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The Origins of Ethnic Activism: Caste Politics in Colonial India

  • Alexander Lee (a1)


Existing accounts of ethnic mobilization have focused on the role of group size or state policy. This paper suggests that narrow identity activism was also non-linearly related to education since poorly-educated groups are unlikely to have an educated elite to participate in activism, while in very educated groups this elite existed but participated in the colonial state or anti-colonial nationalism. This theory is tested using a historical panel dataset of Indian caste groups, with petitions to the colonial census authorities being used as an index of caste activism.


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Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Alexander Lee, University of Rochester, Harkness Hall, Rochester, NY 14627. E-mail:


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The author would like to thank David Laitin, James Fearon, Steven Haber, Saumitra Jha, Thomas Blom Hansen, Lisa Blaydes, Karen Jusko, Bethany Lacina, Avidit Acharya, Jessica Gottlieb, Amanda Robinson, Milan Vaishev, and Therese Kosterman and seminar participants at Stanford, Rochester and Princeton for their comments on the manuscript.



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