Durba Mitra. Indian Sex Life: Sexuality and the Colonial Origins of Modern Social Thought. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020. 302 pp., 15 b/w illus., notes, bibl., index.

Durba Mitra’s rich and compelling first book, Indian Sex Life, addresses how colonial and nationalist officials, scientists, and social scientists developed theories about Indian civilization, history, and progress through deployments of what Mitra terms “deviant female sexuality.” Mitra unpacks the ubiquity of this multi-layered and flexible concept across a variety of archives and disciplines, and further maps the circulation of social scientific thought in policy, law, and popular culture as a tool of entrenching colonial and native patriarchal authority. Focused primarily on upper-caste Bengali intellectuals and their global networks in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the book argues that the trafficking of the “prostitute” in the transnational networks of colonial India was, above all else, a proliferating economy of discourses (p. 14). In doing so, Mitra unseats historical projects which seek to recuperate subaltern sexualities, instead emphasizing that the methods and categories used in such projects derive from an epistemological schema of racist and casteist expertise. 

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