Friday, November 26, 2010

Jaffe reviews Kolsky on Colonial Justice in British India

Our friends at H-Law have posted a review of Colonial Justice in British India: White Violence and the Rule of Law (Cambridge University Press, 2009), by Elizabeth Kolsky (Villanova).

Reviewer James Jaffe (University of Wisconsin-Whitewater) begins by identifying the book's goals and situating it in the historiography.
Elizabeth Kolsky's new book seeks to redefine and expand our understanding of the violence inherent both to colonial rule and the colonial system of justice. As this work makes clear, especially to those who recently may have neglected some of the violent realities of imperialism, beyond and beneath the brutality of war and conquest, beyond and beneath the hyperreality of colonial discourse, and beyond and beneath the imaginaries of empire, there lay the quotidian violence that often characterized the relationship between rulers and subjects, masters and servants, whites and blacks, Britons and Indians.

Perhaps it would be best to locate this work within the context of the social history of British imperial law. That is, like some of the best practitioners in this field, such as Douglas Hay or Christopher Tomlins, the author attempts here to combine a history of law as legislation with a history of law as practice. Thus, this book also shares much in common with the goals and objectives of the academic traditions of legal realism and law-and-society studies, although, it must be said, the large body of work done in these fields does not appear to have directly informed this study.
You can read the full review here.

Jaffe concludes that the book "has much to offer": "It opens a new window into the nature and complexity of British imperial rule"; it "excavat[es] . . . the problems posed by the 'non-official' white community in India"; and it "adds to our understanding of the extent of violence inherent to white rule in India and contributes to a broader understanding of crime and justice under the British raj."

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