This chapter examines the setting in which ‘development’ was discussed in India in the 1930s and 1940. It outlines the background debates regarding political economy in colonial India, and points to the dependence of these debates on the attribution of essentialized and stereotypical economic and social roles to particular groups of people by British imperial discourse. It raises the question of how far counter-arguments were able to break down these essentialisms, or how far they required the creation of counter-essentialisms. It examines the interplay between allegedly universal principles—‘economics’ or ‘political economy’—and particular exceptions, based, for instance, on the ‘nature’ of Indians. It is argued that many of the debates on development emerged from categories and concepts intrinsic to everyday situations of imperial administration, but threw up the need to formulate alternative arguments.
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