(C3) Ethnic Mobilization and Informal Control Over (Parts of) the State Apparatus

Another mechanism in the institutional tradition focuses on informal institutions and puts the analytical spotlight on patron-client relations to explore how ethnic mobilization exerts influence on state capacity.[1] The emphasis here is on the inclusion of ethnic groups within the state via per- sonalistic ties and tolerance for graft, and the effects of these arrangements on bureaucratic professionalism and the reach of public services.

Even though recent revisionist scholarship contends that state bureaucracies characterized by clientelism may still manage to ignite substantial economic growth (e.g. Kelsall et al. 2010; Darden 2008), a rather large literature remains sceptical. In this dominant view informal ethnic favouritism and patronage politics ultimately undermine state capacity (e.g. Knack and Keefer 2003; Kuhonta 2011; Lange et al. 2006; Lange 2009; Mahoney 2010; Sacks and Levi 2010). We therefore suggest that when mobilized ethnic groups gain control over (certain parts of) the state apparatus, they might exploit their newly acquired powers and use their position to systematically favour co-ethnics, with negative consequences for public goods provision and state territorial reach. For example, in the cases of post-conflict Lebanon or Uttar Pradesh in India, highly mobilized sectarian parties and movements employ welfare provision as premium for political support. The result is a highly unbalanced geography of public goods provision (Cammett 2011; Singh 2010). Similarly, the prevalence of informal ethnic favouritism among state elites generates strong disincentives for excluded groups to pay taxes and share resources (Wimmer 2002; Wolfe and Klausen 1997).

In sum, mobilized ethnic groups seek to achieve recognition and inclusion through the transformation of established institutional arrangements. Once implemented, formal representative institutions transform state capacity by providing opportunities for subsequent rounds of ethnic mobilization, and introducing new bureaucratic arrangements, while informal patron-client relationships usually entail a biased distribution of state resources.

  • [1] The agenda-setting work on informal institutions is Helmke and Levitsky (2006). Workson the nexus between informal institutions and state capacity are not limited to patron-clientrelations, but also explore the role of customary law and norms of communal reciprocity andsolidarity in shaping the administrative competence and territorial reach of states. See MacLean(2010), Tsai (2007), and Van Cott (2005, 2008).
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