Theory and Society

, Volume 48, Issue 4, pp 559–587 | Cite as

Institutions and demotions: collective leadership in authoritarian regimes

  • Ivan ErmakoffEmail author
  • Marko Grdesic


Like any other regime, authoritarian regimes mutate. Many of these mutations depend upon the upshot of internecine elite conflicts. These condition the ability of a ruler or would-be ruler to seize state resources and acquire the capacity to exercise violence. It is therefore crucial to investigate the factors that shape the dynamics and outcomes of contention among elite groups in authoritarian regimes. This article pursues this line of investigation by examining from a micro-analytical, process-oriented, and phenomenological perspective how institutions of collective leadership affect power struggles in oligarchic power configurations. Drawing on the case of Serbia in the late 1980s, the following inquiry lays bare three institutional effects. First, collective organs of deliberation and decision-making channel intra-elite contention by defining the arenas in which elite members expect contention to take place (channeling effect). Second, by exacerbating actors’ mutual awareness and coordination dilemma, the forum setting of these collective organs lends itself to the emergence of open-ended situations (indeterminacy effect). Third, the verdicts delivered by institutions of collective leadership shape elite members’ expectations about group allegiance (collective alignment effect). In conjunction with this sequential argument about impact, the present article engages the conceptualization of authoritarian regimes, the analysis of institutional effects, and the study of delegitimation in an interactional setting.


Authoritarian regimes Collective alignments Elites Institutional effects Legitimacy Serbia 



Previous versions of this article were presented at the London School of Economics, the European University Institute in Florence and the Social Science Division at NYU-Abu Dhabi. We thank the three reviewers and the editorial board of Theory and Society for their helpful comments.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  2. 2.Faculty of Political SciencesUniversity of ZagrebZagrebCroatia

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