post-colonial state

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Term applied to the new nation‐states that emerged out of the process of decolonization in the post‐Second World War period. Another term sometimes used is the ‘developmental state’. The post‐colonial state has exhibited many features of the colonial state in its political formation. The British parliamentary model, for example, has been adopted by many ex‐British colonies like India.

The post‐colonial state has been characterized in two different ways—in terms of its political and economic agenda, and in terms of its ‘infrastructural capacity’. Most post‐colonial states have started from an interventionist standpoint. However, the capacity of these states to implement their programmes has been affected crucially by the political system that has evolved in these states. The post‐colonial state has been characterized as ‘strong’ or ‘weak’ on the basis of its capacity to implement political decisions—whether the political infrastructure is in place and functioning well or not. This would distinguish a ‘strong’ state from a merely ‘despotic’ one. State capacity is, of course, linked to the economic resources available to the state but also to the evolving relations between the political executive and the bureaucracy on the one hand and state and civil society on the other. The ‘embeddedness’ of the state in society has been regarded by some as a feature of a ‘strong’ state in the context of cooperation of important state and societal interest groups, and by others as characterizing a ‘weak’ state where the state is penetrated by civil society and interest groups that are too strong for it to control. The weak capacity of the post‐colonial state is also linked to levels of political violence, in that the governability of a society is dependent upon the political infrastructure of the state, in the absence of which the state increasingly relies upon the use of violence and sets up a pattern of counter‐violence in societies. Governability is thus a continuing and growing concern for post‐colonial states. Under globalization, the post‐colonial state is facing new challenges. On the one hand, it has been argued that all states are ‘hollowing out’ and losing their pre‐eminent position on the political landscape, while on the other, states are seen as repositioning themselves to take advantage of globalization. Post‐colonial states have, in this context, also been called ‘competition states’—competing to attract global capital. It has also been suggested that these states are facing a new form of imperialism—economic imperialism—as they ‘race to the bottom’ and become increasingly vulnerable and dependent upon global capitalism.

Shirin Rai


Subjects: Politics.

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