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Tribe and State in Asia through Twenty-Five Centuries (Sumit Guha)

AAS Asia Shorts book series. 9780924304958. 142 Pages.


Every literate person today will encounter the word “tribe” in many settings. What does this word mean? When and how did its use begin? Is it a good label for any contemporary social organization? Is it relevant for policymakers to think with? Academics have often critiqued its use, but that has not suppressed its ubiquity. Why?

This book offers answers to all the above. In order to keep it manageable, these questions are investigated only for the span of Asia that runs from Siberia to Sri Lanka and Suez to the Sea of Japan, and over the past 2,500 years. It thus starts at the beginning of the Iron Age and looks at both unwritten cultures dominant in the past and the hypertextual world of today. Its four chapters successively analyze the Asian uses of tribe-like categories, European deployment of the term in the age of imperialism, the environments where it flourishes and those it makes and the diversity of tribes across Asia today. The book will be of great interest to historians, journalists, policymakers, and to anyone studying the history of Asia.

“As we write our difficult post-mortems on Afghanistan, this is the kind of book foreign-policy specialists really need to read.”JEREMI SURI, Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin, excerpted from:

“Why Afghanistan’s Tribes Beat the United States” (review from Foreign Policy, August 2021)

“Tribe” and “state” have long been contested, frequently politically loaded terms in historical, social science and popular literature. Sumit Guha in this thoughtful, meticulously researched book has provided a succinct, lively, and highly accessible analysis of these often multipurposed terms in Asia and in the study of Asia over two and a half millennia. The novice and the specialist will benefit from Guha’s superb study.  — PETER B. GOLDEN, Professor Emeritus of History, Turkish and Middle Eastern Studies, Rutgers University

An outstanding, accessible, survey of a vast subject. Tribe and State in Asia through Twenty-Five Centuries not only illuminates the wide range of peoples who have been labelled “tribes” and the varied conditions of their emergence, persistence, and disappearances, down to today; it is also an excellent guide to the shifting intellectual and political currents governing the use of that category, and its consequences. — KENNETH POMERANZ, University of Chicago


Download the Teaching Resource PDF below, with course adoption notes and recommendations directly from the author or editor(s), including:

  • Key Concepts and Definitions
  • Discussion Questions
  • Additional Links and Resources
  • Table of Contents


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