Flexible Patronage and the Contentious Politics of Dispossession

Friday, 20 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
With an ethnographic case study of a riverine-peasant community menaced by a hydroelectric dam in the Brazilian Amazon, I show how patronage shapes dispossession processes. The organizational field of dispossession – including politicians, firms, and social movement organizations – provides external patronage relations that shape contention in local communities. I argue that patronage enables both resistance to and compliance with territorial dispossession, and that patronage networks often mobilize against each other, locally and extra-locally. I conceptualize a flexible patronage support scenario: when clients are able to mobilize against their patron’s will and still maintain patronage support for their everyday, parochial activities. Patrons may strategically tolerate clients’ mobilization in order to maintain their positions of authority, providing recursive feedback between patronage networks and collective action. Additionally, I show that contention further impacts patronage by the rupturing or strengthening of select social ties. In this case study, in order to neutralize resistance to the dispossession project, pro-dam organizations co-opted local patronage groups in two ways. First informally, subcontracted firms used connections and distributed financial incentives to garner local support. Second, formally, privately led ‘participatory techniques’ made patronage groups legible to corporate and state actors and facilitated dialogue between contending groups without changing the goals of the dispossession project. Finally, state coercion quelled remaining open resistance or conflicts by clients within the flexible patronage scenario.