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Journal of World History 11.2 (2000) 371-373

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Book Review

Dynamics of State Formation: Europe and India Compared

Dynamics of State Formation: Europe and India Compared. Edited by MARTIN DOORNBOS and SUDIPTA KAVIRAJ. London: Sage, 1998. Pp. 434. $36.00 (cloth).

This collection of sixteen essays (minus an index) represents a selection of papers originally presented at an Indo-Dutch seminar, held in New Delhi in March 1990, on the comparative study of state formation processes in India and Europe. The book is divided into six sections.

The papers in the first section attempt to plot the historical setting and trajectories of state formation in India and Europe. They highlight the fact that such processes have taken divergent paths in India and Europe, being based on very different human experiences, traditions, institutions, cultures, and histories. Thus, S. N. Eisenstadt and Harriet Hartman conclude that in India, over time, there emerged no conception of statehood as a distinct ontological entity and little reconstruction took place in the political and economic arenas. This was unlike Europe, where from the Middle Ages onwards, new institutional areas such as the formation of the cultural and political centers of the nation state and civil society begin to emerge. The papers by Satish Saberwal and Jan Heesterman analyze the colonial state in India as forming the juncture between two opposing, disjunctive traditions --precolonial and modern--each spelling different versions of political and civic authority, spatial layout, ideologies, and practices. The advent of the colonial state provided a juncture between these two distinct traditions, generating contradictions that have spilled over into the very structure and functioning of the postcolonial state in modern India.

The second section examines the ways in which modern states have attempted to engineer identity formation by deploying language and elementary mass education to enhance their own domination. These attempts to homogenize through language unification have always been resisted by forces of cultural specificity, giving rise to subnational movements both in India and Europe.

In the third section, titled "The role of the state and citizenship," Bhikhu Parekh looks at the contradiction between the "dominant theory of the modern state," based as it is on notions of homogeneity, universalism, rationality, and nonplurality, and the plural nature of the societies it is embedded within. While Lolle Nauta attempts to understand "civil society" as that "pacified area" within the modern nation state, which has also been referred to as "civic society" and inhabited by rational, self-controlled, and civilized citizens, with rules and obligations [End Page 371] as well as older values such as religion, ethnicity, and family. Sudipta Kaviraj examines the premodern and colonial antecedents of the modern Indian state and the contradictions that were subsequently thrown up in its functioning following India's independence. He goes on to trace the development of the postcolonial state in India and the repeated crises it has undergone.

Issues of marginalization and social movements and their relationships with the state in both Europe and India are taken up in the fourth section. The emergence of marginalized groups in Europe (such as the unemployed underclass in the Netherlands) and India (Muslims, tribals, and peasants) and their social movements have opened new engagements with the modern state. Of particular interest is the paper by Indian sociologist Veena Das, who looks at the issue of cultural rights and notions of community identity and their uneasy relationship with the modern Indian state. Focusing on the engagements of the Muslim and Rajput communities with the modern Indian state on issues of personal law and sati (the custom whereby a married woman ascends the funeral pyre of her husband), she provides a sensitive renditioning of the contradictions and tensions inherent in such engagements where different definitions of community jostle with competing notions of selfhood and nationalism involving a range of actors from the individuals, their communities, the state, the bourgeoisie, and so on.

The final section, by way of retrospect, looks at state formation in India. Ravinder Kumar traces the growth of Indian states from the ancient to the modern period, while...