Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, University of Michigan

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2013
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, University of Michigan
The Social Fabric of Khadi: Experiments in Industry in Twentieth-Century India

Khadi, or handspun, handwoven cloth, is perhaps the most well known of all Indian material artifacts, having served as the unofficial uniform of the Indian nationalist movement. However, it also played a vital economic role, for it lay at the center of Mohandas Gandhi's alternative vision of the Indian economy. This alternative vision called for a shift in the prevailing mode of economic development toward one that was more equitable and sustainable, concerned above all with the empowerment of individual artisans. In these and other respects, Gandhi's vision of the economy diverged sharply from the one subscribed to by many of his contemporaries: that of a territorially bounded national economy governed by the directives of a developmental state. Still, despite the potentially transformative nature of Gandhi's vision, historians have mostly overlooked his contributions to Indian economic life on the grounds that his economic program was never realized. My examination of khadi will demonstrate that this was not true, however, and that Gandhi was the founder of an alternative vision of the Indian economy and an alternative form of economic practice. In doing so, it will draw our attention to a site of economic activity that exercised considerable influence over many Indians' experience of everyday economic life in the past and continues to have relevance to this day. My project will investigate the political economy of khadi production in North India between 1910 and 1960. It will do so not from the perspective of Gandhi alone, however, for he exerted only partial control over khadi's development. Instead, it will examine the material emphases of the program surrounding khadi— the development of new technologies and financial instruments, the construction of technical schools and markets—in an effort to map the changing contours of an alternative realm of economic practice that has left an indelible imprint on many aspects of Indian society and economy.