chapter  1
21 Pages

Introduction

WithTirthankar Roy

On the eve of the British Industrial Revolution, Indian weavers were a major producer and supplier of cloth in the world market. How did the invention of the powerloom and the free trade policy of British colonial rule affect this tradition? In impressionistic accounts, these forces had a destructive effect on Indian artisanal weaving. Evidence-based history tells a different story, however. The introduction describes this other story. The alternative claims that artisanal weaving was a differentiated bundle of skills so that the effect of British industrialization and free trade on it was differentiated too. One of the main markers of differentiation was design skill that added some dimension of quality to the finished cloth. The effect of these external forces was to widen inequality within handloom weaving rather than to generate a uniform decline.