SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

The Body and the Making of Colonial Difference in British India

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Term 2

This course will focus on the body to explore the political, cultural and personal dynamics of British colonial rule in India. British rule in India rested on the understanding that there existed fundamental differences between Britons and Indians, yet in many areas of colonial life and policy the boundary between these two identities were not always clearly drawn and notions of what being ‘Indian’ and ‘British’ entailed changed over time. Looking at both bodily practices and regulation this course explores the ways in which notions of ‘colonial difference’ were prescribed, performed and contravened through everyday interactions. The course will address theoretical and methodological approaches to studying the ‘history of the body’ but will ground discussion of these ideas firmly in the context of colonial India. Topics covered include physiology and colonial science, health, and illness, the social construction of gesture and touch; gender and sexuality and the history of emotions. The course is organised thematically, rather than strictly chronologically, so that students will find it an advantage to have some awareness of the general history of colonial India.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • An understanding of theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of the body in historical context
  • An understanding of the nature of British imperial power in India and its legacy for the operation of political and social authority in contemporary South Asia.
  • The ability to evaluate critically historical literature and summarise these evaluations in written and  oral classroom presentations.
  • An increased ability in critical historical thinking and cultural analysis more generally developed through close reading and discussions of prescribed texts and essay writing in the course.


2 hour seminar class a week

Method of assessment

Essay of 3,000 words worth 80% of the final mark, Reaction paper/book review of 1,000 words worth 20% of the final mark

Suggested reading

  • Methodological and Theoretical Readings on Body, Self, Society
  • Norbert Elias, The Civilising Process: The History of Manners and State Formation and Civilisation, trans. Norman Jephcott (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994.)
  • Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Vol. 1 of The History of Sexuality, (New York: Vintage, 1980.
  • Michel Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, Vol. 2 of The History of Sexuality, (New York: Vintage, 1985).
  • Luther Martin, et. al. (eds.), Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988).
  • Jan Bremmer and Herman Roodenburg, eds., A Cultural History of Gesture: From Antiquity to the Present Day (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991).
  • Marcel Mauss, ‘Techniques of the Body’, Economy and Society, vol. 2, no. 1 (1973), pp. 70-87.
  • Michel Feher, Ramona Nadaff and Nadia Tazi, eds., Fragments for a History of the Human Body, 3 parts, (New York: Zone, 1989).
  • Bryan S. Turner, The Body and Society: Explorations in Social Theory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984).
  • Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. Richard Nice, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977).
  • Louis Althusser, ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’, in Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (New York: Monthly Review, 1971), pp. 127-188.
  • Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and his World, trans. Helen Iswolsky (Bloomington Indiana University Press, 1984).
  • Leslie A. Sharp, 'The Commodification of the Body and its Parts,' Annual Review of Anthropology 29: 287-328, 2000.
  • Marcel Mauss, 'Techniques of the Body,' Economy and Society 2(1): 70-88, February 1973
  • Pierre Bourdieu, 'Structures, Habitus, Practices,' pp. 52-65 in The Logic of Practice (translated by Richard Nice), Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1980
  • Judith Butler, ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory’ Theatre Journal, Vol. 40, No. 4 (Dec., 1988), pp. 519-531.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules