Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Book Review

Conflict Literature: A Sociological Perspective

Edited by Nandini Sundar and Aparna Sundar  
Sage Publications, Delhi, 2014, pp. 273, Rs. 850.00


The book originated at a workshop in Delhi University’s Department of Sociology in 2010. Consequently 
it helps fill a gap in writings on internal security that are usually security related and state centric at that. 
The development perspective relying on human security and peace studies on conflict resolution 
frameworks are fast emerging as strong competitors. Nevertheless, the sociological angle deserved 
greater visibility than it has received so far, even if it has been much in evidence within the academia 
and in progressive tracts. On that count, the book serves to bring the sociological perspective to the general
 readership to flesh out conflict literature and is a contribution to both strategic and peace studies in South Asia. 
For this we can credit noted scholar Nandini Sundar, and her sister, Aparna Sundar, Associate professor 
at the Azim Premji University, along with the team of academics brought together for the purpose at a workshop. 
The jointly written introduction by the sister-duo that comprises the editorial team spells out what they 
mean by civil wars and how they situate the concept to the region. Simply put, civil wars to them 
are armed conflicts that challenge state sovereignty. States have taken care to refer to these instead 
as insurgencies to be able to operationalize and legitimize a counter-insurgency approach. Finding 
this wanting, particularly in the conflict management approaches it gives rise to, the two wished for a more
 holistic reappraisal to include ‘structures and dynamics’ (p.4) that give rise to or are set in place by 
armed confrontations. Their intent was to examine civil wars in the region for ‘theoretical implications
 and from a comparative and regional perspective’ (p. 3). They problematize sovereignty in order to enhance
 the study of the state, not in its ordinary ‘everyday administrative practices’ (p.5), but how it behaves in the 
context of internal conflict. They complicate the relationship between economic development and civil wars
 by counter intuitively bringing out, using the cases of Sri Lanka and India, that conflict can buoy economics, 
such as by the boost to the military, humanitarian and developmental sectors, and to social segments and 
political actors advantaged by conflict. They challenge the thesis of state fragility as cause of conflict 
bringing out that South Asian states on the contrary have robust centralized authority and rely on 
‘extraordinary’ laws inherited from their colonial forbears. Yet, there is ...

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