NOBODIES TO SOMEBODIES examines the origins and growth of the bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka during British rule- an important aspect of the country’s modern history. It traces its evolution from a ‘feudal’ society and mercantilist economy to the age of plantations. In the course of this evolution local merchants accumulate capital through arrack and toll renting, subsequently diversifying into plantation cultivation and graphite mining, making dents in the old caste-based division of labour.
This study assigns primacy to class over caste, and details the rise if the new-rich ‘Nobodies’ of many different castes, ethnicities and religions into the ranks of ‘Somebodies’. It discusses the links between capital accumulation, religious revivalism, ethnic identity and political movements, and the marriage ‘cartels’ which led to further concentration of wealth.
The book focuses on the rentier nature of the bourgeoisie and how it adopted Western culture and lifestyles and were basically collaborative with the colonial rulers. It highlights the constraints on further capitalist development, the obsession of the bourgeoisie with land acquisition and social status, and its consciousness as a class, especially on issues of political reform.