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Does Patronage Still Drive Politics for the Rural Poor in the Developing World? A Comparative Perspective from the Livestock Sector

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Is the analysis of patron–client networks still important to the understanding of developing country politics or has it now been overtaken by a focus on ‘social capital’? Drawing on seventeen country studies of the political environment for livestock policy in poor countries, this article concludes that although the nature of patronage has changed significantly, it remains highly relevant to the ways peasant interests are treated. Peasant populations were found either to have no clear connection to their political leaders or to be controlled by political clientage. Furthermore, communities ‘free’ of patron–client ties to the centre generally are not better represented by political associations but instead receive fewer benefits from the state. Nonetheless, patterns of clientage are different from what they were forty years ago. First, patronage chains today often have a global reach, through trade, bilateral donor governments and international NGOs. Second, the resources that fuel political clientage today are less monopolistic and less adequate to the task of purchasing peasant political loyalty. Thus the bonds of patronage are less tight than they were historically. Third, it follows from the preceding point and the greater diversity of patrons operating today that elite conflicts are much more likely to create spaces in which peasant interests can eventually be aggregated into autonomous associations with independent political significance in the national polity. NGOs are playing an important role in opening up this political space although at the moment, they most often act like a new type of patron.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, Bloomington 2: Department of Government, Wesleyan University, Middletown 3: Department of National Security Affairs, US Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey 4: Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley 5: Kellogg Institute, Notre Dame University 6: Department of Government, Mills College, Oakland 7: Independent Consultant, Berkeley 8: Department of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley 9: Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 10: Department of Political Science and School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto 11: Department of Political Science, Butler University, Indianapolis 12: Department of Political Science, University of Oregon, Eugene 13: AGAL, UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Publication date: May 1, 2010

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