Subnationalism and Social Development: A Comparative Analysis of Indian States
Vol. 67, No. 3 , July 2015
The committee for the Luebbert Article Award had our work cut out for us because we had a very large number of nominations. There were 36 submissions in all. After much discussion and deliberation—as we assessed the articles according to a range of criteria including originality, innovativeness, importance for the field, quality of argument, sophistication of theory and quality empirics—we made our choice.
The winner of the Luebbert Article Award for best article published in the field of comparative politics during the prior two calendar years (2014 and 2015) is Prerna Singh for her article: 'Subnationalism and Social Development in India: A Comparative Analysis of Indian States' published in World Politics in June 2015 (first view). Prerna Singh is Mahatma Gandhi Assistant Professor of Politics and International Studies in the Department of Political Science at the Watson Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, Brown University
The winning article is focused on subnationalism in India and the solidarity that comes from subnational identity. It investigates contrasting cases on the role of elites in using ideas about subnational identity (versus religion) to come to power …and then to support social welfare (or not).
Prerna Singh's work is theoretically innovative and methodologically pluralistic while offering a fresh take on a substantively significant question in comparative politics. The article combines statistical analysis and historical case comparison to show how the strength of solidarity at the subnational level (or sub nationalism) can be a key driver of country-level social policy and welfare outcomes. We were impressed by the way Prerna has developed a clear mechanism for demonstrating attachment at the individual level, while working up to important macro-level differences in outcomes. The cases were well constructed while the outcomes she explains are tremendously important. Mixing quantitative and qualitative case analysis, with rich use of theories from a range of disciplines, Prerna’s article shows great intellectual breath as she explored the microfoundations of solidarity and welfare, ranging from cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and political theory. Also impressive is the depth of her empirical testing, particularly the combination of a carefully executed quantitative analysis with a fascinating historical comparison of UP and Kerala. Congratulations to Prerna Singh for her stunning article.
Using statistical analyses and historical case comparisons, this article identifies solidarity that emerges from a shared collective identity, or subantionalism, as an important contributor to social policy and welfare outcomes in various states in India. Singh argues that an overarching subnational identity facilitates a sense of shared interests and mutual commitments among individuals from divergent subgroups as it did in the state of Kerala. These individuals, therefore, are more likely to support policies that enhance collective welfare. By contrast, in states where there is a lack of an overarching subnational identity, such as in Uttar Pradesh, the sense of mutual commitment is limited to coethnics, and not to all members of the subnational community. In such states, the political elite are more likely to introduce policies that target their particular ethnic group and not everyone in the state.
Singh’s argument moves away from the dominant view in welfare scholarship of the negative impact of collective identity. By highlighting how class mobilization succeeds when embedded in subnationalism, as it did in Kerala, and fails when there is no overarching subnationalism as in Uttar Pradesh, Singh also provides nuance to the argument on class mobilization and collective welfare. Singh’s argument has important policy implications as she demonstrates how engaging subnational collective identities – through a state language, celebration of festivals and state heroes -- can bring development policy in conversation with a larger arts and cultural context and can further social policy and development. Well written with empirical, conceptual, and theoretical contributions, it was an unanimous first choice of all members of the committee.