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Clientelist politics and economic development – theories, perspectives and new directions

This project aims to build and deepen connections between literatures on clientelist politics and economic development, especially with reference to the poorest of the poor.

Clientelism can be defined as giving material goods in return for electoral support, where the criterion of distribution that the patron uses is simply: did you/will you support me?1

A rich literature in political science and economics studies clientelism, including consideration of underlying mechanisms and processes; correlates and contributing factors; and political, social, and economic consequences. This project aims to build and deepen connections between literatures on clientelist politics and economic development, especially with reference to the poorest of the poor – work at the heart of UNU-WIDER’s mandate. Special emphasis is placed on associations between clientelism and poverty, state capacity and electoral politics and policy-making by elected leaders.

The project promotes new conversation among a select group of scholars with diverse disciplinary, regional, and thematic expertise. Project collaborators draw on expertise and ongoing research on clientelism in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia, as well as in cross-country analyses. Commissioned papers will be published in an edited collection.

Key questions
  • How do clientelist politics directly affect the poor, especially the poorest of the poor? Is the clientelist transfer of material resources to the poor redistributive? Does it provide channels for the poor to exercise political influence? What are the effects on different segments of the poor? How does this affect the potential welfare-enhancing effects of public resources to the poor?
  • How do clientelist politics influence development via impact on state capacity and state-society relations? How do clientelist regimes operate outside conventional channels of rule-based governance? What is the role of brokers and clientelistic networks in these state-society relations? Do these dynamics lead to corruption and the erosion of state capabilities? What is the role of interest groups, business, and ethnic groups? What type of implicit or explicit contracts govern such relationships? Is the detrimental effect of clientelism on state capacity more likely to be observed in young democracies, and what does it imply for democratic consolidation and transitions to rule based governance?
  • How do clientelist politics influence development via impact on electoral politics and policy-making by elected leaders? How do clientelist parties behave in the legislature as compared to parties that mobilise electoral support by providing public goods? What is the relationship between clientelism and programmatic politics, and can they co-exist? What can we say about recent shifts in clientelism and the rise of populism? How do these dynamics affect national development prospects? What institutional reforms are more likely to lead to a decline in clientelistic politics?

1Definition by Susan C. Stokes / The Oxford Handbook of Political Science 

See a list of collaborating researchers and research paper topics here.

UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The research will address SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

 

 

Context

Main subject
This project is part of Capable states - building the foundations for achieving SDGs

Theme: Current programme