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Fleeting Agencies


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements; List of Tables; List of Figures and Diagrams; Introduction; 1. Coolie Women in the Empire's Rubber Garden: Historical and Contextual Background; 2. 'Tapping' Resources: (Re) Figuring the Labour of Coolie Women on Estates; 3. Managing 'Partnerships': Domesticity and Entrepreneurial Endeavours; 4. Negotiating Intimacies and Moralities: Enticements, Desertions, Violence and Gendered Trials; 5. Becoming 'Ranis': Coolie Women as Rani Jhansi Regiment Recruits in WWII; Conclusion; Epilogue; Glossary; Notes and References; Bibliography; Index.

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Critically examines the agency and history of long-silenced coolie women and their role in colonial economy and transnational movements.

About the Author

Arunima Datta is Assistant Professor at the Department of History, Idaho State University (ISU). Her research focuses on the trans-regional movements of South Asians within the British Empire. Areas of particular interest include the history of migration, labour history, women's and gender history and history of transnational nationalism. At ISU, she teaches modern South Asian History, British Empire history and World History, and Gender Studies.


In this landmark study, Arunima Datta takes aim at decades of historiographical refusal to see and hear the situational agency of coolie women in colonial Malaysia. Drawing on a remarkable combination of archival evidence and oral histories, she makes an irrefutable case for recognizing coolie women's work as the key to plantation economies and by extension, to the history of colonialism written at large. Fleeting Agencies is world history from below at its principled best. It's also a model of anti-imperial, feminist transnational labour and migration history, and a handbook for how to decolonize archives upon which exclusionary histories have been built as well. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the gendered history of radicalized capital wherever it has taken root. Antoinette Burton, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
More than victims of planters, colonial authorities, and their own men, Indian coolie women in Malaya emerge from this finely grained and sophisticated history as depot wives, rights-bearing labourers, entrepreneurial householders, absconding lovers, and armed resisters of British, Japanese, and elite rule. Arunima Datta finds situational agency in their everyday lives with broad implications for the gendering of global labour migration, colonialism, and politics of work and intimacy. Eileen Boris, University of California Santa Barbara
Fleeting Agencies is a major contribution to the history of global migration. With creativity and nuance, Arunima Datta recovers from archival fragments the experiences of Indian women workers on the plantations of colonial Malaya. This book will be widely admired across fields - and admired as much for its methodological sophistication as for its moving and engaging narrative. Sunil Amrith, Yale University

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