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How Solidarity Works for Welfare
Subnationalism and Social Development in India


Award Winner

Part of Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics

  • Date Published: January 2016
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107070059

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About the Authors
  • Why are some places in the world characterized by better social service provision and welfare outcomes than others? In a world in which millions of people, particularly in developing countries, continue to lead lives plagued by illiteracy and ill-health, understanding the conditions that promote social welfare is of critical importance to political scientists and policy makers alike. Drawing on a multi-method study, from the late-nineteenth century to the present, of the stark variations in educational and health outcomes within a large, federal, multiethnic developing country - India - this book develops an argument for the power of collective identity as an impetus for state prioritization of social welfare. Such an argument not only marks an important break from the dominant negative perceptions of identity politics but also presents a novel theoretical framework to understand welfare provision.

    • Addresses questions that are of urgent relevance to scholars and policy makers alike: why are some places characterized by better social service provision and welfare outcomes than others, and how can we improve access to essential public services and welfare outcomes for people?
    • Uses a creative, multi-method research design - a combination of comparative historical analysis and statistical analysis, and subnational comparison of Indian states
    • In contrast to most studies that focus on the destructive implications of identity politics, the book details a counterintuitive argument about the constructive potential of identity politics
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    • Winner, 2016 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award, American Political Science Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    'This is a magisterial book that takes on one of the most important questions of all time - 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-nineteenth century onwards. The book is both a joy to read and is based on a rigorous combination of qualitative and quantitative research.' Melani Cammett, Harvard University, Massachusetts

    '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.' Giovanni Capoccia, University of Oxford

    '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.' Daniel N. Posner, James S. Coleman Professor of International Development, University of California, Los Angeles

    '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.' Atul Kohli, David Bruce Professor of International Affairs, Princeton University, New Jersey

    '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. Its 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.' Pratap Bhanu Mehta, President and Chief Executive, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi  

    '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 argument.' Ashutosh Varshney, Sol Goldman Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences, Brown University, Rhode Island

    '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.' Louise Tillin, Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies

    '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.' Janak N. Padhiar, LSE Review of Books

    'This is a landmark study, beyond its immediate subject matter, which is India and the role of subnationalism in social policy in India. The book is likely to become a classic in social welfare research … Singh's book leaves us not only with lessons for theory building, but also with a 'ray of hope', because she shows that even deep-seated social cleavages and particularistic social structures and legacies can be overcome, even in India' Lutz Leisering, Journal of Social Policy

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    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2016
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107070059
    • length: 332 pages
    • dimensions: 237 x 160 x 28 mm
    • weight: 0.67kg
    • contains: 21 b/w illus. 28 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    List of figures and tables
    1. Subnationalism and social development: an introduction
    2. How solidarity works for welfare: the subnationalist motivation for social development
    3. The origins of the differential strength of subnationalism
    4. How subnationalism promotes social development
    5. How absence of subnationalism impedes social development
    6. Subnationalism and social development across Indian states
    7. Conclusion

  • Author

    Prerna Singh, Brown University, Rhode Island
    Prerna Singh is the Mahatma Gandhi Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Brown University, Rhode Island where she is also a faculty fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. Prior to joining Brown, she taught in the Department of Government at Harvard University, Massachusetts. Singh has received numerous fellowships from the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, the Center for Advanced Study for India (CASI) at the University of Pennsylvania, and the American Institute of Indian Studies. Her articles have been published in several journals, including World Politics, Comparative Political Studies, Comparative Politics, World Development, and Studies in Comparative International Development. Singh is the co-editor of Routledge Handbook of Indian Politics (2013).


    • Winner, 2016 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award, American Political Science Association
    • Co-Winner, 2016 Barrington Moore Book Award, Comparative and Historical Sociology Section, American Sociological Association

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