Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Contemporary South Asia

Prerna Singh

Mahatma Gandhi Assistant Professor of Political Science and International and Public Affairs



Prerna Singh’s research interests include the comparative political economy of development, especially the politics of social welfare and public health; identity politics, including ethnic politics and nationalism, and gender politics; and the politics of South Asia and East Asia.

Her book, How Solidarity Works for Welfare: Subnationalism and Social Development in India, and related articles analyze the causes of variations in social welfare institutions and development by focusing on the dramatic divergences in social policies and outcomes across Indian provinces. Utilizing a combination of case studies based on archival analysis and field research together with statistical analyses, she highlights the relatively underemphasized role of the strength of affective attachments and the cohesiveness of community, showing how regions with a more powerful subnational identification are more likely to institute progressive social policies and witness higher welfare outcomes. In a new project Singh maintains her analytical focus on the question of variations in institutions of social welfare and development outcomes but shifts the unit of analysis to the national level, exploring why some countries are able to respond more effectively to public health crises than others, through a comparative historical analysis of the responses of the Chinese and Indian states to infectious diseases.

Singh has also maintained a distinct but related research agenda on identity politics -- in particular, on the causes and consequences of ethnic and national identifications. In a series of co-authored articles, she has sought to develop an institutional approach to ethnic politics showing how state institutions, notably the census, that differentiate ethnic categories, can in turn structure patterns of ethnic identification and competition and conflict. In a separate article, Singh uses a survey experiment to develop the central insight of her book about the way in which collective identities, in this case a shared national identification, can generate pro-social behavior, showing how the increased salience of a common national identity can foster the extension of altruism across even a deeply divisive interethnic boundary.