Post colonial State or State In Developing Societies

  • The states which have been under colonialism – imperialism, commonly known as third world countries.
  • USA is not considered as a colonial state because, all post colonial state are continuing with the legacy of colonialism described as neo-colonialism by the founding father of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah.


  • Colonialism is a term of Marxist discourse. They defined imperialism as colonialism. At times, they also used the word ‘dependency’.
  • The main contribution to the theory of colonialism is of Lenin. It shows that the integration of the countries in the south with international economy does not help these countries. Third world countries should go for autonomous national development.
  • Colonialism explain a situation of dependency, which denotes unequal exchange leading to uneven development. Prosperity at the core and poverty or the development of under-development at peripheries.

The concept

  • Focus on power dynamics: Post-colonial theory of state examines the power dynamics between the former colonizers and the newly independent states, as well as within the post-colonial states themselves.
  • Critique of Eurocentrism: The theory challenges the Eurocentric perspective that dominated colonial rule and seeks to deconstruct the Western-centric narratives and knowledge systems that were imposed on the colonized societies.
  • Exploration of hybrid identities: Post-colonial theory explores the formation of hybrid identities in post-colonial states, where indigenous cultures and traditions interact with the legacies of colonialism.
  • Analysis of neocolonialism: The theory also analyzes the continued influence of neocolonialism, where former colonial powers maintain economic and political control over post-colonial states through various means such as economic dependency and cultural imperialism.
  • Examination of cultural imperialism: Post-colonial theory of state examines how cultural imperialism perpetuates power imbalances by imposing dominant cultural norms and values on post-colonial societies, often leading to the marginalization of indigenous cultures.
  • Critique of development models: The theory critiques the development models imposed by colonial powers and international institutions, arguing that they often perpetuate inequalities and fail to address the specific needs and aspirations of post-colonial states.
  • Emphasis on agency and resistance: Post-colonial theory highlights the agency and resistance of post-colonial states and their efforts to reclaim their own narratives, identities, and political systems.
  • Intersectionality and post-colonial feminism: The theory also explores the intersectionality of gender, race, and class in post-colonial states, and the specific challenges faced by women in these contexts, giving rise to post-colonial feminism.

The nature of post colonial states has been analyzed by scholars from different perspectives. The two prominent perspectives are:

  • Modernization perspective
  • Marxist perspective.

Libral View: (Modernisation and political development theory)

  • The dominant belief among the liberals was that the developing state with an independent source of rationality and its ability to stand outside and above society could initiate and pursue programmes of development for the benefit of the whole society with the help of the modernising elite.
    • First, this notion of an Interventionist State was in line with the colonial statist tradition.
    • Second, since the civil society was under- developed as a result of colonial intervention so the post-colonial state assumed centrality to the state formations.
  • It was widely felt that the development model- put forward primarily by the Princeton School theorists like Powell, Verba, Coleman, Pye, Eisenstadt and Binder among others to be followed by liberal institutionalists like Huntington, Weiner was Euro-centric and was very much an ideological cover to conceal the neo-colonial mechanism of exploitation. It was criticized by Neo-marxists and feminists alike.

Prominent works from liberal perspective

Gunnar Myrdal
  • The Soft State is a term introduced by Gunnar Myrdal in his Asian Drama to describe a general societal “indiscipline” prevalent in South Asia and by extension much of the developing world – in comparison to kind of modern state that had emerged in Europe. Myrdal used the term to describe:
    • … all the various types of social indiscipline which manifest themselves by deficiencies in legislation and, in particular, law observance and enforcement, a widespread disobedience by public officials and, often, their collusion with powerful persons and groups … whose conduct they should regulate. Within the concept of the soft states belongs also corruption.
  • For Myrdal a major causal factor was colonial powers’ destruction of many of the traditional centers of local power and influence and failure to create viable alternatives. Coupled with this was the development of an attitude of disobedience to any authority which was central to the nationalist politics resistance. This attitude persisted after independence. Such soft states are seen as unlikely to capable of imposing the right development policies and would be unwilling to act against corruption at all levels.
Fred Riggs
  • Fred Riggs in his book, “The Ecology of Public Administration” has explored the dynamics of interaction between public administration and its external environment. The ideal models of Fused, Prismatic and Diffracted societies aimed at studying the pre-historic, developing and developed societies.
  • Riggs called functionally diffused societies as ‘Fused’ and the functionally specific societies as ‘Diffracted.’ The society that was intermediate of these types of societies was called Prismatic.
  • Prismatic Society had features of both Fused and Diffracted Societies. Riggs emphasizes that all societies are generally Prismatic and no society can be called purely Fused or Diffracted.
  • The Basic Characteristic of Prismatic Societies are:
    • Heterogeneity: High degree of heterogeneity in a prismatic society due to simultaneous presence of different kinds of systems, practices and viewpoints.
    • Formalism: High degree; due to discrepancy between formally prescribed and effectively practices i.e. between norms and reality.
    • Overlapping: High degree; due to formally differentiated structures of a diffracted society coexist with a undifferentiated structures of a fused society.
    • Nepotism: The considerations of caste, religion, family and loyalty are the deciding factors of official recruitment.
    • Poly-normative: Co-existence of modern, traditional norms leading to lack of consensus on norms of behavior.
    • Poly-communal: Hostile co-existence of communities.
    • Bazaar canteen system:
      • The economic subsystem which combines both market economy and traditional economy. Hence prices of goods keep fluctuating. A small section exploits a large number and controls economic institutions. Prices of goods is determined by relationship between people and officials so it varies largely.
      • In this model, market factors are developed without increase in capital so businessmen try to increase their influence on politics and administration for personal ends. Black market, adulteration, hoarding, inflation is seen. Exploitation, poverty, social injustice are main features.
    • Authority and Control: Authority is centralized but control is localized so dominance of administrators is seen.

Marxist approach

  • There are two approaches.
    • Instrumentalist approach. 
    • Structuralist approach.

Instrumentalist approach (dependency theories)

  • Given by the scholars of third world countries. Primarily Latin America and Africa. This theory is relevant to understand the nature of states in these regions. Even can be applied for middle east.
  • Exponents: A G Frank (LA), Sameer Amin (Egypt), Immanuel Wallerstein.
    • They categorize state into two groups. – Core State, Peripheral state.
    • These states are interlinked – they are interlinked because of capitalism becoming ‘world system’.
    • Core countries are advanced countries – They reflect the concentration of economic power, political power, technological power, cultural power, military power… The states in core countries are the instruments of their bourgeoise class /capitalist class.
    • Peripheral states – These states are in the state of ‘dependency’. Dependency denote
      • a) Unequal exchange. 
      • b) Uneven development
    • As a result of dependency, there is a development of underdevelopment (poverty). These states are not autonomous, they are instrument of the states in core countries, which in turn are the instruments of their own bourgeoise class.
    • According to them, the only way these countries can achieve development is by de-linking themselves from the international economy controlled by core countries and focusing on ‘national autonomous development’.

Structural Approach or Relative autonomy approach

  • This theory for post colonial states is given by Pakistani scholar. Hamza Alvi. His theory is applicable for the states in south Asia, particularly for Pakistan. According to Hamza Alvi, state in Pakistan is ‘overdeveloped’.
  • He believes that the instrumentalist theory will not be the right approach. The state in core countries can be called as the instrument of the bourgeoise class, however states in these societies cannot be called as an instrument of a particular class. Specific historical condition have made the states in these countries as autonomous, most powerful class in itself.
  • The power in these societies is concentrated in the state (executive/civil services). e.g. Pakistan can be called as ‘military-bureaucratic’ oligarchy. Similarly India was also known as ‘inspector raj’, though the change is taking place in India under the forces of globalization (rise of civil society and judicial activism).

Applicability or Contemporary relevance

  • The Indian independence movement led by Mahatma Gandhi and other nationalist leaders against British colonial rule exemplifies the post-colonial struggle for self-determination and the establishment of a democratic state.
  • The dismantling of apartheid and the subsequent transition to democracy under Nelson Mandela’s leadership showcases the challenges faced by a post-colonial state in addressing historical injustices and building a multi-racial society.
  • The Nigerian Civil War and subsequent efforts to establish a stable democratic system demonstrate the complexities of post-colonial state-building, including ethnic tensions, resource management, and governance challenges.
  • The Algerian War of Independence against French colonial rule and the subsequent nation-building process highlight the struggles faced by a post-colonial state in establishing its own political and cultural identity.
  • The Mau Mau uprising against British colonial rule and the subsequent independence movement illustrate the resistance and struggles faced by post-colonial states in reclaiming their land and resources.
  • The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict showcases the challenges faced by a post-colonial state in asserting its sovereignty and addressing the legacies of colonialism and occupation.

Theory of Overdeveloped State

  • As the dependency theory as a paradigm of explanation suffered a decline in the seventies, there emerged more adequate opportunities for those who favoured examining the relationship between class and the state in the developing societies of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
  • Hamza Alavi, writing in the concrete context of South Asia did pioneer work in this regard. Alavi grounded his state theory on the historical specificity of the post-colonial societies. He attributed this as emanating from the structural changes brought about by colonial domination as well as distant history, culture and tradition of these societies.
  • The major contention of Alavi is that the post colonial state dominates the politics as well as the civil society because of its overdeveloped superstructure.The ideological as well as the coercive apparatus of the post colonial state ,being overdeveloped in nature dominates all the indigenous social forces .
    • Alavi attributes this to the historical process of colonial capitalist development taking place in these colonies.The colonial state,equipped with the powerful military bureaucratic apparatus, mechanisms of powers and institutional practices regulated and controlled the indigenous social class.
  • Alavi traces a historical symmetry between the nature of colonial and post-colonial state in this regard as due to absence of a properly developed capitalist class bureaucratic military oligarchy have become all too common a phenomenon in the post-colonial states.
  • It follows that post-colonial state is not the instrument of a single class. It is relatively autonomous because of the overdeveloped nature of state apparatus as well as because it mediates as well as act on behalf of three dominant proprietary classes- the metropolitan bourgeoisie, the indigenous bourgeoisie and landed classes having competing interests.
  • Thus the post-colonial state is entrusted with the task of preserving a social order which the ruling classes’ interests are embedded.
  • At the time of decolonisation the post-colonial state assumed a new and relatively autonomous economic role that was not paralleled in the classical bourgeois state because the state in the post colonial society directly approaches a very large part of the economic surplus and deploys it in bureaucratically directed economic activity.The massive scale of public expenditure established an independent economic base for the state and enabled it to enjoy an autonomous economic role.
  • According to Alavi and Saul there has been yet another factor that defines the crucial significance of state in post-colonial societies. ‘They refer to the special ideological function of the state to create territorial unity, legitimacy and a sense of nationhood.
  • The three factors, taken together, according to Alavi and other post-colonial state theorists . illuminate the centrality of state to post-colonial social formations. In such a situation of high relative autonomy ,the bureaucracy figures as an important component in its own right in the determination of the state policies.
  • It follows that we can discern a general theory of the post-colonial state. While three classes, namely metropolitan bourgeoisie, the indigenous bourgeoisie and the landed peasantry may be regarded as economically dominant and therefore exercising directly or indirectly political dominance or control., state personnel/ bureaucratic bourgeoisie1 petty bourgeoisie may be judged to be the ruling or governing element being most active in the political process and indeed holding the rein of government.
  • Post colonial state theorists, despite its theoretical sophistication with its ability to underline the significance of historical understanding, failed like the dependency theorists to take into consideration the distinctive colonial experiences of the different countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
    • As Neera Chandhoke puts it; ‘Different countries had witnessed different kinds of anti-colonial struggles, based on specific experiences of colonialism, their own histories of and traditions of protest, distinctive political ideologies, intellectual contributions and stemming out of all of them, differing vision of future. And after independence, various countries embarked on different paths of building institutions, creating legitimizing ideologies, patterns of political mobilization, and nation state projects’.

Criticism :

  • Essentialism: Critics argue that post-colonial theory often essentializes the experiences and identities of colonized peoples, reducing them to a singular narrative and overlooking the diversity within these communities.
  • Lack of Agency: Some critics argue that post-colonial theory tends to portray colonized peoples as passive victims of colonization, neglecting their agency and resistance in shaping their own destinies.
  • Eurocentrism: Critics argue that post-colonial theory often reproduces Eurocentric frameworks and perspectives, failing to adequately challenge the dominance of Western knowledge and theories in the field of political science.
  • Overemphasis on Cultural Factors: Some critics argue that post-colonial theory places excessive emphasis on cultural factors in understanding post-colonial states, neglecting other important factors such as economic structures and power dynamics.
  • Lack of Empirical Evidence: Critics argue that post-colonial theory often lacks empirical evidence to support its claims, relying heavily on theoretical frameworks and abstract.
  • Neglect of Internal Dynamics: Some critics argue that post-colonial theory tends to focus more on the external factors of colonization and overlooks the internal dynamics and complexities within post-colonial states.
  • Neglect of Non-Western Perspectives: Critics argue that post-colonial theory often fails to incorporate non-Western perspectives and voices, reinforcing the dominance of Western knowledge and theories in the field.


  • Despite its criticisms, post-colonial theory has played a crucial role in challenging Eurocentric perspectives and highlighting the legacies of colonialism.
  • The theory provides valuable insights into the power dynamics between colonizers and colonized, shedding light on the exploitation and marginalization experienced by post-colonial states.

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