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Dissertation Workshop

From Status to … Something: J.F. Stephen and Henry Maine on Inequality in Britain and India


October 15, 2021
12:00pm - 1:15pm
Virtual/RSVP Required

Dissertation Workshop

From Status to … Something: J.F. Stephen and Henry Maine on Inequality in Britain and India


October 15, 2021
12:00pm - 1:15pm
Virtual/RSVP Required
October 15, 2021
12:00pm - 1:15pm
Virtual/RSVP Required

The Dissertation Workshop is a graduate educational seminar open only to graduate students and their advisors as well as visiting scholars. The Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies (CES) invites those who are interested in attending this workshop or in presenting their research, to contact CES Dissertation Workshop Coordinator Hansong Li for more information and to register. All workshops will be held virtually during the 2021-2022 academic year. Registered participants will receive a Zoom link for the workshop one day in advance.

About

In this workshop, Théophile Deslauriers will present a chapter from his dissertation, which he is planning to publish in a shortened form. The paper showcases Deslauriers' larger interest in the concept of civilization and the political anthropology of British imperialists. The following is a summary of the paper to be presented.

The terms “status” and “contract” were at the core of Victorian political anthropology. Commonly used to refer to whole societies, their meanings were complex and contested. Societies of contract tended to designate societies characterized by individual freedom, property rights, and economic competition. Societies of status were hierarchical, with social, political, and economic roles assigned on the basis of familial or religious significance, rather than on the basis of personal accomplishments or as a result of competition or election. Scholars have tended to assert that these societies were mutually incompatible organic wholes for the Victorians. As such, ideas of status and contract are taken to have done a lot of heavy lifting in attempts to draw a bright-line distinction between Britain (and other western states) on the one hand, and non-Western societies, most notably Britain’s dependent empire, on the other.

Deslauriers contests this prevailing understanding of the status/contract distinction by examining the writings of two of its most prominent exponents: James Fitzjames Stephen and Henry Maine. Both Stephen and Maine sought to combine status and contract institutions in Britain. This paper offers an account of their reasons for wanting to impose status institutions on ostensibly contractual Britain, focusing on their respective critiques of the British working class. It connects these reasons to their respective understandings of the good of British rule in India. It then surveys the two different kinds of institutions that they proposed for establishing status hierarchies in Britain: monarchy and super-majoritarian constitutionalism. In doing so, it aims to show how an anthropological project that is usually understood to be imperialist and disconnected from domestic political concerns came to profoundly shape both Stephen’s and Maine’s theories of representative government.

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