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  • Indian Migration and Empire: A Colonial Genealogy of the Modern State by Radhika Mongia
  • Anindo Hazra (bio)
Radhika Mongia. Indian Migration and Empire: A Colonial Genealogy of the Modern State. Duke UP, 2018. Pp. xi, 230. US $99.50 (cloth)/ $25.95 (paper)

Radhika Mongia's Indian Migration and Empire: A Colonial Genealogy of the Modern State positions colonial-era Indian migration as fundamental to larger transformations in state sovereignty and subject-formation during "a shift from a world dominated by empire-states into a world dominated by nationstates" (1). Mongia's work uses the first phase of post-Abolition indentured labour migrations from India as a springboard to analyze later developments. Indian Migration examines the period from 1834 to 1917 in order to trace the "contours of a migration regime" (17; emphasis in original). It studies the lines of discourse and debate that led to the "state monopoly over migration," a monopoly that "seems an unremarkable fact in the present world" (1). Mongia explores how British engagements with indentured labour in colonial spheres led to changing metropolitan views on state control over the (travelling) subject. She contends that the colonial state is not differentiated from or subordinated to the metropole but is brought into a critically informed association with it. The strength of Indian Migration should not, therefore, be measured by its analysis of colonial-era migrations alone. For Mongia, colonial "regulation" (13) of migration is elemental to the modern state itself: it is, in fact, "one of the primary mechanisms for the production of the state" (13). She suggests that the branches of modern national identity, state sovereignty, and migration policies all share what she calls a "colonial genealogy" (14).

Foucauldian genealogy allows Mongia to appraise a colonial mesh of "chance occurrences, peculiar configurations, [and] contingent forces" (13) as well as the "thicket of ambiguity and a muddle of laws and rules" involving migration (13–14). Her tracing of such material orients readers away from the idea that "pre-given principles" underwrite state policy on migration (14). In this genealogical mode, Mongia examines the "ad hoc" and "haphazard fashion" (14) in which the modern state consolidated itself as it faced migration. Policies on migration, she argues, did not radiate out from a perfected state-form (14). Rather, the state crystallized from the phenomenon of nineteenth-century migration. Mongia's de-transcendentalizing approach enables a "historicization of the state and state sovereignty in relation to migration" (7): it demonstrates how things came to be. Mongia illustrates how issues now considered to be State Matters—the regulation, even restriction, of immigration as fundamental to the exercise of sovereignty; the alignment of individual nation-states to exact territorial borders; a national identity inextricably bound to so-called cultural paradigms that frame some [End Page 196] as citizens and others as outsiders—were unsystematized as recently as the nineteenth century.

Indian Migration is bookended by chapters examining two key documents that Mongia suggests are central to the history of migration and state formation: the post-Abolition labour contract (discussed in Chapter One) and the modern passport (discussed in Chapter Four). The shape eventually taken by the nineteenth-century labour contract indicates "the production of [a] historically specific [subject]" (29): the emigrant labourer whose identity is inextricably tied up with the indenture contract. Mongia links the transformations of colonial labour-systems to the growing centrality of individual consent in contract law and the consolidation of nineteenth-century liberalism. She argues that, with the British Empire at pains to distinguish post-Abolition "free" labouring subjects from "unfree" slavery (1), the labour contract galvanized debates over how—even whether—a governing body could guarantee the expression of free will in the contract. A key point of contention related to whether a sovereign power could be legitimately involved in overseeing the movement of free subjects. Britain's continued need for indentured labour coupled with liberal ideas of free labour brought in greater sovereign control over migration. The solution was paradoxical: the state was granted oversight of indentured migration to ensure the "free" consent of indentured migrants.

Nineteenth-century debates over the legitimacy and extent of state regulation of migration revolved around a "logic of...


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