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Home market and the artisans in colonial India: a study of brass-ware

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Studies on Indian artisans in the recent times have tended to be guided by the notion of a world market which, it is believed, drove them towards obsolescence through changing tastes or productivity. This framework, however, is not without problems. First, the presence of older industries in modern India, or their long continuance, tends to be seen in terms of ‘survivals’ or ‘revivals’, which terms deny them any inherent dynamics. On the other hand, the impression that many of them ‘survive’ today in strikingly modernized forms, utilizing production and marketing institutions vastly different from those that prevailed a hundred years ago, would demand of historians an account of how old industries evolve, and become integrated into the rest of the economy. Secondly, the crux of the world market story is the economy's opening up to trade. That foreign trade had a critical impact on crafts such as textiles, partially decimated by imports, or leather, where trade commercialized an erstwhile custom-bound exchange, is indisputable. But there are other notable examples where the effect of trade was benign, minor, or indirect, where artisans remained producers of a mass consumable; and where neither did they face significant competition from imported goods, nor were reduced to fodder for metropolitan industrialization. Yet they changed profoundly. In a way, their history reflects not the play of a dominant exogenous process, but the totality of the economy's structural change. Crafts history does not yet provide us with prototypes of this endogenous transformation.

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