A (very) short introduction to the book - project:
In recent decades, the welfare state has expanded rapidly in developing countries, coming close to the scale of the social safety nets found in developed countries. Existing theories of welfare reform posit that individuals become increasingly politically engaged stakeholders in democracy through experience with claiming welfare benefits and advocating for their expansion, i.e. that policies make citizens (eg. Campbell 2003).
In many developing countries, however, individuals experience policy differently. While on paper, these policies look similar to those in developed countries, when implemented, a large part of the welfare benefits end up being traded by intermediaries who demand political loyalty from individuals in exchange for access.
Why do welfare policies in the developing world create “clients” and not “citizens”? Breaking with existing theories that emphasize the logic of politicians’ distributive strategies (e.g. Stokes et al. 2013) , or the power of traditional institutions and hierarchical social relationships (e.g. Scott 1972), I propose an alternative citizen-centric theoretical framework that focuses on individual choice. Why do individuals choose to turn to clientelist intermediaries for access to welfare benefits, and what are the consequences of this decision for how they engage with the state?
The book argues that bureaucratic transaction costs often make it unfeasibly difficult for individuals to pursue welfare benefits directly. Instead, these costs make individuals dependent on clientelist intermediaries, who demand political favors in return for access. An often neglected consequence is that the clientelist-mediated avenue of distribution prevents individuals from learning to navigate the bureaucracy and understand its processes through experience and thus to see themselves as citizens with rights and entitlements. As a result, instead of strengthening political engagement and citizenship, the pursuit of social welfare benefits tends to intensify ties of dependency and obligation to political parties and their local intermediaries—a process I term the clientelist feedback loop.