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Critical Review of James Scott's "patron Clients and Political Change in Southeast Asia"

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A Critical Review of James C. Scott's "Patron-Client Politics and Political Change in Southeast Asia"

Patrick Liao Vilhena

SID 18984638

In his "Patron-Client Politics and Political Change in Southeast Asia," (James C. Scott, 1972), James C. Scott attempts to explain the patron-client model of association and "demonstrate its applicability to political action in Southeast Asia." (Scott 1972: 91) He acknowledges that the patron-client model is more commonly applied by anthropologists, but claims that the analysis may have more value in understanding the political situation in "less developed nations." (Scott 1972: 91) Scott presents the two most used models employed by western political scientists in analyzing the Third World. The first is a "horizontal, class model of conflict" (Scott 1972:91) whose value, he claims, is "dubious in the typical nonindustrial situation where most political groupings cut vertically across class lines." The second, which Scott claims comes closer to matching reality, places emphasis on "primordial" ties like ethnicity, language, or religion. However, he dismisses both as being "conflict models" and of better value in "analyzing hostilities between more or less corporate" (Scott 1972: 91) groups. Scott goes on to claim the need in Southeast Asia for a model that does not rely solely on horizontal or primordial sentiments.

The key characteristic of the patron-client model is reciprocity. That is, the patron uses his influence and power to provide protection and benefits to the client, and the client in turn provides general assistance and support to the patron. Scott presents three additional features that distinguish patron-client relationships: "their basis in inequality, their face-to-face character, and their diffuse flexibility." (Scott 1972: 93) The inequality stems from "an imbalance in exchange between the two partners" which shows the "disparity in their relative wealth, power, and status." (Scott 1972: 93) The "face-to-face" aspect, according to Scott, is a personal quality of the relationship. That is, the patron-client bond is not, according to Scott, simply a business relation. It is instead a relationship based on true trust and affection between the partners. He goes on to claim the relationship is one approaching the bonds of family, in which the patron may act as godfather to the client's child, or be viewed as an uncle, grandfather, or older brother, and is "often a durable bond of genuine mutual devotion that can survive severe testing." (Scott 1972: 94) The "diffuse flexibility," as Scott explains it, is that the nature of the relationship may be based on multiple bonds. "A landlord may, for example, have a client who is connected to him by tenancy, friendship, past exchanges of services, the past tie of the client's father to his father, and ritual coparenthood." (Scott 1972: 95)

The patron-client model as presented here by Scott is very broad and general. He speaks of Southeast Asia as if it were a single region, and a small one at that. There is no accounting for the various cultures and different political development in the different nations of Southeast Asia. Granted, it is a tall order to ask that he account for every country and culture in a single article, but his generalities do not just gloss over different cultural and national identities. His model fails to take into

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