The Political Development of Urban Clientelism in Twentieth Century Latin America
Abstract: The Political Development of Urban Clientelism focuses on the relationship between urbanization—long considered central to modernization—and politics in the context of sharp inequality. Sociologists have long thought that political modernization leads to the progressive formalization of power relations and state monopolization of political authority. I focus on 20th century Latin America—which experienced the fastest and most extensive urban expansion in world history, concentrated in squatter settlements—through a comparative analysis of Mexico City, Lima, and Caracas. I show that because urban growth was concentrated among society’s poorest, it gave rise to informal power relations and empowered non-state actors. My analysis is based on over 20,000 pages of archival data culled from 12 archives, most of which is untapped even by historians.
In Part I, I examine the relationship between urbanization and formal/informal politics. Since new urban denizens were generally very poor, they formed squatter settlements. This put millions of residents in the position of supplicants who requested permission to live on land over which they lacked legal rights and who hoped the state would equip it with urban infrastructure. State and political party officials, meanwhile, sought to harness squatters’ political loyalties to build their bases of support. The existing literature captures many aspects of the resulting relationships in vivid case studies. My comparative analysis and rich data allow me to demonstrate how they constituted a general pattern of quasi-patrimonial politics— urban clientelism—in all three cases: residents lent political elites conditional support, which served political elites’ interests, and state officials reciprocated with tacit permission and limited aid, which satisfied the urban poor’s basic needs. These uncodified, hierarchical, and reciprocal relations were central to national politics as pillars supporting the region’s populist leaders.
Central to Latin American clientelism were urban brokers, who mediated between squatters and political officials, thereby affecting the lives of millions of people at the neighborhood level. In Part II, I focus on these non-state actors. The literature shows that sometimes urban brokers grew quite powerful. Existing explanatory theories predict that this would be the case especially in the cases of Lima or Caracas, but they were instead most powerful in Mexico City. The reason, I show, is that urbanization was more extensive there: the process of urban growth generated conflicts between older and newer generations of residents which drove newer residents into urban brokers’ arms for protection, giving brokers command of followers with which they extended control over settlement turf and extracted resources from residents. Urban growth amidst sharp inequality, that is, gave rise to a system of informal political relations and empowered non-state actors.
Committee: George Steinmetz (co-chair), Robert S. Jansen (co-chair), Greta Krippner, Victoria Langland (historian, University of Michigan), and Kenneth Roberts (political scientist, Cornell University).