suggest that the labour power was a contested phenomenon.
The history of contracts and advance wage payments has been written from the standpoint of a fully developed ‘model’ capitalism, ignoring the powers or inabilities of contracts to subordinate the worker.
Both the subordination of the labour power to capital and the ‘assent’ of the worker to capitalism were incoherent processes, mediated by confrontation, conflicts, legal battels, and everyday negotiations.
Arun Kumar is a postdoctoral fellow in colonial history at the Linnaeus University. He specializes in modern South Asian history with an interest in global history. He has studied at Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) & Göttingen.