Publication Date

April 2015


Richard Adelstein


Economics (ECON)


English (United States)


This paper examines colonialism and contracting in nineteenth century Bengal by investigating the structures of exchange and ownership over fish. What I call the fish order is the order of exchange and ownership of fish in Bengal. The uniting thread of the paper is an analysis of the evolution of property rights surrounding fish through the nineteenth century, culminating in the passage of the Private Fisheries Protection Act of 1889. I use the theory of relational contracts, classical game theory, an economic analysis of a legal rule, and various other tools from across the social sciences to better understand the fish order. I show how a nexus of institutional, cultural, political, geographical, and technological factors working together determined the behavioral regularities that composed the fish order in nineteenth century Bengal. In the first chapter, I look at the motivations behind the customary regime of fishery use and analyze ways in which it might have been made into a stable outcome. In the second chapter, I look at how the customary order fell apart. Chapter three is an examination of a legal rule developed by the High Court of Calcutta in the 1880s to address the growing conflict over fishing rights. In concluding the analysis, I analyze the Private Fisheries Protection Act of 1889, which brings us face to face with certain grim realities of colonialism in Bengal.



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