Associate Professor Brian Caton presented a paper, "The Transition from Animal Capital to Land Capital in Colonial Punjab, 1850-1900," to a conference on "Asian Ecologies: Capital, Modernity, and the Environment," on April 6, at Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan.
Submitted abstract: Many narratives of sedentarization across Asia include agents of the state applying coercive force on pastoral communities. This seems not to have occurred in southwestern Punjab in the nineteenth century, for a variety of reasons. This paper proposes the use of “animal capital” as an analytical tool for explaining class hierarchies within pastoral societies of precolonial southwestern Punjab. The concept begins from Bourdieu’s notion of “social capital,” imagining animals as a peculiar form of social capital that is capable of producing material goods (offspring, milk, meat, hides, and hair/wool) analogous to land’s production of crops, and labor, which may be converted into financial capital. During the first decades after annexation, as the colonial state imposed an intellectual framework emphasizing capital in land on administrative practices and acts of social reckoning, Punjabis responded by both resisting and engaging fully in the new discourse in land. However, they did so in pursuit of strategies that would promote their understandings of how animal capital operated. As the construction and operation of major irrigation works accelerated in the 1870s and 1880s, Punjabis began to participate in discourses of land capital in ways that revealed a new set of intentions, namely, to become cultivators or landlords. This shift had the effect of maintaining class inequalities in pastoralist societies, which happened to fit with British hopes of engineering a class hierarchy in rural Punjab. By the 1890s, pastoralists who refused to shift to the discourse of land capital were administratively classified as “criminal” castes or tribes, or severely circumscribed in their social potential—that is, relegated to the status of a menial service provider. The persistence of “criminal tribes” suggests that the state’s use of coercive force never entirely disappeared, but the willingness of nearly all classes to shift from animal capital to land capital goes a long way to explain the relative marginality of coercion from the narrative of sedentarization in southwestern Punjab.