Informal Democratization: Ward Berenschot breaks new ground in research on democratization processes

In a recently published article in the renowned journal Democratization, KITLV researcher Ward Berenschot identifies an important yet little-noticed dimension of democratization processes: the evolution of informal political networks. In most countries in particularly the global south, citizens need to rely on their informal connections with politicians and their workers to gain access to public services. Using his extensive fieldwork in both India and Indonesia, Berenschot compares the character of such informal networks in both countries. He finds that these networks differ considerably: in India citizens rely mostly on political parties and neighbourhood leaders to deal with institutions, while in Indonesia citizens more regularly depend on their personal connections with village heads and other state representatives. On the basis of his study on the everyday functioning of these networks, Berenschot argues that these differences matter for the quality of democracy.   When citizens gain access to public services through networks that are fragmented, institutionalized and less marked by social hierarchies, politicians and bureaucrats face stronger pressures to perform.

This article is part of Berenschot’s ongoing research on informal dimensions of politics in Asia. The aim of this research is to understand how personal relationships and informal exchanges shape the character of governance and politics. Informality constitutes a key aspect of how governments actually work. The challenge for improving governance and strengthening democracy revolves to a large extent around the need to find better ways to deal with these informal dimensions of politics. This is also a driving argument in Berenschot’s forthcoming book Democracy for Sale: Elections, Clientelism, and the State in Indonesia (Cornell University, with Edward Aspinall).

Read the article here.

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