Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

David Kazanjian


This dissertation reassesses the figure of the Indian indentured laborer or coolie in the post-emancipation context of the British Caribbean and the Indian Ocean. While contemporary scholarship characterizes the New World coolie as the product of a nineteenth-century racialized division of labor, “Recasting the Coolie” argues that this figure needs to be apprehended in relation to British imperial discourses on caste. By demonstrating the long and articulated histories of race and caste, it revises conversations in the field of critical race studies that have made these categories seem relatively disconnected from one another. Through close engagement with nineteenth-century and contemporary Anglophone literature on plantation colonies such as British Guiana, Trinidad, and Mauritius alongside government reports, journals, and diaries culled from extensive research in British colonial archives, “Recasting the Coolie” traces the mechanics of colonial governmentality that produced the laboring body of the coolie, showing how those mechanics interrupt liberal ideas of freedom that attach to the practice of wage labor. It further demonstrates the ways in which an appositional reading of these diverse textual materials allows us to comprehend both the processes that shaped the coolies and their experience of indentured servitude. Combining close reading of fiction with speculative approaches to the colonial archive it draws out traces of coolie agency, particularly the manner in which they responded to the conditions of their own servitude and how they negotiated their caste and racial identities. This dissertation reads indentureship not just as a material labor relation but also a critical lens that illuminates a particular vision of globality. If, as Pheng Cheah and Sanjay Krishnan argue, the global is more than just a descriptive category, if it names a mode of bringing the world into view, then contemporary Anglophone fiction on indentureship does so by theorizing the long and connected histories of race and caste from dominant and subaltern perspectives.


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