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The Origins of Patronage Politics: State Building, Centrifugalism, and Decolonization

  • Paul D. Kenny

This article develops a two-part theory that accounts for both the origins and the persistence of patronage politics. First, greater centrifugal and disintegrative pressures at key moments in the state-building process give local elites more opportunity to institutionalize patronage at the subnational level. Second, decentralized patronage systems are more resistant to reform than centralized ones. Case studies of India and Ceylon illustrate how variation in centrifugal pressures allowed subnational elites to capture the state in the former but not the latter. Further data from the British Empire shows that greater centrifugal pressures faced by British colonies at the time of decolonization are correlated with the persistence of higher levels of patronage over time.

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Department of Political & Social Change, School of International, Political & Strategic Studies, College of Asia & the Pacific, Australian National University (email: The author is grateful to the Fox Fellowship at Yale University for funding archival research in India in respect of the project from 2010 to 2011. He would like to thank Nikhar Gaikwad, Koji Kagotani, Leonid Peisakhin, Juan Rebolledo, participants at a conference on power brokers and armed groups at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University in 2013, and two anonymous reviewers for the British Journal of Political Science for comments on earlier versions of this article. Replication data for the statistical analysis is available at

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