ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Chris Bayly

I am thankful for Ajay Skaria’s moving tribute to Chris Bayly (“Remembering Chris Bayly,” EPW, 23 May 2015). I had not met him for many years but can vouch for his humanity and openness that has been described. And the description of his place in contemporary academic history is useful. But I think one should also highlight the import of some of Bayly’s later work for all social thinkers, and particularly for those thinking about the future in India. Though recognising the cultural specificities of each country’s path through modernisation, he stresses the commonalties which all modernisations entail. Thus though a modern India and China will retain many unique characteristics as compared to the United Kingdom and the United States, they all will find themselves with institutions that perform quite similar functions, whatever they may be called. This is not so much something which Bayly asserted as what he observed so far in the overall process of modernisation across widely varying cultures. He resembles Alexander Gerschenkron who argued that while the task of capital accumulation was done differently in Western, Central and Eastern Europe—for simplicity by entrepreneurs, banks and the state—the function was ultimately the same.

None of this is determinist, but it resonates in our current debates about how much the retail/wholesale trade structure, the financial and labour market structure, the political regime and land-use patterns will be forced into common patterns or at least to perform similar structures as economies grow.

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