Informal Politics and the State

Scott Radnitz
2011 Comparative politics  
Many theories of the state are implicitly premised on modernization theory-a linear transition from agrarian to industrial society and increasing centralization and extractive capacity of the state, while preexisting societal networks are eradicated or gradually absorbed into the political system. As a society becomes wealthier and more mobile, particularist allegiances are broadened to encompass the whole polity and rulers increasingly govern to the benefit of the citizenry within the
more » ... of stable political institutions. Political processes in systems that approach this ideal type may be understood through the study of formal institutions, in which political actors work within constraints specified by formally codified rules that are (usually) consistently and equitably enforced. A research strategy typically involves analyzing a limited and easily identifiable set of institutions that produce probabilistically predictable outputs, under the assumption that consequential political behaviors governed by those institutions can be observed and that their influence on policy outcomes is transparent and measureable. Clearly, this description does not characterize all political systems in the world today, and perhaps approximates only a minority of them. Formal institutions are ubiquitouspost-World War II international norms ensure that even weakly institutionalized states and nondemocratic regimes adopt the formal trappings of industrialized democracies 1but they may not function everywhere as specified on paper (or on websites, in the twenty-first century). 2 At best, rule enforcement may be inconsistent and the formal institutions of governance implicated in unpredictable or inequitable outcomes. At worst, parts of the state can be appropriated by political factions, identity-based groups, or patron-client networks, and exploited to benefit a small minority at the expense of the majority. To make sense of political processes and outcomes in such contexts, paying attention to the 351 Review Article
doi:10.5129/001041511795274922 fatcat:pv3gxjljxrb7pmk3nvn5f2jvqi