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Collective Action, Clientelism, and Connectivity


Backed by studies finding only limited propensity for free-riding when communities have an interest in self-provision, the last few decades have seen a surge of interest in community-based development. A major caveat to the “second wave” of collective action studies, however, is that collective action often breaks down under hierarchical social relationships. This is unfortunate news for developing countries’ rural societies, which are often entrenched in patron-client networks. Using a natural experiment found in the construction of a motorway, the article finds that clientelist relationships do not, in and by themselves, block peasant collective action. Rather, it is the interaction between clientelism and isolation that empowers patrons to block community-based projects. Peasants in connected villages face no such constraints, but instead rely on their patrons’ assistance in collective projects, making the hierarchical network an additional resource.

Corresponding author
Mahvish Shami is LSE Fellow, Department of International Development, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK (
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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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