The economic and strategic relevance of South Asia has enormously grown in recent years. While India’s economic story and South Asia’s struggle with terror are often noted, there is a great deal more to the region, which is of intellectual relevance.
Consider some of the “big” questions of politics, political economy and security, on which the South Asian region in general, and India in particular, offer engaging perspectives:
(1) Historically speaking, universal franchise democracy came to the West after the industrial revolution had been completed. In India, universal franchise was born at a time when the country was overwhelmingly agrarian and manufacturing constituted a mere 2–3% of GDP. What can we surmise about the simultaneous pursuit of economic transformation and democratic deepening from India’s experience? India-China comparisons are directly relevant here. More generally, as Africa and other Asian countries contemplate economic future, is democracy to be viewed as a political framework within which economic development ought to be pursued?
(2) Historically, manufacturing has always led an economic revolution. It is as true of Europe and the US as of East Asia. In India, high-tech services, primarily export-based, have led the boom, and are now wrestling with an international economic downturn. What are the larger lessons of a services-led economic transformation?
(3) India’s democracy has functioned amidst one of the most hierarchical social orders the world has witnessed: viz., caste system. Has the equality principle of democracy undermined the caste system, or have caste inequalities changed the script of Indian democracy, forcing it to differ significantly from the Western democratic experience?
(4) Serious regional disparities mark virtually the entire region. In India, compared to the northern and eastern states, the southern and western states have not only boomed economically, but their human development performance has been markedly superior. In Pakistan, Punjab continues to be far ahead of the other regions. How does one explain such variations? Are there larger social science theories at stake? Can newer theories be developed?
(5) The shadow of security over politics and economics is now dark and deep. Why has terrorism taken such roots in Pakistan? What is it about the polity or society of Pakistan that has provided a home to terrorism? Given how terrorism works, can it spread to India in a significant way?
(6) The security situation in Afghanistan is now the center of international attention. How does one understand the security problems of Afghanistan? Why is establishing order such a monumental task in Afghanistan and also a tall task in Pakistan?
(7) Security has a so-called softer side. Human rights of some minority groups have been compromised for the sake of “nation-building” all over the region. This is true even in India, which has functioned as a democracy for over six decades. With far greater intensity, the same issues crop up in Sri Lanka, once the most vigorous democracy in the developing world. Why have South Asian democracies found it hard to develop more robust human rights regimes? Is it a South Asian problem, or a more generic problem of democracies faced with insurgencies?
(8) In a related vein, raging debates over the rule of law have taken place all over South Asia. In India, the debate has also covered the role of public interest litigation. Why have South Asian societies struggled so hard to establish a reliable legal regime? Is it simply a function of low incomes and unstable security environments? Or, do cultural and sociological norms seriously clash with the rule of law? Do we have theories that tell us how rule of law got institutionalized in the richer countries? Can those theories be used for understanding South Asia?
(9) South Asia as a region has been one of the original homes of the NGO movement in the world. Some of the world’s most respected non-governmental organizations have been working in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India. What can we learn about what kinds of NGOs succeed and what types fail? Is the learning region-specific, or is it portable?
(10) India’s democratic longevity has coexisted with substantial party fractionalization. Over the last twenty years, Delhi has been ruled by coalition governments. Such coalitions have normally marked polities that have proportional representation, not first-past-the-post systems, which tend to produce fewer parties in power. How do we understand India’s party fractionalization?
The list above is not exhaustive, but these are some of the issues that this annual seminar series, concentrating on contemporary South Asian politics and political economy, will investigate. Some sessions of the seminar will be entirely academic, but other sessions will conceptualized as a Habermasian public sphere, where academics alone do not monopolize discourse. Rather, public figures — from politics, business, journalism, security and NGO sector– and academic researchers and students will engage in a sustained conversation. Knowledge, inevitably, has many facets.
This seminar is a joint effort of, and is funded by, four institutions of the Boston-Providence area: the Brown-India Initiative at the Watson Institute at Brown, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the South Asia Institute both at Harvard and the MIT Center for International Studies. It will be co-directed by faculty working on different aspects of South Asian politics and political economy in each of these universities. The location of the seminar will alternate between Brown, Harvard and MIT. A detailed program for the series can be found below.
Sociologist Katherine S. Newman is a widely published expert on poverty and the working poor who led major interdisciplinary initiatives at Princeton and Harvard universities before being named James B. Knapp Dean of the Johns Hopkins University Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences in 2010.
A distinguished scholar, veteran academic leader, and talented and dedicated educator, Newman assumed the deanship on Sept. 1 and holds a faculty appointment in the Department of Sociology.
Newman was previously the Malcolm Stevenson Forbes ‘41 Professor in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Department of Sociology at Princeton University, where she had taught since 2004. From 2007 to 2010, she directed Princeton’s university-wide Institute for International and Regional Studies. She founded and chaired Princeton’s joint doctoral program in social policy, sociology, politics, and psychology.
Previously, during eight years at Harvard University, she was the first dean of social science at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. While there, she designed a university-wide research program in the social sciences, promoting collaboration among faculty from the arts and sciences, public health, medicine, law and education. She also has served on the faculties of Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley.
Newman, who has written 10 books and five edited volumes thus far, has focused much of her scholarly work on the lives of the working poor and mobility up and down the economic ladder. She also has investigated the impact of tax policy on the poor, the history of public opinion’s impact on poverty policy, school violence, and the impact of globalization on young people in Italy, Spain, Japan, and South Africa, among other issues.
Newman graduated in 1975 from the University of California, San Diego, where she majored in sociology and philosophy. She earned a PhD in anthropology in 1979 from the University of California, Berkeley.
Paul Attewell is a professor of sociology and of urban education at the CUNY Graduate Center. His research interests include the sociology of education, inequality and stratification, and social impacts of information technology.
His most recent book, Passing the Torch: Does Higher Education for the Disadvantaged Pay Off Across the Generations? (co-authored with Professor David E. Lavin), won the Outstanding Book award of the American Educational Research Association in 2009, and also the 2009 Grawemeyer Prize in education.
Professor Attewell has also published research on the policy of requiring more advanced coursework from high school students, and on whether remedial education works for college students. His current research projects include a qualitative evaluation of inner city public school students who are being paid monetary incentives to do well on standardized tests, and a separate project that looks at college graduation, stopping out, and dropping out among working and commuter undergraduates. He has received grants to support his research from the National Science Foundation, The Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Spencer Foundation.
Attewell earned his doctorate in sociology from the University of California-San Diego in 1978. Before joining the Graduate Center faculty, he taught at the University of California-Santa Cruz; the State University of New York, Stony Brook; and Stern Graduate School of Business at New York University.
Rikhil R. Bhavnani is a Visiting Fellow at the Center for the Study of
Democratic politics, Princeton University, and will join the faculty of the
University of Wisconsin-Madison as an Assistant Professor of Political
Science in the Fall of 2011. He has a PhD in political science, and an MA
in economics, from Stanford University, and an MSc in Development Studies
from the London School of Economics.
Rikhil is currently working on two broad research agendas, on political inequality and corruption. His work examines the causes and effects of — and tests the efficacy of remedies for — both phenomena. He does so using plausibly exogenous variation due to historical accidents, and natural, survey and field experiments. Other projects examine the effects of migration on political participation and violence in India. His research is characterized by interests in political and economic development and South Asia, and by a close attention to causality. His work has appeared in the American Political Science Review and has been supported by the National Science Foundation.
Paul Staniland is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago, where he co-directs the Program on International Security Policy. His research interests are in civil war, international security, and ethnic politics, primarily in South Asia. His current book project and related articles examine organizational cohesion and fragmentation in insurgent groups. Other work studies civil-military relations, pro-state paramilitarism in civil wars, Indian and Pakistani foreign and internal security policy, and the politics of insurgency and terrorism.
His work has been published in Civil Wars, Comparative Political Studies, International Security, Security Studies, and the Washington Quarterly, among others. His research has been funded by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, Smith Richardson Foundation, MIT Center for International Studies, Yale University’s MacMillan Center, and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and Minda de Gunzberg Center for European Studies.
Sumit Ganguly is a Professor of Political Science and holds the Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations at Indiana University in Bloomington. He has previously been on the faculty of James Madison College of Michigan State University, Hunter College of the City University of New York and the University of Texas at Austin. He has also taught at Columbia University in New York City. He has also been a Fellow and a Guest Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC and a Visiting Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. His research and writing focused on South Asia has been supported by grants from the Asia Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the W. Alton Jones Foundation. He serves on the editorial boards of Asian Affairs, Asian Survey, Current History, the Journal of Democracy and Security Studies. He is also the founding editor of both the India Review and Asian Security, two referred journals published by Taylor and Francis, London. Professor Ganguly is the author, co-author, editor or co-editor of a twenty books on South Asia.
His most recent books are Fearful Symmetry: India and Pakistan Under the Shadow of Nuclear Weapons (co-authored with Devin Hagerty) jointly published by Oxford University Press (New Delhi) and the University of Washington Press (Seattle) and India, Pakistan and the Bomb: Debating Nuclear Stability in South Asia (co-authored with S. Paul Kapur). He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, New York and the International Institute of Strategic Studies, London. Professor Ganguly has just completed a book (with Rahul Mukherji) India Since 1980, for Cambridge University Press and is at work on a single-authored book, Deadly Impasse: Indo-Pakistani relations at the Dawn of a New Century also for Cambridge University Press. He is also writing the Oxford Companion to Indian Foreign Policy for Oxford University Press, New Delhi.