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RESEARCH

DISSERTATION - CAPITALISTS AND COMPANIES: MAKING STATES IN INDIA, 1700-1800

My dissertation, Capitalists and Companies, investigates why some rulers are able to access capital held by elite gatekeepers of tax revenue and credit while others are not. I explore this question in the context of the ongoing interstate warfare of eighteenth-century India, when multiple rulers, including European mercantile companies, competed with one another for access to the revenue controlled by landed elites and merchant-financiers. Through comparison of three similar rulers in the states of Bengal, Bombay, and Mysore between 1700 and 1800, I find that rulers who concentrated on protecting the properties and privileges of landed elites and merchant financiers, as opposed to any other subset of their populations, fared better in gaining access to coveted sources of revenue. However, these protections did not necessarily have wider societal impact on investment confidence and political stability, as existing literature argues. On the contrary, rulers who suspended elite privileges in the short-term and favored administrative centralization of the state encouraged the long-term growth of their polities and economies. This suggests that governors interested in reaping the long-term gains from economic growth not only protected and expanded property rights but that they also simultaneously curbed the avaricious tendencies of the very elites they need to survive.
Capitalists and Companies makes two central contributions to the study of long-term political and economic development. First, it challenges the idea that the existence and enforcement of property rights protections are the key determinants of long-term economic growth. Instead, I find that some forms of property protections must necessarily be eroded in the short term to encourage state centralization, which itself is an important precondition for later growth. Second, building on a largely neglected literature on commercial history in eighteenth and nineteenth century India, it argues that the British laid the foundations of their empire in India through capturing the support of elite resource holders rather than through superior military force, grand strategy, or cunning diplomacy, which are the three most popular explanations in the current historiography.

“HISTORICIZING BUREAUCRATIC DECENTRALIZATION IN AFGHANISTAN, 1600-2019”

Terms like “state fragmentation,” “state weakness,” and “state failure,” are used to index a similar phenomenon – that of a state center that has lost or is losing its control over the territory it governs. This occludes the purposeful decentralization of authority that some state centers undertake in order to meet other imperatives, including management of external security threats, capture of productive networks around trade entrepots, and pacification of groups with differing political demands. Differential political demands often arise in countries that contain multiple ethnic identities, histories of being ruled from different centers, and close social connections to a nearby cross-border population. Using the important case of Afghanistan, this paper adopts a longue duréeapproach to the study of state centralization and finds that bureaucratic decentralization was a purposeful strategy employed by successive imperial, monarchical, and party regimes to manage distinct threats that emerged as a result of Afghan geography and demographics. It argues that historicizing decentralization in this manner allows for a more informed approach to the issue of “state failure” and provides a framework within which to situate alternative sources of governance where the state has been unable or unwilling to extend its writ.

THE ROOTS OF CORPORATE MALFEASANCE: THE MERCHANT AS BODY POLITIC IN EARLY MODERN ENGLAND

Recent work on corporate constitutions has argued that various early modern forms of corporation constituted their own political communities and acted as nodes in the formation of global networks of commerce, culture, politics, and diplomacy. As such, this work has shown an intimate historical connection between the state and other forms of corporate body. This paper furthers this argument but also introduces an important caveat by noting the growing consensus around some corporate bodies as legitimate and others as illegitimate in the early modern period. Drawing on English legal and mercantile history, I argue that political legitimacy was situated in the corporate body of the state for the same reasons of legal lineage that others have pointed to when placing states and other corporate bodies into a set of similarly constituted organizations. This paper provides evidence for the argument through a detailed look at the history of the corporate body and then turns to analysis of debates in early modern England surrounding the rights and privileges of joint stock companies, especially the East India Company.v

“STATES ON EDGE: TERRITORIAL CONFLICT AND BORDER STABILITY IN THE INDIAN BORDERLANDS"

Current literature on territorial disputes argues that state borders are path dependent international institutions – ones that follow previous administrative lines are more likely to become institutionalized and effectively coordinate economic and political life. However, borders are not the only or the most important institution in borderlands. Informal domestic institutions, such as social methods of dispute adjudication, norms of exchange and debt repayment, and codes of social conduct can undermine the effectiveness of border demarcation and exert path dependent effects of their own on subsequent periods. The competition between informal institutions and the formal international border prevents border institutionalization and induces cyclical periods of border stability and instability. This paper utilizes comparative cases of the India-Bangladesh (Radcliffe Line) and India-Pakistan (LOC) borders in Bengal and Kashmir, respectively, to show that even when borders are not formally disputed, they may still be unstable, while formally disputed borders may nevertheless be stable because of the interaction of the border institution with informal institutions that buttress or erode the border’s effectiveness.

"TAKING ADVANTAGE OF SELECTION BIAS IN HISTORICAL METHODS" (WITH KEVIN WENG)

Historical research in the social sciences often relies on the collection, interpretation, and synthesis of primary documents gathered in national libraries and archives. While these sources have proved invaluable in elucidating rich historical processes, primary document evidence in political science is often mined for its content to the exclusion of other aspects of the document, such as form, placement, and materiality, which crucially impact the reconstruction of historical events and the conclusions that can be drawn from them. While social scientists in anthropology and interpretive sociology and political science have made great strides in using form and placement in their analyses of historical events, these interventions have yet to be widely acknowledged and practiced in positivist research. We argue that the physicality of documents, outside of their content, can be treated as a type of “selection bias” and thereby incorporated into the mainstream of positivist qualitative research. We further demonstrate the applicability of this approach through a comparison of the authors’ experiences working with documents from twentieth century Republican China and eighteenth-century British enclaves in India. This paper will be presented at the Social Sciences History Association annual conference in Chicago, Illinois in November 2019.

"PRE-COLONIAL INSTITUTIONS AND THE ORIGINS OF DIRECT AND INDIRECT RULE" (UNDER PREPARATION WITH HANISAH BINTE ABDULLAH SANI)

Literatures on the institutional legacies of colonial rule implicitly adopt a view of institutional path dependency by arguing that colonial administrations will retain existing institutions rather than dismantling them or erecting new ones. It follows that the preservation or elimination of pre-colonial institutions shapes enduring legacies of state development. Yet, we know little about how pre-colonial institutions are taken up, modified, or discarded outside of a framework of cost effectiveness. We argue that decisions regarding what to do with native institutions often depended on a host of other factors drawn from social, ideological, and political considerations that varied across territory and time, thereby providing a strong challenge to the pragmatic economics of the conservationist argument. We offer a theoretical and methodological reassessment of the determinants or origins of institutions in the colonial state and their legacies.