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Theory and Society

, Volume 40, Issue 5, pp 567–588 | Cite as

Clientelism and conceptual stretching: differentiating among concepts and among analytical levels

  • Tina HilgersEmail author
Article

Abstract

The concept of clientelism has lost descriptive power. It has become indistinguishable from neighboring concepts and is applied across analytical levels. Using Gerring’s (Polity 31:357–393, 1999) characterization of a “good” concept, I establish the core attributes of clientelism, which, in addition to being an interest-maximizing exchange, involves longevity, diffuseness, face-to-face contact, and inequality. Using secondary sources and fieldwork data, I differentiate clientelism from concepts such as vote-buying and corruption and determine its analytical position at the microsociological level. I argue that labeling sociopolitical systems as clientelistic is awkward since, operating at a higher analytical level, they have characteristics beyond microsociological clientelism and they affect the political nature of the clientelism they contain. I conclude that differentiating clientelism by confining it to the microsociological level will aid theory-building.

Keywords

Clientelism Vote-buying Political machines Neo-patrimonialism Concept building 

Notes

Acknowledgments

Previous versions of this article were presented at the 2009 meetings of the Canadian Political Science Association and of the Société québécoise de science politique. The author would like to thank Judith Adler Hellman, Philip Oxhorn, Julián Durazo Herrmann, Dennis Pilon, Françoise Montambeault, Judith Teichman, two anonymous reviewers, and the Editors of Theory and Society for their insightful comments on the article and discussions about the ideas therein. Financial support was provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Fonds québécois de recherche sur la société et la culture and institutional support by McGill University's Institute for the Study of International Development.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceConcordia UniversityWest MontrealCanada

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