Dr Aditya Balasubramanian

AB (Harvard College), MPhil, PhD (Trinity College, Cambridge)
Lecturer in Economic History
College of Arts and Social Sciences
T: 6125 5114

Research interests

history of modern South and Southeast Asia; history of economic thought; material histories of consumption and culture; energy and environmental history; international history


Aditya Balasubramanian is a Lecturer in Economic History whose research focuses on various aspects of the history of modern South Asia. His first book, Towards a Free Economy for India: An Unfamiliar History (working title), is under contract with Princeton University Press. The book is a social and political history of economic ideas and opposition-making in democratic India. Aditya is commencing an environmental history of roads and road transportation in modern India and a longer term project on the inter-racial and inter-imperial history of commerce between modern South and Southeast Asia. For the latter, he was awarded an ANU Humanities Research Center (HRC) Research Development Fellowship in 2021. 

Aditya completed his PhD at Trinity College, Cambridge as a British Marshall Scholar and a Cambridge Trust Scholar. At Cambridge, his dissertation won the Ellen McArthur Prize in Economic History and was shortlisted for the Prince Consort and Thirlwall Prize for best dissertation in History.

At ANU, Aditya teaches ECON3056, a third-year interdisciplinary history of economic thought from the ancients to the mid-20th century. He is a Board Member of the South Asia Research Institute, an affiliate of the Center for Economic History, and a member of the Geoeconomics Working Group. During 2022, he is in residence at the Harvard Center for History and Economics (CHE) as an inaugural CHE/CHE-Paris Fellow. He also coordinates the CHE's "Archives of Economic Life in South and Southeast Asia" website.

Recent Publication:

-"(Is) India in the History of Neoliberalism?" in Quinn Slobodian and Dieter Plehwe eds. Market Civilizations: Neoliberalisms East and South (Brooklyn: Zone Books, 2022)

Forthcoming Publications:

-"A Forgotten Famine of '43? Travancore's Muffled ‘Cry of Distress’" (in Isabel Huacuja Alonso and Andrew Amstutz eds. "Rethinking WWII in South Asia," special issue of Modern Asian Studies, 2023)

-"A More Indian Path to Prosperity? Hindu Nationalism and Development in the mid-20th century, and beyond" (Capitalism: A Journal of History and Economics, Spring/Summer 2022) 

In the Review Process:

-"Of Decolonization and Development: Anticorruption in the Indian Central Government Services, c. 1940-60s" (revise and resubmit at Journal of Asian Studies)

Researcher's projects

Towards a Free Economy for India: An Unfamiliar History

Procedural democracy and the escape from the colonial growth trap define India’s postcolonial history (1947-). However, the challenges of working with fragmentary archives have generally turned historians away from studying these simultaneous, interrelated processes. Stepping into this void, Towards a Free Economy for India shows how leaders from landed and mercantile castes transitioning to new forms of market activity in southern and western India broke away from the country’s umbrella anticolonial nationalist organization in the postcolonial period to launch what became by the 1960s the most successful attempt at forging a two-party system for India’s nascent democracy.

Running on a platform of ‘free economy,’ their Swatantra (‘Freedom’) Party envisioned a decentralist programme of small industry-ledxxxxx development. It opposed the creation of a heavy-industrial developmental state envisioned by the dominant Indian National Congress. Notably, Swatantra suppressed the majoritarian impulses of some of its members and remained broadly non-sectarian. This distinguished it from the other right-wing party of the time, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Jana Sangh (forerunner of today's BJP). Drawing upon eighteen months of archival research across three continents and sources ranging from comic strips to gramophone recordings in English, Gujarati, Hindi, and Tamil, this book is a history of how Indians understood and made their own democracy and economy. 

The book intervenes in the histories of neoliberalism, the Cold War, and postcolonial societies. It challenges the Western, economist-centred focus of the historiography of neoliberalism by reframing it around politicians and publicists from the non-western world and puts India’s post-1991 economic liberalization in social historical context. The book opens up a whole new archive of print and visual culture to understand how economic ideas develop and diffuse Second, it illuminates how local actors, engaged in transnational networks but operating independently, came together and carried out the global Cold War battle for ideas in the ostensibly non-aligned world. Finally, it is a contribution to the well-theorised but poorly historicised history of postcolonial societies. It shows how the splintering of factions comprising a flagship anticolonial nationalist party need not necessarily pave the way for postcolonial authoritarianism. Instead, it can advance the democratic form, albeit not for progressive ends. It is a history of how Indians made sense of their own democracy and economy.

Roads and Road Transportation in Modern India 

Commerce between Modern South and Southeast Asia: A Micro-Macro History

Available student projects

Aditya welcomes inquiries from students. 

Current student projects

Mark Clayton (CQU): "Problems of Plenty: Airforce Reconversion in the United States and Australia, 1944-49" (Advisory Panel)

Fleur Goldthorpe (ANU): "British Women of the 'Portocracy': Port Wine Dinastias, Family and Transcultural Lives, 1678-1855" (Advisory Panel)

Jacob Wray (ANU): "From the Colony to the Republic: Controlling Population Movement in Revolutionary Indonesia, 1945-1949" (Advisory Panel)

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Updated:  29 June 2022 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers