Political Science Faculty Publications


Liberal Leviathan or Imperial Outpost?: J. S. Furnivall on Colonial Rule in Burma

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J. S. Furnivall, in his influential account of the impact of British rule in Burma 1824-1948, argues that British officials laid down a Liberal administration that exposed the colony to market forces, monetized the economy and devastated communities. However, there is little evidence that British administrators actually thought in Liberal terms: they relied heavily on institutions inherited from the Burmese monarchy, and when they introduced new administrative methods these were drawn from other parts of British India and only indirectly influenced by Liberalism. Furnivall's view of the ideological origins of British administration, in turn, distorts his reading of the impact of British rule, as illustrated by recent work on the pre-colonial economy showing that it was in fact more monetized and commercialized than he claims. If his account of the pre-modern economy is not viable, Furnivall's claims about the impact of British colonialism in Burma demand re-evaluation.

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Modern Asian Studies


Cambridge University Press

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