Colonialism's civilizing mission: The case of the Indian Hemp Drug Commission

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This paper examines a particular episode in the history of British imperialism in India: the appointment of the Indian Hemp Drug Commission in 1893. We analyze the way a quasi-judicial investigation into the consumption of drugs was differently conceived and executed as a civilizing mission by, on the one hand, British colonisers, and, on the other hand, an aspiring colonized elite. By bringing together the ideological dimensions of a civilizing mission (e.g., the reliance on scientific knowledge, proper procedures, legal techniques) with its social ones (e.g., collaboration between colonizers and a local elite), we show how the very notion of a civilizing mission became a site of struggle over meaning, identity, and desirable forms of governance. The analysis reveals a local elite struggling to position itself at once on a par with British criteria of scientific competence and yet not as a mere proxy for British interests; at once able to articulate itself in terms of enlightenment concepts such as reason and modernity and yet celebrating its own distinct cultural authenticity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)435-461
Number of pages27
JournalLaw and Social Inquiry
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2001


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