Cosmopolitan Capitalists and Colonial Rule. the business structure and corporate culture of the Swiss merchant house Volkart Bros., 1850s-1960s

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Abstract

This article examines the history of the Swiss merchant house Volkart Bros., which was one of the most important exporters of Indian raw cotton and one of the biggest trading firms in South Asia during the colonial period. The study allows for a fresh look at Indian economic history by putting forth two main arguments. First, it charts the history of a continental European firm that was active in South Asia to offer a better understanding of the economic entanglements of the subcontinent with the wider world, which often had a reach beyond the empire. This ties in with recent research initiatives that aim to examine the history of imperialism from a transnational perspective. Second, the history of a private company helps in developing a micro-perspective on the often ambiguous relation between the business goals of individual enterprises and colonial rule. The article argues that this may be evidence of the fact that capitalism and imperialism were two different, although sometimes converging, spatial structures, each with a distinct logic of its own. What is more, the positive interactions between European and Indian businessmen, fostered by a cosmopolitan attitude among business elites, point to the fact that even in the age of empire, the class background of actors could be more important for the establishing of cooperative ventures than the colour of their skin or their geographical origin. It is argued that this offers the possibility of examining the history of world trade in terms of global social history.

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APA

Dejung, C. (2022). Cosmopolitan Capitalists and Colonial Rule. the business structure and corporate culture of the Swiss merchant house Volkart Bros., 1850s-1960s. Modern Asian Studies, 56(1), 427–470. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0026749X20000384

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