Department of Sociology

Patrimonial Power in the Modern World

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Patrimonial Power in the Modern World
THE ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
July 2011, Volume 636.
Special Editors:
Julia Adams, Yale University
Mounira M. Charrad, University of Texas-Austin

On January 14, 2011, thousands of protesters gathered in the Avenue Bourguiba, the main artery of Tunisia's capital city, Tunis, to demand the ouster of an authoritarian president who had been in power for 23 years. Similar demonstrations swept across Tunisia, with many galvanizing small towns throughout the country. Following Tunisia, protesters marched in the streets of Jordan, Algeria, and Yemen. On February 1 and again on February 4, 2011, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians flooded Tahrir (Liberation) Square in Cairo and other cities to demand the departure of a president who had been in power for 30 years. In Tunisia and Egypt, the popular uprisings sought to bring about a new political order and to end the influence of rulers' families in politics, the economy, and social life. They also explicitly targeted any hereditary transfer of power that would have codified, in disguise, a reversion to absolutist patrimonial monarchy.

Dubbed the Jasmine Revolution, the Tunisian events have been compared with the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and others in Eastern Europe in 1989. Each was first in a line of cascading dominoes: the former in the Arab world and the latter among the then-Communist countries. Concatenated upheavals and regional revolutions in the Arab world today, in Eastern Europe in the 1980s to 1990s, in Africa and Central and Latin America in the 1950s to 1960s, in Western Europe with the 1848 Revolutions (the specter haunting Europe that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels celebrated in The Communist Manifesto), and the Atlantic Revolutions of the late eighteenth century pose critical challenges to us today. Each of these revolutions was lent explosive force by a clash between popular pressure from below and a form of personalized patrimonial authority.

Max Weber, the great sociologist of the early twentieth century, developed the concept of patrimonialism, initially as a tool that made it possible to explore political systems in which a ruler exerts power on the basis of kin ties, patron-client relations, personal allegiances, and combinations thereof, with few formal rules and regulations. In a patrimonial system of authority, Weber wrote, "the object of obedience is the personal authority of the individual which he enjoys by virtue of his traditional status. The organized group exercising authority is, in the simplest case, primarily based on relations of personal loyalty, cultivated through a common process of education."

This volume brings the study of patrimonialism back to center stage-or rather reveals its position there, in contemporary global developments, interstate and imperial relations, and world events. The collected contributions make the case for putting "the patrimonial" back on the research agenda, underlining the vitality of the concept as a tool for the analysis of political struggles and international relations in the past and present. Leading scholars show that patrimonial practices, present throughout history, are important features of global capitalist modernity. They analyze patrimonial politics in regions throughout the world, including in the United States, Tunisia, Chile, France, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, China, Poland, and Russia. This volume will appeal to students of politics and policy and to a multidisciplinary scholarly audience in political sociology, historical social science, history, and social theory.

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