THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention, Change, and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly

New York, October 3-5, 2008

Patronage and Contention
By Javier Auyero
Let me start, as Chuck used to, with a story that illustrates the main argument of this paper. The Argument Routine patronage politics and non-routine contentious collective action should be examined not as opposite and conflicting political phenomena but as dynamic processes that, oftentimes, establish recursive relationships. What does Chuck have to do with this? First, Tilly’s work, from The Contentious French to Regimes and Repertoires and his recent Contentious Performances, opens up the conceptual space to think about these mutual imbrications between clientelism and protest. Second, his collaborative work on Dynamics of Contention points to two of the key mechanisms through which this relationship is enacted – namely, brokerage and certification. And third, his The Politics of Collective Violence alerts us to the sometimes hidden, clandestine form, of this connection. My own more modest, limited, and micro research on the “gray zone of popular politics” – the area of often clandestine and (in)visible connections between established political actors and instigators of collective violence - draws heavily upon these three interrelated dimensions of his massive work. The story On February 8, 2007, a blazing fire destroyed the homes of 300 families in the villa El Cartón (The Cardboard shantytown), located below Highway 7, in the city of

Javier Auyero, Patronage and Contention


THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention, Change, and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly

New York, October 3-5, 2008

Buenos Aires.1 The fire began at 6.30 a.m.. According to newspaper reports, emergency rescue vehicles assisted 177 dwellers, 31 were hospitalized with diverse injuries, breathing complications, and nervous breakdowns. The following day, the chief of firefighters from the federal police, told reporters that they were investigating “arson…as many a neighbor denounced.” Weeks later, Gabriela Cerruti, then Minister of Human and Social Rights of the city government, confirmed the firefighter chief’s suspicions in a press release, publicly denouncing the “political intentionality of the fire.” Cerruti told the press that the fire that turned hundreds of families into homeless had “political motivations.” An important official of the city government also told us that he was certain “it was intentional…Many residents were told in advance that there was going to be a fire. And they left their homes the night before. That’s why no one died. The horses that the local scavengers use to pull their carts were also moved to another place ahead of time. The Chief of Police told me: ‘Can you imagine, not even a drunkard was caught off guard?’ So, most people in the shantytown knew about this beforehand.” Who planned the fire and why? Why did public officials see the incident stemming from “political motivations”? According to the report written by State Prosecutor Mónica Cuñarro in the aftermath of the events, the fire was “planned by persons who were living in the settlement.” The account draws upon a barrage of proofs to substantiate the claim of arson. The perpetrators “avoided vital losses [….] Goods such as appliances, chairs, desks, etc.” were spared from the fire because they were removed from the shantytown prior to the events. The statement also remarks that: “neighborhood leaders planned the fire, and informed most of the local residents who, around 5 a.m., removed the appliances, clothing, mattresses from their houses and the


The following reconstruction is based on newspaper accounts of the events (Clarín, La Nación, Perfil, and Página12), on a close reading of the unpublished state prosecutor’s report, and on interviews with the state prosecutor and public officials.
Javier Auyero, Patronage and Contention


THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention, Change, and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly

New York, October 3-5, 2008

horses…” The report also notes that the fire and the damage could have been prevented but nobody from the shantytown called the fire department, even though the means for making the call (“specifically cell phones”) were available. Contrary to what was initially reported by the media, Prosecutor Cuñarro states that: A further element of proof is that…luckily, there were no fatal victims, no person was burned, no one was suffocated, nobody was hospitalized… [This shows] that the residents were mere spectators of the fire. There were no victims or material losses because, since they knew what was going to happen beforehand, they were able to protect themselves and safeguard their valuables. In the weeks and months that followed the arson, a barrage of accusations between different political factions (some of them part of the city government, others part of the federal government) ensued. Each faction accused the other of “manipulating the poor,” of “using the poor to advance positions,” of “dirty political campaign” and the like. The Minister of Human and Social Rights accused an official linked to the federal government of being the mastermind of the arson and a torrent of crisscrossing finger pointing followed. In August 2007, six months after the episodes, the state prosecutor asked the judge to indict a grassroots broker, member of one of the political parties then running against the mayor. Although the judge refused the request (citing lack of solid evidence), the report by the State Prosecutor is worth close attention because it points to the (by almost everybody we talked to about this case, agreed upon) links between the arson and the political maneuvering of wellestablished political actors: “We cannot ignore the fact that the episodes were planned at a time that was close to the elections in the city, and that they were planned by neighborhood leaders who wanted to use a massive disaster in order to put pressure on local authorities to obtain either housing or [money] subsidies” (Clarín, August 12, 2007). The report, furthermore, points to the connection that these events establish with other episodes of collective violence then occurring in the
Javier Auyero, Patronage and Contention


activists like the ones involved in the shantytown arson and the invasion of the unfinished housing project typically control access to state subsidies. These local leaders are the ones who decide who “makes it” into a list and who doesn’t. people began to register. in many a case.’ Obviously. 2007). Patronage and Contention 4 . nobody checks them. Whoever controls the census. housing. Change. A former local official explained it to us by way of example: “When we were trying to register shantytown dwellers for Ciudadanía Porteña [a welfare plan]. Only after clearing things up with the local brokers (known as punteros). They do so by controlling the government’s registries of beneficiaries (of money subsidies. or food). These local leaders told us: ‘Just open the office. they are the ones who keep control of the final list. and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly New York. 2008 city – like the organized invasion of an unfinished housing project in Bajo Flores that took place less than two months after the episodes in Cartón (Clarín. Those who have the neighborhood census and the subsidies obtain the control over that particular territory. they are the ones who decide who comes into the shantytown and who has to leave. who gets the bricks and other materials [for building]) and who doesn’t” (personal communication). they are not centralized…. under what conditions. controls who gets the housing. housing. nobody showed up.” The state prosecutor puts it this way: “Whoever controls the [welfare] census. In other words. and they will come. These state subsidies are arbitrarily distributed. we would open an office in each shantytown and. Javier Auyero. and food packages distributed by state agencies. The prosecutor’s report and several newspaper accounts agreed that in the months preceding local elections there was a dramatic increase in this kind of episodes of (seemingly planned) collective violence. controls the state subsidies. What was going on? According to informal conversations we had with former state officials and the state prosecutor. 17. April. they hoard access to state patronage. October 3-5.THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention.

October 3-5.THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention. to obtain a law of expropriation. in point of fact. and to acquire housing.) like the ones of Villa Cartón or the invasion of the housing project in Bajo Flores. fires. By generating episodes of collective violence. was formerly the vice-mayor and took office after the mayor was impeached. Javier Auyero. Change. residents’ mobilization (efforts to evacuate the area and the failure to notify the fire department) should be seen as a way of making claims on the state (in this case. city welfare administration. Or. an orchestrated reaction in defense of the control of patronage resources – an instance of contentious collective action.” What were these arsonists trying to accomplish? In the report (and in two interviews we conducted over e-mail and by phone) the prosecutor was unambiguous: They were “trying to avoid the completion of the census of that emergency settlement. Jorge Telerman. 2008 When the recently appointed mayor2 decided to run for re-election. to recover the control of) local welfare registries (or the census) triggered a series of episodes (building occupations. This example thus shows how clientelism can live a life in the collective. to many chaotic. attempts at defending its operation. For the officials and prosecutors we talked to. local leaders conveyed that they were not going to give up territorial control. demanding housing and welfare subsidies) (Página 12. February 13. in less euphemistic terms.” What an inattentive observer might take as an accident typical of the precarious conditions in which shantytown dwellers live their lives is. Patronage and Contention 5 . and violent. they would not give up the power over their areas and the resources that come with it. 2007). one of his first decisions was to put some order in the. in the words of the state prosecutor’s report. the arson’s objective was to “completely destroy the place as a way of exerting pressure on local authorities. etc. and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly New York. the mayor’s decision to “rationalize” (or. 2 The recently appointed mayor. Coordinated by local brokers.

Levitsky 2007. 2008 Recursive Relations Political clientelism has been traditionally understood as separate from and antagonistic to most forms of collective action. inhibits collective organization and discourages popular contention. we here use clientelist and patronage politics as interchangeable terms (Kitschelt and Wilkinson 2007. October 3-5. Patronage and contentious collective action are here understood as distinct. patronage and contentious 3 Following most of the recent literature on the subject. I here substantiate the assertion regarding the literature’s general agreement on patronage’s function as a social phenomenon that hinders joint forms of claimsmaking.3 The vertical and asymmetrical relationships that define clientelist arrangements have been conceptualized as the exact opposite of the horizontal ties that are understood to be the necessary precondition of either episodic or more sustained forms of collective action (i. I will start by offering a brief review of the literature on political clientelism. This scholarship expands more than five decades and has witnessed a recent revival with political studies’ increasing focus on “informal institutions” (Helmke and Levitsky 2004). most of the scholarship on the subject agrees. strategies for solving pressing survival problems and addressing grievances. Change. but sometimes overlapping. and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly New York. In the second section of this article I describe cases in which patronage and collective action intersect and interact and focus attention on one empirical case of clandestine relational support. Patronage and Contention 6 . Wilkinson 2007).THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention. I will here argue that attention to the continuities and interpenetrations between routine and non-routine problem-solving strategies holds the promise of a broader understanding of popular politics in Latin America and elsewhere.e. social movements). These different instances show that more than two opposed spheres of action or two different forms of sociability. Patronage politics. Javier Auyero.

South and Southeast Asia. and contrary to the predictions of those who saw clientelism as a “holdover from pre-industrial patterns that would gradually disappear in the modernizing West” (Kitschelt and Wilkinson 2007: 3). in Peru. see Arias 2006. and Japan. may lie at the root of collective action – an embeddedness that studies of repertoires of contention have indeed anticipated but have failed to explore in detail (Tilly 1986. goods. Austria. for a general survey Roniger and Günes-Ayata 1994. Nazareno. Tosoni 2007. in many an industrial democracy such as Italy.THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention. see Smilde 2008. The Double Life of Clientelism Understood as the distribution (or promise) of resources by political office holders or political candidates in exchange for political support. see also Holzner 2007. The 4 For evidence of its endurance in Mexico. and parts of Africa but also. and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly New York. it is a “transaction. patronage-based voter-party linkages are still operating (and sometimes expanding) not only in the new democracies of Latin America. clientelism has exhibited. in India. see Brusco.4 It is common knowledge that clientelist exchanges concatenate into pyramidal networks constituted by asymmetrical. According to these authors. in Argentina. 1995. see Wilkinson 2007. see Lazar 2008. see Schneider and Zúniga-Hamlin 2005. clientelism. October 3-5. In the words of the authors of the most recent survey on this resilient socio-political phenomenon. in Brazil. Javier Auyero. in Venezuela. I show by way of example. and Stokes 2004 and Levitsky 2007. Change. and services” (Kitschelt and Wilkinson 2007:2). post-communist Europe. Patronage and Contention 7 . clientelism is a particular form of party-voter linkage. to cite Robert Merton’s still insightful analysis of political machines in the United States. 2008 politics can be mutually imbricated. “a notable vitality” in many parts of the modern world (1949:71). 2006). and face-to-face relationships. reciprocal. Either when it malfunctions or when it thrives. in Bolivia. the direct exchange of a citizen’s vote in return for direct payments or continuing access to employment.

The vast literature concurs in that clientelist relations are a complex cocktail of the four different forms of social interaction identified by Simmel in his classic On Individuality and Social Forms: exchange. and prostitution. Being highly selective. With its informal rules of promotion and reward (also in an informal party structure). Schedler 2004. brokers. Scott and Kerkvliet 1977. 1990:3. clientelist mediation is an effective way of obtaining many urban services. as bonds of dependence and control. based on power differences and on inequality. October 3-5. Auyero 2007. and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly New York. Bodeman 1988. As Robert Gay (1990. representatives of the extensive literature include Silverman 1965. Change. most transparent.” while avoiding bureaucratic indifference. most engaging kind of interaction – that among equals” [Simmel 1971:133]) as from a Roman societas leonina (a partnership in which all the benefits go to one side). conflict.THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention.g. for examples of recent work see Lazar 2008.g. patrons and brokers offer alternative channels for “getting things done. Clientelist relations are seen as hierarchical arrangements. and its low-cost access to state jobs. 1994) and Gerrit Burgwald (1996) convincingly show in their studies of two favelas in Rio de Janeiro and a squatter settlement in Quito. One general agreement in the extensive literature on the subject is that patronbroker-client relationships are as far from any kind of Simmelian sociability (“the purest. promises of loyalty and solidarity)” (Roniger. With its particularized favors. In a context of dwindling economic opportunities. Patronage and Contention 8 . Guterbock 1980. and diffuse they are “characterized by the simultaneous exchange of two different types of resources and services: instrumental (e. Gay 1998). Holzner 2004). sustained and loyal engagement in the Javier Auyero. 2008 structure of what David Knoke (1990) calls “domination networks” and the key actors within them (patrons. the clientelist network also offers one of the few remaining channels of upper social mobility. otherwise unavailable for those without contacts.. particularistic. economic and political) and sociational or expressive (e. and clients) are well studied phenomena of popular political life both in urban and rural settings (for examples of classic works see Scott 1977. domination.. Boissevain 1977.

In her analysis of the emergence of activism among Philippino workers. As Kitschelt and Wilkinson write (2007:19): In many systems characterized by relatively high levels of poverty – such as Thailand. 2008 party machinery can assure participants access to jobs and influence in the distribution of public resources.THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention. and action are. clothes. 2007). Rutten (2007) labels this dispositional toolkit “clientelist habitus. liquor. in turn. Clientelism is usually carried out through multifaceted and enduring webs of reciprocal exchange. or Zambia – patrons directly purchase clients’ votes in exchange for money. Pakistan. and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly New York. evaluation. in which patrons provide private goods or club goods to their clients. This research notes that the automatic appearance of the exchange of “support for favors” that is often noted in the literature should not be interpreted in mechanistic terms but as the result of the habituation it generates in beneficiaries or clients. routine operation of this network to highlight that this relationship transcends singular acts of exchange. Patronage and Contention 9 . Auyero 2000. October 3-5. or other immediately consumable goods […] Much more frequently than single-shot transactions of this nature. Yet. are webs of exchange.” These schemes of perception. This body of research shows that the everyday workings of clientelist problem-solving networks produces a set of dispositions among those who receive the daily favors from patrons and brokers. India. obligation. We emphasize the regular. food. Change. subjective life in the dispositions it inculcates in some of its actors – dispositions that ensure the reproduction of this arrangement (Rutten 2007. and reciprocity sustained over a longer period. however. it lives a second. A line of research inspired by the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu has noted that clientelism not only lives a life in the objectivity of network exchange. patronage politics is not solely about the distribution of material resources in exchange for political support. reconfirmed by the symbolic actions that patrons and brokers routinely enact in their public speeches (emphasizing the Javier Auyero.

or a Brazilian cabo eleitoral) portrays him or herself as “just one of us.” as Merton famously put it.6 Thus for the purposes of the ensuing analysis. The “humanizing and personalizing manner of assistance to those in need.” collective action as denoting the “coordinating efforts on behalf of shared interests and programs. October 3-5.5 In other words. Patronage and Contention 10 . is therefore a constitutive element in the functioning and durability of clientelism. see Auyero 2000 (especially Chapter Four). and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly New York. 1949:75) – is a central dimension in the workings and persistence of patronage. The “way of giving” that brokers and patrons enact – a way of giving in which the patron and/or the brokers (be him or her a Chicago precinct captain. we understand contention as involving “making claims that bear on someone else’s interests. an Argentine puntero. collective action. 2008 “love” they feel for their followers and their “service to the people”) and in their personalized ways of giving (stressing their efforts to obtain the goods and thus creating the appearance that were they not there. we define political contention as the making of public and collective claims in which “at least one of the parties is already a political actor.” and politics as a realm of interaction in which at least one of the actors is an agent of the government. a Mexican cacique. and a government is at least a party to the claims in the sense that successful pressing of the claims will involve government 5 For an analysis of this symbolic dimension of patronage networks. clientelist politics is not limited to material problem-solving. the benefits would not be delivered). Following Tilly and Tarrow (2006). see Armstrong and Bernstein (2008). Change. who understands what it’s all about” (Merton. 6 For alternative definition of politics and thus of contentious collective action. Contentious Collective Action For the purpose of our analysis of the recursive relationship between patronage and contentious politics.THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention. and politics. Javier Auyero. our approach to the latter blends three dimensions: contention.

Existing scholarship agrees on the key role played by indigenous organizations or associational networks in the emergence of a movement (McAdam 1982. embeddedness in clientelist relationships is understood as a suppressor of participation in the more horizontal relational contexts that have been found “to be conducive to various forms of collective engagement” (Diani 2003:2. Change. see also Emirbayer and Goodwin 1994. in turn. patronage networks are. O’Donnell 1992. if realized.” patron-client bonds are seen as the exact opposite of the horizontal networks of civic engagement that are said to foster a truly civic community. Consequently. and that. Research conducted in urban poverty enclaves (shantytowns. In their chronicle of the emergence and development of the piquetero Javier Auyero. McAdam. Taylor and Whittier 1995. Mische 2007). Tilly 2009). following our definition. favelas. on the contrary. 1975. usually in a conflictive way (Gay 1990.) and on poor people’s movements in Latin America show that patronage and collective mobilization can. regulators. Oliver 1984. 2003. etc. need to be consequential – meaning that. Lazar 2008). Among the most established findings in social movement and collective action research are the notions that “prior social ties operate as a basis for movement recruitment and that established social settings are the locus of movement emergence” (Diani 2003:7). These claims. Patronage and Contention 11 . a (de)mobilizing structure (Rock 1972. 2008 agents as monitors. Holzner 2007). Osa 1997. colonias. October 3-5. Passy 2003. Morris 1984. Conceptualized as what Julian Pitt-Rivers (1954:140) famously called “a lopsided friendship. and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly New York. squatter settlements. indeed. Burgwald 1996. they will affect the interests of the object of the claims (Tilly 2006. guarantors or implementers” (Tilly 2006:20). co-exist in the same geographical place. Far from being a realm of possible cooperation. and what is most important for the subject of this paper.THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention. “make democracy work” (Putnam 1993) and social movement activity possible. Tarrow. McAdam and Fernandez 1990. Tilly & Tarrow 2006).

Another recent example is found in the work of Claudio Holzner (2006). Although pointing to the complexity of poor people’s politics and the diversity of problem-solving strategies used by the destitute. and another that emphasizes democratic participation. emerge from 7 For a recent and illuminating exception on the ways in which citizens. Change. political autonomy and “actively resists political clientelism” (77.” or “challenge” each other. thus preventing the organizational and the relational work at the basis of collective action. and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly New York. may shuttle back and forth between “opposing” networks.THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention. as their main tactic) Svampa and Pereyra (2003:93).” “resist. all of these studies depict clientelist and mobilizing networks as two different and opposing fields of political action. piquetes. in point of fact. see Goldstone (2003). October 3-5. two spheres of social interaction and exchange that seldom overlap and that usually “rival.” (77) he notes the emergence of “rival” forms of political organization – one that is hierarchical and clientelist. Patronage and Contention 12 . the literature also agrees that in one particular case (that of the breakdown of clientelist arrangements) protest can. Writing about the “stubborn resilience of clientelist organizations and practices in Mexico despite a strengthening civil society and growing electoral competition at all levels. Javier Auyero.7 The dominance of patronage politics among the poor. the extant research agrees. Network Breakdown However. for example. our emphasis). 2008 movement in Argentina (as the social movement that grouped the unemployed and that used road-blockades. in their attempt to solve pressing survival problems. For an theoretically analogous claim concerning the false opposition between institutionalized and non-institutionalized politics. see Quiroz (2007). as well as isolates and atomizes citizens. frustrates collective claims-making. assert that picketers’ organizations represent a “first concrete challenge against punteros (political brokers)” of the Peronist party clientelist machine (our emphasis).

She describes the process by which residents of colonia San Lázaro (a working class neighborhood in Mexico City) campaigned.” More recently. When a well-oiled system of patron-client relationships. supported. On taking office the broker “forgot” about his clients and failed to deliver what had been agreed. in Thompson’s view. was the normative foundation of clientelist networks in agrarian societies). “the usual occasion for direct action. sociologist Magdalena Tosoni (2007) dissects another occurrence when focusing her attention on contemporary urban Mexico. Historian E. “reciprocity [can] change to rivalry” (Lemarchand 1981:10). fails to deliver or suddenly collapses. as Scott examined in detail. crucial for the survival of the local population. Change. Thompson (1993) uncovered an analogous case when dissecting the 18th century English food riots as manifestations of the rupture in the “moral economy of the poor” – the “consistent traditional view of social norms and obligations. As a result. 2008 patronage – and it usually does so in explosive ways. creates the Javier Auyero. in turn. An affront to these moral assumptions – caused by an unexpected alteration in the “particular equilibrium between paternalist authority and the crowd” (249) – was. Relational Support Most of the scholarship on patronage networks points to their potential malfunctioning as a generator of sudden grievances which. and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly New York.THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention. of the proper economic functions of several parties within the community” (Thompson 1993:188). Scholars are familiar with these situations of mass mobilization originating in the abrupt malfunctioning of routine social and political relations: Political scientist James Scott (1977) examined one of its iterations when writing about the collective revolts caused by the swift changes in the “balance of reciprocity” between landlords and tenants (balance that. the multitude mobilized and staged a massive road blockade and protest. and voted for a candidate that had promised to help solve a land ownership problem in the district. October 3-5. P. Patronage and Contention 13 .

2008 opportunity of collective action. she shows. might act as a key support of violent contentious politics.” 8 On the variable nature of grievances as an important factor in mobilization. documents the attacks committed by the Ragen’s Colts – young party hacks who were financially supported by Frank Ragen. Stathis Kalyvas (2003:478) asserts that although they were “ostensibly articulated around the communism/anticommunism cleavage… [A] sustained examination of regional massacres unearthed all kinds of local conflicts…. for a variety of reasons (ranging from threats to existing arrangements to attempts at improving their position in the political field) become organizers of collective (and in some cases violent) action. vertical networks do not need to break down in order for collective action to emerge. Machine politics. Javier Auyero.THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention. for example. In these studies. some of their key actors (patrons. Change. see Walsh (1981). Patronage and Contention 14 . Historical accounts of “race riots” in the United States point to the participation of members of established political parties and/or public officials in the support and perpetration of violent actions. Writing about the mass killings that took place in Indonesia between 1965 and 1966. [I]n Bali they were associated with long-standing rivalries between patronage groups. That disputes between operating clientelist networks can be at the basis of violent contention should hardly come as a surprise to a student of civil wars. and/or clients) may. October 3-5. brokers. Before delving into an empirical case that serves as an illustration of “relational support. a well-known Democratic Cook County commissioner – on African Americans during the 1919 riots in Chicago.” let me briefly review some of the available empirical evidence on this alternative case of a recursive relationship between contention and clientelism. Janet Abu-Lughod (2007).8 Only recently well-functioning clientelist networks have been analyzed as key relational supports of collective action. and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly New York.

these local bosses build their local power through patronage – i.e. In his study of environmental protest in eight communities in southern Japan.THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention. “formed a vertical structure of social control [which] penetrated into the community through the political party. October 3-5. local leaders who join protesters). The origins of Jamaican drug gangs in New York can be found. As Steffen Schmidt argues (1974:109): “Colombia’s political violence…is in great part due to the existence of widespread. now also serve the drug trade. “initially formed for political purposes. Change. and big business” (219-220). Broadbent (1998. government. in Broadbent’s analysis. 2008 Patronage networks have also been identified as the crucial relational support of collective violence in Colombia. These bosses are indicative. During the 80s. patron-client based politics. The “mafia-style links” (Gunst 1995:83) between politicians and gangs. or a cabo eleitoral in a Brazilian favela (Gay 1990). “presenting generous contributions at funeral and weddings. many of these gangs migrated to America.e. The relationship between patronage and contention needs not necessarily take a violent form. distributing small bribes at election time.” In her detailed study of “la violencia” – as the wave of political violence that killed 200 thousand people in Colombia in the 1940s and 1950s is known– historian Mary Roldán makes a similar point arguing that in Antioquía “partisan conflict provided the initial catalyst to violence” (2002:22). Javier Auyero. and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly New York. he writes. Gunst argues. 2003) notes the presence of what he calls “breakaway bosses” (i. competitive. in the posses which were political groupings armed by party leaders linked to Seaga or Manley. Patronage and Contention 15 . where they became known as posses and soon forged a reputation for violence” (Patterson 2001:1). of the existing vertical ties between citizens and elites that shape local political opportunities. Closer in time. finding jobs and even marriage partners for your children” (Broadbent 2003:222). holding sake parties to build camaraderie. Much like a precinct captain in the Chicago political machines analyzed by Guterbock (1980). aggressive. Local political bosses. historian Laurie Gunst (1995) and sociologist Orlando Patterson (2001) unearth relationships between what the latter calls “garrison constituency” (a local version of a patronage network) and gang violence during electoral times in Jamaica.

Based on a catalog of 289 episodes culled from newspapers accounts (Auyero & Moran 2007). neither theoretically or empirically. The available evidence focusing on what I would call the support scenario is limited and scattered for a reason. This form of recursive relationship between patronage and collective action has not been examined in depth. Hundreds were seriously injured and thousands arrested. sometimes. Corrientes. October 3-5. 2008 Patronage networks pose “a formidable barrier to mobilization in village context” (2003:223) unless a breakaway boss breaks free: “[O]nce a traditional boss broke from his bosses in favour of resistance. Change. The provinces of Entre Rios and Mendoza were the first to witness hundreds of persons blockading roads and gathering in front of supermarkets demanding food and. Neuquén. and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly New York. this case shows that there is no need of a collapse or interruption in the flow of clientelist exchanges for contention to occur. he was able to carry much of his subordinate networks ‘automatically’ (structurally) into the protest movement” (221). In what follows I reconstruct one other iteration of mutual imbrication. They were killed either by the police or by the private bullets of store owners. Rio Negro. Santiago del Estero. when refused. Chubut. all of them under 35 years old. Wellfunctioning patronage networks can be purposively activated to conduct politics by other collective (and. Tucumán. the wave extended to Santa Fe. through their connections with authorities. and Buenos Aires. Brokers connect claimants and. Approximately twenty people died. validate their contentious actions. Clandestine Support Close to three hundred stores were attacked or looted in eleven Argentine provinces during the week of December 14 to 21.THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention. Córdoba. Together with the opening story. Patronage and Contention 16 . entering the stores and taking away the merchandise. Soon. violent) means. we found that: Javier Auyero. 2001.

at a certain time. Change. we see much more broker activity and a much lower likelihood of police presence. local markets.THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention. Patronage and Contention 17 . On June 2005. this is what he had to say about the episodes: Activists from the Peronist Party (the largest political party in Argentina. close to the crossroads of Crovara and Cristianía (C&C). and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly New York. Party brokers tended to be present at small market lootings when there were no police around: When big. For lootings to occur there has to be a liberated territory. local market. 2008 • • • Large chain supermarkets received ample police protection. chain supermarkets are looted. the chances of police being present are statistically high. In areas of small. They moved the police away. October 3-5. one of the most populated and poorest districts in metropolitan Buenos Aires. That day. the police disappeared. one of us had an extensive conversation with Luis D’Elia. about these episodes. the police usually have their patrols stationed here. This protection generally deterred looting. as if they had been recruited for such a day. They did this from the Unidades Básicas (grassroots offices of the Peronist Party). and brokers are not present. a commercial area that was devastated during the food lootings of December 2001. the chances of police being present are very low. In a nutshell. These markets suffered the bulk of the looting. leader of the Federación de Tierra y Vivienda grassroots organization. and the opposition party at that time) “did two sorts of things: some of them directed the looting. And when small. police rarely showed up. And. local markets are looted and brokers are present. The guys from the Unidades Básicas populated the area of Crovara and Cristianía with their own people. And then they recruited people saying that they were going to loot. they moved the police away. they hurled the people against the stores…” Javier Auyero. During 2000 and 2001 D’Elia’s organization coordinated some of the largest and longest road blockades in protest against the De la Rua administration (1999-2001). He lives in La Matanza. So. When the site is a small.

” This and similar flyers circulated throughout poor neighborhoods in Moreno. 37 kilometers from the city of Buenos Aires.8% of households in Buenos Aires metropolitan area (and 32. October 3-5. Patronage and Contention 18 .. 24. Change. the Valencia supermarket at 1:30 p. they are poor) (Alsina and Catenazzi. D’Elias’s testimony and the flyers betray the--in this case.7% of the population) were living below the poverty line.. 2002).3% of the population) were in that condition (INDEC 2003). as those of many other poor areas throughout the country.5% of the households (and 61. inviting residents to join the crowds that looted several dozen supermarkets and grocery stores on December 18 and 19.e. and the Chivo supermarket at 5 p. struggling to make ends meet with recordhigh levels of unemployment and shrinking state assistance. Food-assistance and 9 For a description of the area see Cerrutti and Grimson 2004. 1997.m. 2008 “We invite you to destroy the Kin supermarket this coming Wednesday at 11:30 a. Investigative journalists’ reports agree that the flyers were distributed by activists of the Peronist Party.288 inhabitants live below the poverty line . for an ethnographic study of popular organizations in Buenos Aires see Grimson et al 2003.THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention. In May.000 inhabitants have “unsatisfied basic needs” (i.9 By May 2003. Close to a third of its 380. hidden—connection between patronage networks and extraordinary forms of collective action. a district located in the suburbs of Buenos Aires.. these figures had almost doubled: 50. Moreno is a district located in the western part of the Conurbano Bonaerense. and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly New York.255. There are 106 shantytowns in its territory (Torresi 2005). it is the most populated district in the Conurbano and half of its 1. La Matanza is a district that borders the federal capital on the southwest. 2001.m. Both La Matanza and Moreno share the plight that has affected the whole region since the early 1990s: skyrocketing poverty due to hyper-unemployment.m. The end of 2001 found the inhabitants of Moreno and La Matanza. Javier Auyero.

” “A week or so before.THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention. remembers that at the time she had an unemployment subsidy (then known as Plan Trabajar). Christmas was right around the corner and…well. who did loot. unemployment subsidies) had been steadily declining with the deepening of the economic recession during 2001. a resident of one of the most destitute enclaves in Moreno. They gave us [unemployment] subsidies. Days before. then the lootings happened. They gave us bags of food. but they suddenly stopped giving them. 2008 other welfare programs (most notably. looters.” Sandra.” Javier Auyero. “we knew that the lootings were going to happen for at least about a month.” Payments for the unemployment subsidies were not only delayed but diminishing (relief was cut by 20% in many districts). October 3-5.” Rumors were running rampant among shopkeepers in both districts. told us: “I was in school. and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly New York. Change. and then they cut them. They would set a date. who stayed home during the episodes. As two of them told us: “There was a lot of gossip saying that the sackings were about to start. and shopkeepers knew “something was coming. and my classmates and friends were talking about the lootings like two weeks before it all began…. Lootings in Moreno began late on December 18. Karina. 2001). Patronage and Contention 19 .” In Moreno. but the monthly payments were delayed (something that was quite common throughout the district and throughout Buenos Aires): “They were supposed to be paying by the end of the month [November] and they didn’t. neighbors. Mono. but nobody did anything. told us that a week or so in advance she found out through a neighbor that lootings were going to take place. but the heaviest amount of looting activity (in which the most people participated and the most stores were looted) took place on the afternoon of December 19. other shopkeepers and customers heard rumors that there was a group of people who were going to create disturbances. then another one. Mónica Gomez told journalist Laura Vales (Página12web December 29. That day witnessed most of the destruction in La Matanza as well. Nobody can take that.

” Pascual. and b) logistics (as participants told us some places were spared of damage because they had heavy or electrified gates or private security). Signaling basically comprised: a) protection from potential repressive action (as many a resident told us: “I didn’t go through that street because neighbors told me the cops were there”). Peronist brokers communicated the location of targets. the looted. A report published in the main Argentine newspaper a year after the events tells a similar story. modulating their behavior according to estimates of the likelihood that others will flee” (McAdam. On the 18th. and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly New York.m. In December. and we passed the information along [among the members of the party]. 2008 Where were the rumors coming from? Dozens of interviews with residents. [the lootings began by noon] we knew that there was going to be a looting. We were told about them by the municipal authorities.” Before and during the lootings. in cooperation with political brokers linked to the largest patronage-based party in Buenos Aires (the Peronist Party). Change. looters. and activists from the Peronist Party point to the latter as their source. she received a small flyer inviting her to 10 Signaling refers to a set of events whereby participants in a risky situation “often scan each other for signs of readiness to incur costs without defecting. was at work.THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention. Tarrow. 2001. and b) where it was safe to loot.10 Friends and neighbors. a crucial mechanism in the generation of collective action (McAdam et al. Patronage and Contention 20 . 2001). grassroots leaders. Signaling. October 3-5. put it this way: “We knew a lot of political activists…They came to the store when they did fundraising…They brought us news [about the lootings]. Around 1 a. and Tilly 2001:28). a store-owner in Matanza. Susana. Josefa was living in a small shack located in a poor neighborhood of Moreno. Javier Auyero. a Peronist broker confided to us the following: “We [the members of the party] knew about the lootings beforehand. indicated to each other: a) when lootings were about to start. the presence or absence of police and thus the feasibility of risky practices.

October 3-5. Peronist brokers did not take their followers (clients) to the stores. she showed up on time in front of Kin. Change. I met one of them. their main action (at least. in another poor enclave in Buenos Aires. Investigative journalists stated this. they did do something crucial: they passed the word about the location of the looting – simply by spreading rumors throughout the community that lootings were “coming” at the crossroads of Crovara and Cristianía in La Matanza and in El Cruce in Moreno. However. These were “safe places” to loot – police would not be present and. 2008 “bust” a group of markets. he told me that a man from the local Unidad Básica (Peronist Party’s grassroots office) came to inform the teachers about the sites of the lootings. But how exactly were clientelist brokers involved? Although some Peronist brokers might have promoted the looting by recruiting followers. chain supermarkets. The teacher told my son that she was going to go.” Far from Josefa. She recalls seeing a police car leaving the scene and a man who worked at the local municipality talking on his cellular phone. Soon.” Josefa remembers. the one for which we have good evidence) seems to have been spreading news of the upcoming (looting) opportunity. but by small retail stores.THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention. How did activists and people in general know about police future (in)activity? In part. The next day. residents of the barrio Baires (located in the municipality of Tigre) seemed to have received similar news about an imminent looting through their children: “When my son arrived home from school. if present. nor could they control their actions. And we went to see if we could get something” (summarized from Young 2002). places populated not by large. known in the neighborhood as “Los Gurkas. Patronage and Contention 21 .” arrived at the scene. there is little doubt that Peronist brokers were indeed involved in the looting episodes that took place both in Moreno and La Matanza. a truck loaded with a grupo de pesados (or group of thugs). and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly New York. Thus. would not act. “They broke the doors and called us in. from well-connected Javier Auyero. “A few days later. and soon 200 people were gathered in front of this small market clamoring for food. and our own research has found evidence of their presence. and he told me that people from the Peronist Party paid 100 pesos for the job. they assumed it because news about upcoming lootings was coming from above.

”11 In this paper I have addressed precisely this problem by looking at the connection between everyday life. they even told us where to escape so that we wouldn’t get in trouble. clientelist politics. public. and the logistics of social settings… shape the forms of contention. Certification by public authorities. they were the ones who took most of the things…and when we were inside El Chivo [a devastated supermarket in El Cruce]. 2008 state actors. Furthermore.THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention.” Javier Auyero. and points out the targets of their anger. they also saw the police passively witnessing the sacking. existing social relations.” writes Charles Tilly in Regimes and Repertoires (2006:43). as Piven and Cloward (1979:20-1) write. and collective claim-making – episodes in which people “break with daily routines to concert their energies in publicly visible 11 Or. a key causal mechanism in the generation of violence. “it is the daily experience of people that shapes their grievances. October 3-5. and extraordinary collective action in different variations. establishes the measure of their demands. looters believed that their actions enjoyed a certain degree of legitimacy. But what relationship? That is the problem. since trusted sources spread the news about imminent lootings (political brokers connected with municipal authorities). in the words of one activist-turned-looter. Given its focus on discontinuous. In one of his earlier writings (1992:6). Change. was at work in situ as the looting proceeded. shared memories. “worse than us. they also experienced it on-site when they saw that the police were. and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly New York. To them this was a clear indication that their actions were not condemned. Conclusion and Tasks Ahead “Daily social life. this same author puts it this way: “Contentious gatherings obviously bear a coherent relationship to the social organization and routine politics of their settings. In part. Patronage and Contention 22 .” Looters and witnesses saw (and clearly remember) political authorities at the looting scene.

much of Latin America has witnessed the simultaneous growth of both protest and clientelism (Svampa and Pereyra 2003. fact: Clientelist and contentious politics might connect with each other. patronage networks can act as those indigenous organizations or associational networks that followers of the political process model in the study of social movements have long emphasized as key presence in the emergence of collective action. Javier Auyero. relational support of massive contention. other times in more hidden ways. Patronage networks can act as the. Giarracca 2001. Almeida and Johnston 2006. López Maya and Lander 2006). 2008 demands. Giraudi 2007. resources. Clientelism needs not collapse in order to generate episodes of protest. though overlooked. a twin process that most sociological and political science research deems unlikely. complaints. Auyero 2007. Levitsky 2003. and Explanation: A Conference in Honor of Charles Tilly New York. Change. October 3-5. resources. Patronage and Contention 23 . and ideological frames).THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL Contention. opportunities. Pasdirtz. Patronage (its vertical networks. in point of fact. and Blad 2006. opportunities. Shefner. or expressions of support before returning to their private lives” (Tilly 2006: 49) – it should not be unforeseen that most of the research on collective action has tended to ignore its links with habitual social arrangements such as patronage-client relationships. The evidence presented here points to one simple. Stokes 2005. The joint increase in clientelism and contentious politics is paradoxical only if we fail to pay attention to the zone of mutual influence between both political phenomena. Since early 1990s. sometimes in overt. more or less visible. The two cases presented here show that. attacks. and ideological frames) tends to act against the emergence of collective action (its horizontal networks.

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