The politics of time in colonial Bombay: Labor patterns and protest in cotton mills

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This article examines the modes of time and work discipline that emerged through factory industry in colonial Bombay. Based on a wide range of archival sources, it shows that mechanized production did not invariably suggest a transition from task-based, irregular to clock-measured, rationally organized work patterns. Operating simultaneously within temporal orders constructed by the global economy, agriculture, family, and community, cotton mills combined new disciplinary practices with a flexible approach to labor. Gender, marital status, religion, skill, and position in the manufacturing chain influenced the pace and duration of work as well as subjective experiences of time at the factory. By maintaining the diversity and flexibility of time organization, mill owners could adjust production to fluctuations in market demand. At the same time, the strategy facilitated and obscured exploitation. As the industry grew, workers developed a language of resistance that emphasized the value of regular and standard work patterns defined with reference to clock hours and calendar days. In the factories of colonial Bombay, clocks were not just symbols of discipline and subjugation but also instruments of resistance and negotiation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)206-285
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Social History
Issue number1
Early online date22 Apr 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Apr 2019


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