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AISMA Report Summary

Project ID: 284080
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: United Kingdom

Final Report Summary - AISMA (An anthropological investigation of muscular politics in South Asia)

Over the past decade, the media, international organisations, as well as policy-making bodies have voiced increasing concern about a persistence overlap between the criminal and political spheres in South Asia. Many 'criminal politicians' are accused not simply of embezzlement, but of burglary, kidnapping and murder, so that the observed political landscape emerges not only as a 'corrupt', but also a highly violent sphere. AISMA is a collaborative anthropological study of the criminalisation of politics in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Concentrating on ‘muscular systems of governance’ the project provides the first ethnographic account of the relationship between formal politics, violence and extra-legal accumulation of wealth in the region.

The project’s main achievements are:

• The successful collection of 16 ethnographic case studies which map the pragmatics, ethics and structures of ‘systems of muscular governance’ – popularly known in the region as ‘mafia raj’, ‘goonda raj’ or ‘mastanocracy’ (gangster-rule) - across India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. These systems, which use force to accelerate the path towards power and wealth, share similarities with the Caciques and Caudillos of Latin America, the Mafiosi in Italy, urban political machines in the United States, and today's gangster politicians in Indonesia, Russia, Thailand, Philippines, Bulgaria, Turkey and Brazil.

• This common ethnographic archive is allowing the team to write thematically and comparatively across sites and further develop: a) the field of the anthropology of democracy and the state in its relation to violence, crime and the black economy; b) the sociology of violence, power and ‘mafias’ by looking at the more elusive and routinized uses of force and their dialogue with local and national political institutions and the economy; c) an anthropological approach to the comparative study of bossism in action.

• The establishment of an international team and network of scholar and stake holders with shared interests in the intersection of democratic institutions with local cultures of physical force and crime, local informal and black economies and “actually existing politics”. These collaborations will last for years to come.


Greta Borg-Carbott, (Senior European Contracts Executive)
Tel.: +44 2 031083033
Record Number: 189877 / Last updated on: 2016-10-07