Becoming the State: Territorializing Ceylon, 1815-1848

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Parasram, Ajay Roshan




This dissertation studies the political, economic, and cosmological processes through which the idea of “total territorial rule” at the core of the modern state came into being in the context of British colonial rule on the island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) between 1815 – 1848. It develops a decolonial theoretical framework informed by the idea of a “pluriverse” of multiple ontologies to show the empirical and imperial avenues through which the idea of the modern/colonial state became normalized in Ceylon. Specifically, I discuss the rajamandala system and its long history in Buddhist South Asia as an approach to organizing political society that is ontologically distinct from British approaches.

The process of “Buddhification” enabled foreign rulers to naturalize into the rajamandala system; it provides a context within which to better understand the importance of British rule across the island, traditionally marked as beginning with the 1815 Kandyan Convention. I present the Convention as a moment of sovereign ontological collision where two ontologies of sovereignty conflicted. The ontological conflict manifested in different forms of violence locally, regionally, and imperially, through insurrections, religious politics, and political economic transformations.

By drawing attention to Europe’s externalization of violence in modern state formation, we must rethink the characterization of 1815 – 1914 as “peaceful” as the peacefulness of this period depended on the violence of relational state formation. Relatedly, though historians of South Asia tend to mark the rise of the British Raj in 1858 India, one of the empirical contributions this dissertation makes is showing that the period between the 1815 Kandyan Convention and the 1848 Matale Rebellion in Ceylon and the associated contestations between colonizing and anti-colonizing vectors over land, sovereignty, economy, and spirituality should be considered an earlier site of imperial state (trans)formation.

The dissertation contributes to decolonial international relations, global history, and global political economy by emphasizing one important manifestation of modernity/coloniality: the territorial state. Relatedly, it intervenes in studies of peace and conflict studies by insisting that making sense of postcolonial crises involving territory in the 21st century, we must first understand the historical and conceptual processes that naturalized “total territorial rule.”


International Law and Relations
History - Asia, Australia, and Oceania
History - Modern




Carleton University

Thesis Degree Name: 

Doctor of Philosophy: 

Thesis Degree Level: 


Thesis Degree Discipline: 

Political Science

Parent Collection: 

Theses and Dissertations

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