Skip to main content

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

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    See Scott (1977, pp. 125–126) for a discussion of the relative degrees of power of patron and client in traditional agrarian settings.

  2. 2.

    Work on corruption has been faced with many problems similar to those rendering the definition of clientelism difficult. A plethora of definitions exist and there is little agreement on what constitutes corruption, either in theory or in practice (Philp 1997).

  3. 3.

    See also the new economic sociology discussions of informal bargains in the absence of legally enforceable contracts in the informal economy, Portes and Haller 2005; Centeno and Portes 2006; Cross and Peña 2006.

  4. 4.

    For discussions of the social embeddedness of clientelism and other informal contracts, see Scott 1977, Granovetter 1985, Portes and Haller 2005.

  5. 5.

    Corporatism can be identified at both the mesosociological level, in corporatist organizations, and at the macrosociological level, in a form of organizing state-society relationships. See Smelser (1997, p. 2) regarding the blurring of analytical levels.

References

  1. Adams, P. S. (2005). Corporatism and comparative politics: Is there a new century of corporatism? In H. J. Wiarda (Ed.), Comparative politics: History, theory, concepts (pp. 244–269). New York: Taylor & Francis.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Auyero, J. (1999). Performing Evita: a tale of two peronist women. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 27(4), 461–493.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Avritzer, L. (2006). A crise do governo Lula e a crise do P.T. Reprinted from Jornal do Brasil, June 20, 2006, www.cultiva.org.br/politica.php. Accessed Dec. 5, 2007.

  4. Berman, B. J. (1974). Clientelism and neocolonialism: center-periphery relations and political development in African states. Studies in Comparative International Development, 9(2), 3–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bratton, M., & van de Walle, N. (1997). Democratic experiments in Africa: Regime transitions in comparative perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Carothers, T. (2002). The end of the transition paradigm. Journal of Democracy, 13(1), 5–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Centeno, M. A., & Portes, A. (2006). The informal economy in the shadow of the state. In J. Shefner & P. Fernández-Kelly (Eds.), Out of the shadows: Political action and the informal economy in Latin America (pp. 23–48). University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Chubb, J. (1982). Patronage, power, and poverty in Southern Italy: A tale of two cities. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Clark, T. N. (1994). Clientelism, U.S.A.: The dynamics of change. In L. Roniger & A. Gunes-Ayata (Eds.), Democracy, clientelism and civil society (pp. 121–144). Boulder: Lynne Rienner.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Collier, D., & Mahon, J. E. (1993). Conceptual ‘stretching’ revisited: adapting categories in comparative analysis. American Political Science Review, 87(4), 845–855.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Cornelius, W. A. (1977). Leaders, followers, and official patrons in urban Mexico. In Schmidt, Guasti, Landé, & Scott (Eds.), Friends, followers, and factions: A reader in political clientelism (pp. 337–353). Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Cross, J. C., & Peña, S. (2006). Risk and regulation in informal and illegal markets. In Jon Shefner & Patricia Fernández-Kelly (Eds.), Out of the shadows: Political action and the informal economy in Latin America (pp. 49–80). University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Eisenstadt, S. N. (1973). Traditional patrimonialism and modern neopatrimonialism. London and Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Eisenstadt, S. N., & Roniger, L. (1984). Patrons, clients, and friends. Interpersonal relations and the structure of trust in society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  15. Erdmann, G., & Engel, U. (2006). Neopatrimonialism Revisited: Beyond a Catch-All Concept. German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Working Paper No. 16.

  16. Fox, J. (1994). The difficult transition from clientelism to citizenship: lessons from Mexico. World Politics, 46(2), 151–184.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Gay, R. (1999). The broker and the thief: a parable reflections on popular politics in Brazil. Luso-Brazilian Review, 36(1), 49–70.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Gay, R. (2006). The even more difficult transition from clientelism to citizenship: Lessons from Brazil. In P. Fernández Kelly & J. Shefner (Eds.), Out of the shadows: Political action and the informal economy in Latin America (pp. 195–217). University Park: Pennsylvania State University.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Gelzer, M. (1969). The roman nobility. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Gerring, J. (1999). What makes a concept good? An integrated framework for understanding concept formation in the social sciences. Polity, 31(3), 357–393.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Giddens, A. (1986). The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Gouldner, A. W. (1977) [1960]. The Norm of Reciprocity: A Preliminary Statement. In Schmidt, Guasti, Landé, and Scott (Eds.), Friends, Followers, and Factions: A Reader in Political Clientelism (pp. 28–43). Berkeley: University of California Press

  23. Granovetter, M. (1985). Economic action and social structure: the problem of embeddedness. The American Journal of Sociology, 91(3), 481–510.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Graziano, L. (1976). A conceptual framework for the study of clientelistic behavior. European Journal of Political Research, 4, 149–174.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Graziano, L. (1983). Introduction. International Political Science Review, 4(4), 425–434.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Hilgers, T. (2008). Causes and consequences of political clientelism: Mexico’s PRD in comparative perspective. Latin American Politics and Society, 50(4), 123–153.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Hilgers, T. (2009). Who is using whom? Clientelism from the client’s perspective. Journal of Iberian and Latin American Research, 15(1), 51–76.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Homans, G. C. (1958). Social behavior as exchange. The American Journal of Sociology, 63(6), 597–606.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Hutchcroft, P. D. (1997). The politics of privilege: assessing the impact of rents, corruption, and clientelism on third world development. Political Studies, 45(3), 639–658.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Kitschelt, H., & Wilkinson, S. J. (2007). Patrons, clients, and policies: Patterns of democratic accountability and political competition. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  31. Koehler, K. (2008). Authoritarian elections in Egypt: formal institutions and informal mechanisms of rule. Democratization, 15(5), 974–990.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Krishna, A. (2007). Politics in the middle: Mediating relationships between citizens and the state in rural North India. In Kitschelt & Wilkinson (Eds.), Patrons, clients, and policies: Patterns of democratic accountability and political competition (pp. 141–158). New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  33. Landé, C. H. (1977). Introduction: The dyadic bases of clientelism. In Schmidt, Guasti, Landé, & Scott (Eds.), Friends, followers, and factions: A reader in political clientelism (pp. xiii–xxxvii). Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Lehman, E. W. (1978). Sociological theory and social policy. In A. Etzioni (Ed.), Policy research (pp. 7–23). Leiden: Brill.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Lomnitz, L. A. (1988). Informal exchange networks in formal systems: a theoretical model. American Anthropologist, New Series, 90(1), 42–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. McCourt, W. (2000). Public Appointments: from Patronage to Merit. Human Resources in Development Group Working Paper Series Working Paper No. 9, Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester.

  37. Middlebrook, K. J. (1995). The Paradox of revolution: Labor, the State, and authoritarianism in Mexico. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Mintz, S. W., & Wolf, E. R. (1977) [1950]. An Analysis of Ritual Co-Parenthood (Compadrazgo). In Schmidt, Guasti, Landé, and Scott (Eds.), Friends, Followers, and Factions: A Reader in Political Clientelism (pp. 1–15). Berkeley: University of California Press.

  39. Papakostas, A. (2001). Why is there no clientelism in Scandinavia? A comparison of the Swedish and Greek sequences of development. In Piattoni (Ed.), Clientelism, interests, and democratic representation: The European experience in historical and comparative perspective (pp. 31–53). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Peters, J. G., & Welch, S. (1978). Political corruption in America: A search for definitions and a theory, or if political corruption is in the mainstream of american politics, why is it not in the mainstream of American politics research? American Political Science Review, 72(3), 974–984.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Philp, M. (1997). Defining political corruption. Political Studies, 45(3), 436–462.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Piattoni, S. (2001). Clientelism in historical and comparative perspective. In Piattoni (Ed.), Clientelism, interests, and democratic representation: The European experience in historical and comparative perspective (pp. 1–30). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Portes, A., & Haller, W. (2005). The informal economy. In N. J. Smelser & R. Swedberg (Eds.), The handbook of economic sociology (pp. 403–425). Princeton and New York: Princeton University Press/Russell Sage Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Randeraad, N., & Wolffram, D. J. (2001). Constraints on clientelism: The Dutch path to modern politics, 1848–1917. In Piattoni (Ed.), Clientelism, interests, and democratic representation: The European experience in historical and comparative perspective (pp. 101–121). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Remmer, K. L. (2007). The political economy of patronage: expenditure patterns in the Argentine Provinces, 1983–2003. The Journal of Politics, 69(2), 363–377.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Ricci, P. (2003). O Conteúdo da Produção Legislativa Brasileira: Leis Nacionais ou Políticas Paroquiais? DADOS—Revista de Ciências Sociais, 46(4), 699–734.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Roniger, L. (1990). Hierarchy and trust in modern Mexico and Brazil. New York: Praeger.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Saller, R. P. (1982). Personal patronage under the early empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  49. Sandbrook, R. (1985). The politics of Africa’s economic stagnation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  50. Sartori, G. (1970). Concept misformation in comparative politics. American Political Science Review, LXIV(4), 1033–1053.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Schaffer, F. C. (2004). Vote buying in East Asia. In Global Corruption Report 2004 (pp. 83–87). Transparency International.

  52. Schaffer, F. C. (2007). Why study vote buying? In I. Schaffer (Ed.), Elections for sale: The causes and consequences of vote buying (pp. 1–16). Boulder: Lynne Rienner.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Schein, E. H. (2004). Organizational culture and leadership (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Scheiner, E. (2007). Clientelism in Japan: the importance and limits of institutional explanations. In H. Kitschelt & S. J. Wilkinson (Eds.), Patrons, clients, and policies: Patterns of democratic accountability and political competition (pp. 276–297). New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  55. Scott, J. C. (1977). Patron-client politics and political change in Southeast Asia. In Schmidt, Guasti, Landé, & Scott (Eds.), Friends, followers, and factions: A reader in political clientelism (pp. 123–146). Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Scott, J. C. (1985). Weapons of the weak: Everyday forms of peasant resistance. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Singelmann, P. (1981). Structures of domination and peasant movements in Latin America. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Smelser, N. J. (1997). Problematics of sociology: The Georg Simmel lectures, 1995. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Stokes, S. (2005). Perverse accountability: a formal model of machine politics with evidence from Argentina. American Political Science Review, 99(3), 315–325.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Stokes, S. (2007). Political clientelism. In S. Stokes & C. Boix (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of comparative politics (pp. 604–627). New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Wang, C.-S., & Kurzman, C. (2007). Dilemmas of electoral clientelism: Taiwan 1993. International Political Science Review, 28(2), 225–245.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Wantchekon, L. (2003). Clientelism and voting behavior: evidence from a field experiment in Benin. World Politics, 55(April), 399–422.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Weber, M. (1978). Economy and society: An outline of interpretive sociology. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Weingrod, A. (1977). Patrons, patronage, and political parties. In Schmidt, Guasti, Landé, & Scott (Eds.), Friends, followers, and factions: A reader in political clientelism (pp. 323–336). Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  65. William, M. I. (1887). Machine politics and money in elections in New York City. New York: Harper & Brothers.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

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.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Tina Hilgers.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Hilgers, T. Clientelism and conceptual stretching: differentiating among concepts and among analytical levels. Theor Soc 40, 567–588 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11186-011-9152-6

Download citation

Keywords

  • Clientelism
  • Vote-buying
  • Political machines
  • Neo-patrimonialism
  • Concept building