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Clientelism from the Client’s Perspective: A Theoretical Framework based on a Systematic Review of International Ethnographic Literature

Comparative Politics
Development
Political Psychology
Electoral Behaviour
Voting Behaviour
Miquel Pellicer
University of Duisburg-Essen
Markus Bayer
University of Duisburg-Essen
Miquel Pellicer
University of Duisburg-Essen
Christian Tischmeyer
University of Duisburg-Essen
Eva Wegner
University College Dublin
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Abstract

The “mainstream” political science literature on clientelism has evolved quite separately from the ethnographic literature on the topic. Mainstream literature tends to emphasize the negative impact of political clientelism, to focus on vote buying, and to study mainly the supply side of clientelism (i.e. the party or patron strategies and incentives), in particular, the mechanics of the exchange (the role of monitoring vs. reciprocity to sustain the exchange, the role of brokers, etc.). Little emphasis has been put on the demand side of clientelism and the agency of clients. In contrast, the ethnographic clientelism literature often emphasizes the client’s agency, emphasizes the diverse rationales for clients to behave in the way they do, and shows that clientelism takes many forms other than vote buying. In so doing, they paint a far less negative and more diverse image of clientelism that is usual in “mainstream” political science. This paper seeks to bridge the gap between the two strands of literature by constructing a heuristic framework for the trade-offs faced by prospective clients.To construct this framework, we undertake a systematic meta-analysis of ethnographic literature on clientelism. We analyze more than thirty ethnographic articles on the client’s point of view in different world regions. We apply a common coding scheme to the clientelistic experiences and relations described in the articles. We code aspects such as the terms of the clientelistic exchange, the characteristics of the broader clientelistic relation, the political alternatives available to the client, the client’s level of agency, and the trade-offs perceived by the clients when taking their political decisions.