Long considered a pre-modern artifact destined to be swept away by modernization, political clientelism has proven amenable to economic development and democratization. Political clientelism – the practice of exchanging political support for personal benefits – is back in the spotlights. After two decades of relative scholarly neglect, a new wave of research is highlighting the continued predominance of vote-buying and personalized and politicized distribution of state resources as means to garner votes, build party organizations and control the state apparatus. Studies from diverse contexts – from Asia and Africa to South America and Europe – are suggesting that democratization processes are making patron-clients relations less asymmetrical but not necessarily less pervasive. As clientelism is associated with various societal ills – low economic growth, inefficient governance, ethnic violence and weak rule of law – there is a need to deepen our understanding of the evolution, different forms and consequences of clientelistic political practices.
While the prevalence of clientelistic practices across different continents suggests the need and possible fruitfulness of comparisons, both methodological challenges and disciplinary divides are hampering such comparative exchanges. By bringing together researchers from different disciplines with different geographical specializations and methodological approaches, this conference aims to boost the comparative study of clientelistic politics and highlight its importance for addressing developmental challenges.