How Solidarity Works for Welfare: Subnationalism and Social Development in India
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This is a magisterial book that takes on one of the most important questions of all times – Why do some places develop more inclusive welfare regimes and deliver better social outcomes than others? Singh highlights the role of communal cohesion and shared affective bonds in producing the sense of mutual obligation that is at the root of progressive, redistributive policies. Along the way, Singh carefully shows where existing explanations fail to explain the puzzle of subnational variation in Indian social policies and development and takes the reader on a theoretically informed and empirically rich journey through parts of India from the late 19thcentury onwards. The book is both a joy to read and is based on a rigorous combination of qualitative and quantitative research.
In this outstanding book, Singh examines the question of what drives social development. Based on a comparative subnational and longitudinal analysis of Indian states, she mobilizes an extensive amount of evidence to show that social development depends in large measure on the sense of shared identity within a community. Theoretically innovative and carefully researched, this superb study is likely to influence comparative scholarship on welfare outcomes for a long time to come.
Why are levels of social development in some Indian states so much higher than in others? Prerna Singh locates the source of this variation in the degree of shared identity—the sense of “we-ness”—among the state’s citizens. Where solidarity within the subnational political community is strong, as in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, citizens put the collective good over individual welfare and support progressive social policies that generate marked improvements in health and education. But where subnational solidarity is weak, as in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan until the 1990s, and Bihar until the mid-2000s, such common purpose is absent and public policies are significantly less developmentally oriented. This is a novel and important argument, and it is supported by a rich array of qualitative and quantitative evidence. How Solidarity Works for Welfare is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the sources of social welfare improvements in developing nations, and a welcome antidote to the tendency to view social attachments strictly as impediments to development.
This is an outstanding book. It raises the classic question of “who gets what, when and how,” and provides a novel answer. The argument is that relative cohesion of political communities helps us understand why some state governments in India are more effective at delivering education and health than others. The book is theoretically innovative and empirically rigorous; a must read for both academics and policy makers.
This book makes an innovative and original argument on the political economy of service delivery. Using a wide range of sophisticated methodologies, it explains variations in state performance across different states in India. It's central insight, that forms of sub national solidarity matter for performance of the states, is of deep theoretical and empirical interest. Its historical depth, empirical richness, and clarity of argument is deeply instructive. It will generate productive discussion for years to come.
As famously argued by Gosta Esping-Anderson, the West European and North American politics of welfare is based on three arguments: market imperfections, religion, and class. The US and UK represent the first type; France and especially Germany drew upon the Catholic tradition of help; and Scandinavian countries tapped into the rise of social democratic parties to construct a welfare net for all. An entire generation of scholars working on welfare states has taken Esping-Anderson’s view as a founding imagination for further exploration -- for or against. Prerna Singh’s manuscript radically departs from this comparative wisdom. The key for Singh is the notion of community, not class, religion or markets. Relying on Indian materials, Singh argues that when a public sphere internalizes the idea of community, mass literacy goes up significantly and the physical health of the masses also does. A truly novel and arresting argument.
At the heart of this important new book by Prerna Singh lies a simple observation: social solidarity built upon collective identities can promote a politics of the common good. She uses this insight to explain why India’s states see such disparate social development out- comes. Singh seeks to demonstrate that identity politics – when shaped around a shared “sub- national” identity – can improve social outcomes…The execution of the measurement and quantitative tests of the effects of subnationalism is meticulously presented, and the findings powerful.
Prerna Singh’s How Solidarity Works for Welfare: Subnationalism and Social Development in India offers a nuanced look into the ‘big questions’ for understanding the conditions that promote social welfare against a landscape of dramatic discrepancies across educational and health outcomes within a large, multi-party democracy: India. These questions are not only timely, but also clarify some of the reasons why there is an inconsistency in the distribution of public goods in the social sectors of various Indian states.
Singh uses her expertise, most notably in statistical methods and comparative historical analysis, to advance an innovative approach to qualitative and quantitative methods from the late nineteenth century to the present, wherein the legacy of colonial rule and the neoliberalisation of India has significantly influenced contemporary social welfare provisions and outcomes in various Indian states and provinces.
Singh offers a refreshingly new perspective on the causes that lead to better social development in India through the tools of subnationalism, even in fractured societies. This research greatly contributes not only to the intellectual history on the evolution of India’s economic institutions, but also development studies, behavioural economics, political science, geography and social policy. How Solidarity Works for Welfare enables a rich interdisciplinary discourse through these intersections by adding to existing theories that underscore ethnic homogeneity and economic development as some of the preconditions for social development. Singh expands upon previous studies of Indian political economy and political sociology to include an important variable of collective group identity, and also offers valuable state social policy suggestions that can be employed through rethinking innovative regional policies vis-à-vis the spirit of subnationalism.
Awards and Citations
Social scientists have been theorizing about the causes of social development at least since the 18th century. Yet a vast amount of variation remains to be explained. In recent decades we have moved away from explanations based purely economic factors to consider a rich array of political, institution and society based determinants of development. In this context, Prerna Singh’s book How Solidarity Works for Welfare: Subnationalism and Social Development in India, which received the Woodrow Wilson Prize in 2016, presents a radically new and original argument. Focusing on variation in social development outcomes within Indian states, and using an innovative mix of quantitative and qualitative methods, the book argues that it is differences in the emergence of sub-national identities that can explain variation in pro-development policy and thus social development. The book provides a historically rooted argument about the comparative emergence of sub-national identities in different regions of India and a rich set of ideas about how this can impact social policies and development through the behavior of both elites and citizens. It provides powerful and novel ideas about how to think about policy and promises to have the same sort of impact on political science that Robert Putnam’s book, Making Democracy Work, has had.
Singh’s book struck us as an example of wonderful comparative-historical analysis that directly challenges our core ideas about where variations in national welfare state-efforts come from. She starts with a compelling empirical puzzle and develops a plausible theory, tested both through deep case-based analysis and an appropriately modestly interpreted quantitative analysis. Developing the argument requires Singh to engage both in over-time analysis of when and why sub national identity was seized upon by political actors in contests for power, the conditions under which ethnic and religious groups were able to unify behind such a banner and how sub-national solidarities in turn promote social development by promoting competition over who can best serve the community. And its historical bona fides are established by beginning those qualitative case studies of each state 1 00 years ago and beyond. The book features skillful use of comparative methods to tease out the differences between cases of successful and unsuccessful cultivation of sub-national solidarity. One of the things we liked best about this book is that it brings Kerala – typically treated as simply an exceptional case or explained with reference to the strength of the communist party—into a broad comparative frame by showing how the communist party (and rival parties as well) have organized their appeal around regional identity. Singh’s chapter 6 is a tour de force of several careful measurements put at the service of her overall theory.