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At the most general level, patrimonialism refers to a social logic arising in diverse settings shaped through monopolization of desirable resources (“patrimony”) by one party, who negotiates mutual obligations through the controlled distribution of those resources and thereby exerts power over others in ways that may be culturally and institutionally legitimated. Patrimonialism can be the central ordering feature or shape or undermine social relationships primarily organized on some other basis. Myriad other factors affect the character of patrimonial relationships. Scholarship has explored the significance of both historical and modern forms of patrimonialism.

The foundational analysis by Max Weber, in Economy and Society, offers a sweeping comparative political sociology focused largely on premodern societies—from China and India to the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and (in passing) precolonization ...

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