Political Science State-Society Relations in South Asia
Subhasish Ray
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0298


South Asia, a region comprising roughly one-fifth of the world’s population, is home to some of the most diverse nations in the contemporary world, encompassing social cleavages across multiple dimensions. A critical facet of this diversity is that it has persisted, even as state-builders, starting from the precolonial period, have sought to impose the writ of centralized authority to make such diversity legible and governable. Not surprisingly, therefore, the region offers a fascinating vantage point for social scientists to develop and test theories of a range of state-society linkages and how these reconstitute our understandings of both “state” and “society.” This bibliography aims to provide a window into this continuously evolving body of research. As with any such endeavor, it is not possible to capture the vast depth and breadth of this research within the confines of a single work. Hence, the goal here is to introduce academics and policy practitioners to some of the key conceptual developments and empirical findings in the field. In what follows, the cited works have been classified under the following headings: (i) Capital-State Linkages, (ii) Labor-State Linkages, (iii) Land-State Linkages, (iv) Party-State Linkages, (v) Region-State Linkages, (vi) Caste-State Linkages, (vii) Migrant-State Linkages, (viii) Gender-State Linkages, (ix) Breakdown of State-Society Relations, and (x) Law and State-Society Relations. This schematic was adopted to underscore the sheer variety of social actors and institutions that impinge on the exercise of state power in the region. The concluding section offers an overview of the core academic Journals in the field.

Capital-State Linkages

One of the core challenges that states in South Asia face is the relentless pressure to intervene in markets to grow their economies and redistribute resources. The references in this section highlight the mixed record of state-driven capital accumulation. Siddiqa 2007 discusses how protracted military rule in Pakistan has meant that the military is central to all capital accumulation processes, thus clogging the pathways to the emergence of a liberal democracy. By contrast, Venugopal 2011 notes how militarization abetted economic reforms in Sri Lanka, but at the cost of the immense suffering and dislocation wrought by the civil war in that country. Kohli 2012 observes how the pursuit of pro-business policies by state elites in India under the guise of economic reforms has meant drastic cutbacks in public investment. While Bangladesh has been relatively more successful in harnessing pro-globalization forces to nurture a successful garments manufacturing industry that has boosted the labor market participation rates of women, Lewis 2011 argues that this success has not been without contradictions. On a more optimistic note, Shin 2018 points to the emergence of a developmental state underpinned by inclusionary state-society relations at the subnational level in the state of Tamil Nadu in India, which facilitated FDI inflows.

  • Kohli, Atul. Poverty amid Plenty in the New India. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139015080

    What explains the paradox of poverty amid plenty in India? Kohli traces this paradox back to the pro-business economic policies adopted by Indira Gandhi and her successor, Rajiv Gandhi, in the 1980s, which have persisted until the present day, although India ostensibly embarked on pro-market reforms in 1991. The adoption of such policies, however, meant drastic reductions in public investment, hurting India’s long-term growth prospects.

  • Lewis, David. Bangladesh: Politics, Economy and Civil Society. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139017138

    Existing research on the political economy of Bangladesh has been strongly shaped by overgeneralizing narratives of progress, modernization, and heroism. The book offers an introductory overview of the politics, economy, and civil society of contemporary Bangladesh that attempts to make sense of both its achievements and contradictions in the context of a globalized world.

  • Shin, Sojin. The State, Society, and Foreign Capital in India. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781108612463

    What explains variation in FDI inflows across India? Using a focused comparison of Tamil Nadu, with historically high levels of FDI inflow, and Odisha, with historically low levels of FDI inflow, Shin argues that a developmental state in Tamil Nadu underpinned by inclusionary state-society relations facilitated FDI inflows, whereas a nondevelopmental state in Odisha underpinned by an extractive-industry-oriented approach toward industrialization executed by a knowledge-deficient and weak bureaucracy hindered FDI inflows.

  • Siddiqa, Ayesha. Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy. London: Pluto Press, 2007.

    Examines how Pakistan’s powerful military forces penetrate into the core of the country’s economy through commercial or profit-making ventures for the personal benefit of the military fraternity, even in times of civilian rule. Siddiqa terms this form of capital “milbus,” and puts forth that the accumulation of milbus is both a cause and effect of a feudal, authoritarian, and nondemocratic political system. Second edition published in 2017.

  • Venugopal, Rajesh. “The Politics of Market Reform at a Time of Civil War: Military Fiscalism in Sri Lanka.” Economic & Political Weekly 46.49 (3 December 2011): 67–75.

    Studies the functional relationship between growth/reform and civil war, using Sri Lanka as a case study. Venugopal posits that the Sri Lankan civil war has been functionally significant to the promotion of economic growth, as the escalating military budget during the civil war compensated for the contraction of the state due to market liberalization, making the reform agenda politically possible.

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