Kumari Jayawardena’s Study of the Bourgeoise in British Ceylon

Kumari Jayawardena:Nobodies to Somebodies: The Rise of the Colonial Bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka” ….. Paperback, 412 pages …………Published February 1st 2003 by Zed Books (first published February

Synopsis: The origins and growth of the bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka during British rule are important aspects of the country’s modern history. Here, Kumari Jayawardena traces the evolution of the bourgeoisie from a feudal society and mercantilist economy, to the age of plantations. She assigns primacy to class over caste, and details the rise of the new-rich Nobodies of many castes, ethnicities and religions into the ranks of the Somebodies. She discusses the links between capital accumulation, religious revivalism, ethnic identity and political movements, and highlights the obsession of the bourgeoisie with land acquisition and social status.

Palmyrah’s Review:

This gets five stars for being (1) the standard text on its subject and (2) both academically complete and interesting to the general reader. Jayawardena is a feminist and at least a nominal Marxist, but apart from a few hiccups when talking about economic matters, her politics are not particularly obtrusive. Lucidly, in detail and without bias, this book tells the story of the rise of the native middle class–what Marx would have called the ‘comprador class’, though Jayawardena avoids the term–that emerged from the colonial era in Ceylon, the country now known as Sri Lanka, and how they came to dominate politics and the economy of Sri Lanka in the post-Independence era. Even though that dominance is now sadly eroded, no-one with an interest in the ‘island paradise’ of Sri Lanka and its sad history of failure and tragedy as an independent State can afford not to read this book.

Vin’s Review:

A fantastic study on the rise of the colonial bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka, this study made clear to me how one can’t analyse Sri Lankan history without taking into consideration class, caste, ethnicity, gender and how they are all interlinked. It explains also how the past presidential families gained their power, some from humble beginnings, and the seeds of conflict that were sown for the eventual war that has ensued. I also found it very interesting to read the differences from India in gaining independence from the British, and how there was no real serious agitation in wanting self rule.



KAUMARI’S CAREER:  “From 1969 until 1985, Jayawardena taught political science at the University of Colombo.[2] She also taught a course on women and development as a visiting scholar at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague.[3] In the 1980s, as she travelled between Brussels (where she lived) and The Hague (where she taught) Jayawardena wrote what would become Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World.[3] It is a guide to women’s movements in China, Egypt, Iran, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Vietnam.[4]

Jayawardena wanted to address the “gap about our part of the world” and felt that in order to “discuss the knowledge and status of women today, it is important to know what they have gained and how.”[3] The book was selected for the Feminist Fortnight award in the United Kingdom in 1986.[2] Ms. Magazine called it one of the twenty most important books of the feminist decades in 1992.[2] This book is now regarded as a classic introduction to feminist movements and is widely used in Women’s Studies programs around the world. Thirty years after its original publication, it was reissued by Verso Books.[3]

The White Woman’s Other Burden, published in 1995, analyzes the actions of white women who challenged the gender roles set by the British occupation of South Asia. Jayawardena specifically looks at the work of Annie BesantHelena BlavatskyKatherine MayoMirra Richard and Madeleine Slade.[5]

Jayawardena plays an active role in women’s research organizations and civil rights movements in Sri Lanka. She founded the Social Scientists’ Association in the 1970s and was still involved with it at the age of 85.[3] It is a group of concerned scholars working on ethnic, gender and caste.[6]



  • The Rise of the Labor Movement in Ceylon (1972) North Carolina: Duke University Press
  • Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World (1986) London: Zed Books
  • The White Woman’s Other Burden: Western Women and South Asia During British Rule (1995) New York: Routledge
  • (Co-edited with Malathi de Alwis) Embodied Violence Communalising Women’s Sexuality in South Asia (1996) London: Zed Books
  • From Nobodies to Somebodies: The Rise of the Bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka (1998) Colombo: Social Scientists’ Association
  • Ethnic and Class Conflict in Sri Lanka: The Emergence of Sinhala-Buddhist Consciousness 1883-1983 (2003) Sri Lanka: Sanjiva Books
  • Erasure of the Euro-Asian (2007) Colombo: Social Scientists’ Association


  • “Annie Besant’s Many Lives” in Frontline (17 October 1997).
  • “The Women’s Movement in Sri Lanka 1985-1995, A Glance Back Over Ten Years” (CENWOR, 1995).
  • “Sinhala Buddhism and the ‘Daughters of the Soil'” in Pravda 1 (May 1992).
  • “Some Thoughts on the Left and the ‘Woman Question’ in South Asia” in Promissory Notes (eds) S. Kruks, R. Rapp and M. Young. (Monthly Review Press, 1989).
  • “The National Question and the Left Movement in Sri Lanka” in Facets of Ethnicity (eds) C. Abeysekera and N. Gunasinghe. (SSA, 1987).
  • “Feminist Consciousness in the Decade 1975-85” in UN Decades for Women—Progress and Achievements of Women in Sri Lanka (CENWOR, 1986).
  • “Bhikkus in Revolt” in Lanka Guardian ( May–July 1979).
  • The Origins of the Left Movement in Sri Lanka” in Modern Ceylon Studies 2 (1971): 195-221.
  • Economic and Political Factors in the 1915 Riots” in Journal of Asian Studies 29 (Feb 1970).
  • “Pioneer Rebels among the Colombo Working Class” in Young Socialist (Nov 1968).

details from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kumari_Jayawardena

1 Comment

Filed under accountability, British colonialism, centre-periphery relations, commoditification, communal relations, democratic measures, devolution, economic processes, education, electoral structures, ethnicity, heritage, historical interpretation, Indian traditions, island economy, language policies, life stories, politIcal discourse, power politics, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, working class conditions, world events & processes

One response to “Kumari Jayawardena’s Study of the Bourgeoise in British Ceylon

  1. Chandra Maliyadde

    I am happy Kumari has written an interesting piece on a lesser told story. Sri Lanka which is at cross roads face the absence of an entrepreneurial class. This is the reason for the failure of engine of growthc

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