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6. Hamza Alavi and the post-colonial state


Peasants and Revolution, by Hamza Alavi

Hamza Alavi, who died in December 2003, was a Reader in Sociology at University of Manchester from 1977 to 1988. He had wide range of interests within the area of the political economy of South Asia. He worked on the state in post-colonial societies, on imperialism, on the peasantry and rural power in South Asia peasant societies. He also wrote on gender, ethnicity, ideology and nationhood in Pakistan and Bangladesh. His work had enormous impact in shaping left perspectives on the state in developing societies. In particular, his analysis of the alliance between the bureaucracy and the military in Pakistan led to his famous argument on the over-developed state in post-colonial societies, a leftover of the earlier colonial regime, resulting in a ‘relative autonomy of the state’ from local society and the rise of what he termed the ‘salariat’.

Hamza came to academia late. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, he began his career as a central banker, with the Reserve Bank of India in 1945 and then became part of the team that set up the State Bank of Pakistan in 1947. In 1953, already disillusioned by increasingly dictatorial tendencies within Pakistan and the power of the bureaucracy, he left banking to take up farming in Tanzania and his first introduction to rural society. Hamza moved to the UK in LSE in the fifties, to study for a PhD at LSE. There he became increasingly involved in the New Left and anti-racist and anti-colonial movements. He was a co-founder of the Campaign against Racial Discrimination, and was part of the core group that founded the New Left Review. Hamza Alavi was undoubtedly the leading left intellectual in Pakistan, and a mentor for generations of (especially South Asian) students. Most notably, he was part of a tradition of academics at the time who integrated their scholarship with their political engagement both in the UK, and in Hamza’s case in Pakistan.


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