Abstract: Why do some projects of political identity mobilization emphasize the creation of bounded ethnic groups, while others emphasize the activation of markers of social status and hierarchical difference? Why do many subaltern groups actively involve themselves in the articulation of hierarchical identities such as caste? This paper develops a theory of both hierarchal and segmentary political strategies, and tests it using an original panel dataset of petitions submitted by Indian caste groups to the colonial census authorities. It finds that segmentary (“ethnicizing”) mobilization is related to the need for non-traditional elites to mobilize poor coethnics for electoral purposes, and is associated with large groups and areas with a large number of elected local officials. Hierarchical (“Sanskritizing”) mobilization is associated with the desire of local elites to gain an advantage in extra-state political conflict, and is more common among literate groups and groups in areas with a weak state presence. These findings, which are robust to a wide variety of controls and robustness checks, emphasize the importance of political institutions to social identity development, and the contingent nature of modern concepts of ethnic identity.
Alexander Lee is a PhD candidate in Comparative Politics, with International Relations and American Politics as additional fields. His research focuses on the politics of the developing world, especially South Asia, and the historical factors governing the success or failure of political institutions. His dissertation “Diversity and Power: Caste in Indian Politics” examines the effect of the economic and social changes during the colonial period on caste identity formation and the distribution of power among caste groups, and traces the long term effect of these caste structures on the politics of post-independence India, particularly on regional and subregional variation in political development. Additional research areas include the long term consequences of colonialism and European expansion, and the cause of political violence, especially terrorism. He has just returned from a year of fieldwork in India, based in Delhi and Patna.
Last modified Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - 8:50am