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South Asian Political Culture

This research group seeks to investigate South Asian political culture by investigating values, concepts, meanings and symbols of power, authority and status.

About the group

South Asian political culture is characterised by a myriad of different expressions. This can be seen in the varying processes and norms that apply in the selection of leaders, from village level up through district to national level. Or it can be seen in how institutions such as political parties or representative elections are conceptualised by different social groups. It may also be gauged from the difficulty often seen in maintaining the rule of law and formal functioning of state institutions, particularly at more local levels.

A fruitful approach is to understand South Asian political culture as a composite result of several important influences. Above all, it is formed in the interface of European inspired political institutions and South Asian notions of authority, leadership and legitimacy. European inspired elements include Westminister styled state institutions, the separation of powers, distinction of private from public and the organisation of representation in political parties within electoral democracy.

The South Asian state today is as much an on-going political transformation as it is an outgrowth of the subcontinent’s political soil or the simple product of a political system largely imported from the West. South Asian political culture should be understood as the sum total of the historically formed rules, conceptions and norms that inform political life in contemporary South Asia.


This program seeks to investigate South Asian political culture by investigating values, concepts, meanings and symbols of power, authority and status. We will focus on relationships of domination and control and on the contriving of distinction and difference in different spheres of South Asian society. Insight into processes and meaning of domination and control can be gained from studies of elections, party politics and local politics. Insight also comes from exploring gender relations, group relations in local society and numerous other settings.

Explaining dynamics of conflict and competition at the state level, for example, can be facilitated with an understanding of notions of rank and status in local societies, and electoral campaigning and symbolism with an understanding of notions of honour and shame in family contexts. In this program we keep an eye to changes over time. We will use ethnographic, historical and textbased cases as well as different disciplinary angles to arrive at a dynamic understanding of power and politics.


Political culture has important impact on economic, political and social development and constitutes a crucial concept for the understanding of South Asian societies – however political culture be conceptualised.

Our approach is to bring together research from various disciplines (history, area studies, history of religion, anthropology and political science) in order to investigate the usefulness of the concept and the practice of political culture.

Published Apr. 3, 2017 1:27 PM - Last modified Feb. 13, 2018 10:20 AM