Final Public Oral Exam: Adhitya Dhanapal

Shaping an Artisanal Future: Decolonization, Development and the Handloom Weavers of Madras, 1904 – 64
Monday, May 20, 2024, 10:00 am12:00 pm


Event Description


Gyan Prakash, adviser
Divya Cherian
Sheldon Garon
Sunil Amrith, Yale University


“Shaping an Artisanal Future” explores the resilience, dynamism, and vulnerability of handloom weavers in the former Madras Presidency between 1904-1964. Against an image of hereditary artisans rooted in an unchanging Indian village economy, this dissertation highlights how handloom weavers and merchants of Madras navigated an unprecedented levels of global market integration, weaponized economic interdependence, and the subsequent Partition and Decolonization in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia.

The handloom weavers of Madras sought to shape a world after empire, where increased mechanization and automation would not render their skills and sources of livelihood obsolete. Far from defying the new realities of the 20th century, the decentralized, small-scale, artisanal producers adopted new forms of labor-saving technologies to compete with industrially mass-produced commodities. To challenge the existential threat that large, capitalist factories posed to their businesses and way of life, weavers organized themselves into co-operative societies or caste-based associations. These weavers tapped into older forms of caste-based forms of kinship and reworked them to forge new solidarities. Centered around their rights as workers, weavers fashioned new political subjectivities based on language, region, and nation. Besides paying keen attention to questions of finance, trade, and income, the dissertation examines how artisans participated in regionally rooted anti-colonial and anti-caste mass mobilizations that intersected with and challenged the emerging nationalist movement. In tracing the histories of artisan-led craft revivals in Madras, the dissertation also foregrounds the significance of South Asia as a crucial crossroad in the global history of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Drawing on anti-caste scholarship, postcolonial studies as well as the history of the British Commonwealth and Imperial Japan, this dissertation aims to add to the burgeoning scholarship on the history of Capitalism by emphasizing the significance of grassroot initiatives. This dissertation foregrounds the relevance of the small scale in a modern world characterized by large and technologically sophisticated multi-national corporations.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam. Contact Lee Horinko for a copy of the dissertation and the Zoom meeting link and password.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Lee Horinko Reed
Area of Interest
Colonialism & Post Colonialism
Economic History
History of Capitalism
Social History
20th Century
Scholarly Series
Dissertation Defense