Writing letters to powerful people to win their favor and garner rewards such as political office, tax relief, and recommendations was an institution in Renaissance Florence; the practice was an important tool for those seeking social mobility, security, and recognition by others. In this detailed study of political and social patronage in fifteenth-century Florence, Paul D. McLean shows that patronage was much more than a pursuit of specific rewards. It was also a pursuit of relationships and of a self defined in relation to others. To become independent in Renaissance Florence, one first had to become connected. With The Art of the Network, McLean fills a gap in sociological scholarship by tracing the historical antecedents of networking and examining the concept of self that accompanies it. His analysis of patronage opens into a critique of contemporary theories about social networks and social capital, and an exploration of the sociological meaning of “culture.”
McLean scrutinized thousands of letters to and from Renaissance Florentines. He describes the social protocols the letters reveal, paying particular attention to the means by which Florentines crafted credible presentations of themselves. The letters, McLean contends, testify to the development not only of new forms of self-presentation but also of a new kind of self to be presented: an emergent, “modern” conception of self as an autonomous agent. They also bring to the fore the importance that their writers attached to concepts of honor, and the ways that they perceived themselves in relation to the Florentine state.
Public funds spent on jets and horses. Shoeboxes stuffed with embezzled cash. Ghost payrolls and incarcerated ex-governors. Illinois' culture of "Where's mine?" and the public apathy it engenders has made our state and local politics a disgrace.
In Corrupt Illinois, veteran political observers Thomas J. Gradel and Dick Simpson take aim at business-as-usual. Naming names, the authors lead readers through a gallery of rogues and rotten apples to illustrate how generations of chicanery have undermined faith in, and hope for, honest government. From there, they lay out how to implement institutional reforms that provide accountability and eradicate the favoritism, sweetheart deals, and conflicts of interest corroding our civic life.
Corrupt Illinois lays out a blueprint to transform our politics from a pay-to-play–driven marketplace into what it should be: an instrument of public good.
Jobs for the Boys
Merilee S. Grindle Harvard University Press, 2012 Library of Congress JF1651.G75 2012 | Dewey Decimal 324.204
Patronage systems in public service are reviled as undemocratic and corrupt. Yet patronage was the prevailing method of staffing government for centuries, and in some countries it still is. Grindle considers why patronage has been ubiquitous in history and explores the processes through which it is replaced by merit-based civil service systems.
Around the same time that Richard J. Daley governed Chicago, greasing the wheels of his notorious political machine during a tenure that lasted from 1955 to his death in 1976, Anthony “Dutch” Hamann’s “reform” government centralized authority to similar effect in San Jose. In light of their equally exclusive governing arrangements—a similarity that seems to defy their reputations—Jessica Trounstine asks whether so-called bosses and reformers are more alike than we might have realized.
Situating her in-depth studies of Chicago and San Jose in the broad context of data drawn from more than 240 cities over the course of a century, she finds that the answer—a resounding yes—illuminates the nature of political power. Both political machines and reform governments, she reveals, bias the system in favor of incumbents, effectively establishing monopolies that free governing coalitions from dependence on the support of their broader communities. Ironically, Trounstine goes on to show, the resulting loss of democratic responsiveness eventually mobilizes residents to vote monopolistic regimes out of office. Envisioning an alternative future for American cities, Trounstine concludes by suggesting solutions designed to free urban politics from this damaging cycle.
“Political clientelism” is a term used to characterize the contemporary relationships between political elites and the poor in Latin America in which goods and services are traded for political favors. Javier Auyero critically deploys the notion in Poor People’s Politics to analyze the political practices of the Peronist Party among shantytown dwellers in contemporary Argentina. Looking closely at the slum-dwellers’ informal problem-solving networks, which are necessary for material survival, and the different meanings of Peronism within these networks, Auyero presents the first ethnography of urban clientelism ever carried out in Argentina. Revealing a deep familiarity with the lives of the urban poor in Villa Paraíso, a stigmatized and destitute shantytown of Buenos Aires, Auyero demonstrates the ways in which local politicians present their vital favors to the poor and how the poor perceive and evaluate these favors. Having penetrated the networks, he describes how they are structured, what is traded, and the particular way in which women facilitate these transactions. Moreover, Auyero proposes that the act of granting favors or giving food in return for votes gives the politicians’ acts a performative and symbolic meaning that flavors the relation between problem-solver and problem-holder, while also creating quite different versions of contemporary Peronism. Along the way, Auyero is careful to situate the emergence and consolidation of clientelism in historic, cultural, and economic contexts. Poor People’s Politics reexamines the relationship between politics and the destitute in Latin America, showing how deeply embedded politics are in the lives of those who do not mobilize in the usual sense of the word but who are far from passive. It will appeal to a wide range of students and scholars of Latin American studies, sociology, anthropology, political science, history, and cultural studies.
New Jersey has long been a breeding ground for political corruption, and most of it is perfectly legal. Public officials accept favors from lobbyists, give paid positions to relatives, and rig the electoral process to favor their cronies in a system where campaign money is used to buy government results. Such unethical behavior is known as “soft corruption,” and former New Jersey legislator William E. Schluter has been fighting it for the past fifty years.
In this searing personal narrative, the former state senator recounts his fight to expose and reform these acts of government misconduct. Not afraid to cite specific cases of soft corruption in New Jersey politics, he paints a vivid portrait of public servants who care more about political power and personal gain than the public good. By recounting events that he witnessed firsthand in the Garden State, he provides dramatic illustrations of ills that afflict American politics nationwide.
As he identifies five main forms of soft corruption, Schluter diagnoses the state government’s ethical malaise, and offers concrete policy suggestions for how it might be cured. Not simply a dive through the muck of New Jersey politics, Soft Corruption is an important first step to reforming our nation’s political system, a book that will inspire readers to demand that our elected officials can and must do better.
The notion that groups form and act in ways that respond to objective, external costs and benefits has long been the key to accounting for social change processes driven by collective action. Yet this same notion seems to fall apart when we try to explain how collectivities emerge out of the choices of individuals. This book overcomes that dilemma by offering an analysis of collective action that, while rooted in individual decision making, also brings out the way in which objective costs and benefits can impede or foster social coordination. The resulting approach enables us to address the causes and consequences of collective action with the help of the tools of modern economic theory. To illustrate this, the book applies the tools it develops to the study of specific collective action problems such as clientelism, focusing on its connections with economic development and political redistribution; and wage bargaining, showing its economic determinants and its relevance for the political economy of the welfare state.
"Medina's study is a great step forward in the analytics of collective action. He shows the inadequacies of currently standard models and shows that straightforward revisions reconcile rational-choice and structural viewpoints. It will influence all future work."
—Kenneth Arrow, Stanford University
"Olson, Schelling, and now Medina. A Unified Theory deepens our understanding of collective action and contributes to the foundations of our field. A major work."
—Robert H. Bates, Harvard University
"Medina thinks that the main problem of social action is not whether or not to cooperate but how to do it. To this end he has produced an imaginative approach to analyzing strategic coordination problems that produces plausible predictions in a range of circumstances."
—John Ferejohn, Stanford University
Luis Fernando Medina is Associate Professor in the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia.