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"From the Client's Point(s) of View": How Poor People Perceive and Evaluate Political

Author(s): Javier Auyero
Source: Theory and Society, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Apr., 1999), pp. 297-334
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3108473
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"From the client's point(s) of view": How poor people
perceive and evaluate political clientelism'

State University of New York at Stony Brook

The sociologist must never ignore that the specific

characteristic of her point of view is to be a point of
view on a point of view. She can only reproduce the
point of view of her object and constitute as such,
through resituating it within the social space, by
taking up that very singular (and, in a sense, very
privileged) viewpoint at which it is necessary to
place oneself to be able to take (in thought) all
possible points of view.
Pierre Bourdieu

The tropes of "disorganization" and "anomy and radicalism" have

governed the studies of the North American "dark ghetto"2 and of the
Latin American slum.3 Similarly, "political clientelism" has been one of
the strongest and most recurrent images in the study of political prac-
tices of the poor - urban and rural alike - in Latin America, almost to
the point of becoming a sort of "metonymic prison"4 for this part of
the Americas. Political clientelism "represents the distribution of re-
sources (or promise of) by political office holders or political candidates
in exchange for political support, primarily - although not exclusively
- in the form of the vote." 5 Used (and abused) to explain why poor and
destitute people sometimes follow populist leaders, and at other times
authoritarian or conservative ones,6 the notion of political clientelism
has been understood as one of the central elements of the populist
appeal7 but has also been defined as a mode of vertical inclusion
distinct from populism.8

Political clientelism is also recurrently associated with the limitations

of Latin America's unceasingly fragile democracies.9 It is seen as one
of the pillars of oligarchic domination that reinforce and perpetuate
the role of traditional political elites,10 and as a practice that remains
"at the core of party behavior." 11 The exchange of votes for favors is

Theory and Society 28: 297-334, 1999.

? 1999 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

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seen as one of the possible relationships between political parties and

organized popular groups or community associations. In this case, the
analysis usually focuses on the effort made by popular organized
groups to "bypass traditional mechanisms of political cooptation,"12
and on the varying vulnerability of local associations to clientelist
penetration.'3 Furthermore, political clientelism is examined as a form
of atomization and fragmentation of the electorate or the "popular
sector,"14 as a way of inhibiting collective organization and discouraging
real political participation. Scholars focusing on cases of "collective
clientelism" 15 find this last examination inadequate. The widely used
(but rarely scrutinized) antinomy between traditional, clientelist politics
and modern or radical forms of participation has been contested in
recent analyses as oversimplified.16

This resilient and pervasive informal institution is recurrently considered

an "old societal ill" opposed to the participatory ideology of social
movements and their emphasis on political autonomy,17 but is also
understood to be based on trust and solidarity.18 Last, but hardly least,
vertical clientelist bonds are conceptualized as the exact opposite of
those horizontal networks of civic engagement that foster a truly civic
community, and that, in turn, "make democracy work."19

Definitional problems aside,20 an overwhelmingly negative image of

clientelism permeates scholarly analyses. Among sociologists, anthro-
pologists, and political scientists, it is common knowledge that clientelist
exchanges concatenate into pyramidal networks. The structure of these
"domination networks,"21 and the key actors within them (patrons,
brokers, and clients), are well studied phenomena of popular political
life.22 Most scholars of the subject also agree that clientelistic relation-
ships are as far from any kind of Simmelian sociability ("the purest,
most transparent, most engaging kind of interaction - that among
equals"23) as from a societas leonina (a partnership in which all the
benefits go to one side). Scholars concur in that patron-broker-client
relations are a cocktail of - to continue with the Simmelian language -
different forms of social interaction: exchange, conflict, domination,
and prostitution. Clientelist relations are seen as hierarchical arrange-
ments, as bonds of dependence and control,24 based on power differ-
ences and on inequality. Being highly selective, particularistic and
diffuse they are "characterized by the simultaneous exchange of two
different types of resources and services: instrumental (e.g., economic
and political) and "sociational" or expressive (e.g., promises of loyalty
and solidarity)."25 Clientelist relationships are also characterized by

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having individuals as their protagonists in opposition to organized

corporate groups. Finally, they are said to be neither "fully contractual
nor legal - in fact, they are often illegal - but are based on more
informal, though tightly binding, understandings."26 Clientelist relation-
ships, most scholars agree, constitute a realm of submission, a cluster of
bonds of domination in opposition to a realm of mutual recognition,
of equality and cooperation.

The uses of the notion of political clientelism are currently being

scrutinized and problematized from different perspectives and in re-
gard to diverse geographical settings.27 Except for these few critical
approaches, contemporary studies on the subject have come to an
impasse, becoming familiar, almost predictable.28 Revolving around the
same limited issues, they repeatedly leave certain subjects untouched.
One of those unexplored subjects is the central concern of this article:
the different and competing views that "clients" themselves hold of
"clientelist politics."

Testimonies about the working of clientelism are usually gathered

from oppositional politicians, journalists, or community leaders. Only
sporadically does one listen to the so-called clients, to the reasons they
give for their behavior (supporting a particular patron or broker, attend-
ing rallies, etc.), to their own judgments concerning what others label
"anti-democratic" procedures.29 The present article breaks with this
scholastic and externalist approach by focusing on the opinions and
evaluations of those involved in these clientelist exchanges. It examines
the workings of clientelismfrom the client's point (s) of view.

The aims of this report are two-fold. First, I seek to provide fresh
ethnographic data on a little known universe: that of Peronist clientelist
politics in contemporary Argentina. At a more theoretical level, this
article brings together relational and experiential sociologies in order
to: a) problematize the notion of political clientelism as a mechanism
of massive electoral mobilization, and b) rethink the logic of clientelist
practices under conditions of extreme material and symbolic destitution.

My analysis of the clients' viewpoints is based on life-stories, in-depth

interviews, and informal conversations I carried out during an intensive
year of fieldwork (1996) with residents of a shantytown called Villa
Paraiso.30 Villa Paraiso is an enclave of urban poverty located in the
city of C6spito, in the southern part of the Conurbano Bonaerense,31
bordering the Federal Capital of Argentina. Paraiso - as its residents

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call it - is one of the oldest slums in the Conurbano Bonaerense, and

the largest in terms of population (approximately 15,000 inhabitants
according to the last population census).32

The majority of Paraiso residents have continuously defined themselves

as Peronists, and this self-definition is reflected in their voting patterns
(in the last presidential elections [May 1995], nearly 60 percent of the
slum population of Paraiso voted for the presidential candidate of the
Peronist party). Peronism is still the dominant force within this enclave
of urban poverty and destitution in the eyes of those who, like the local
priest, told me: "This is a very Peronist slum," or like the state officials
who admitted: "Paraiso is a stronghold of the Peronist party."

This article asks how people who receive favors, goods, and services
from Peronist party brokers - who undoubtedly attempt to "win their
vote" - think and feel about these exchanges, and how they evaluate
the brokers' activities and politics in general. The first part of the article
describes the web of ongoing relationships in which brokers and clients
of the Peronist party are located. The second part concentrates on: a)
the different points of view that circulate within the slum concerning
the distribution of goods before the political rallies organized by the
local brokers, b) the diverse evaluations that the people make about the
Peronist brokers, and c) the competing views they have about politics
and its particualar role in the history of the neighborhood. Drawing
inspiration from Tilly's model of the polity, and from Bourdieu's notion
of doxic experience, the third part of this article examines the source
and possible meanings of these different views, evaluations, and judg-
ments.33 After reconstructing the clients' viewpoints and embedding
them in a relational matrix, the concluding sections consider the notion
of clientelism as a mechanism of domination and as a strategy of
electoral mobilization.

To foreshadow some of the results of the reconstruction of the clients'

viewpoints, I suggest that clientelist networks are, in effect, domination
networks but that their effectiveness as a mechanism of electoral mobi-
lization is far from certain. Because clientelist domination depends on
everyday, strong, face-to-face relationships, it has certain limitations
in terms of massive vote-getting capacity. I show that the media-driven
image (unintendedly reproduced by those scholarly approaches that do
not take the clients' perspectives into account) of an exchange of votes
for favors (that allegedly instantiates during electoral times) is mislead-
ing. We should avoid the mechanistic (and stigmatizing) view of poor

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people as Pavlovian agents who vote and support political candidates

in exchange for favors and services, refocusing our studies on the rela-
tional and experiential matrix (the "dynamics of social interweavings,"
to quote Norbert Elias34) that links patrons, brokers, and (some)
"clients" in ongoing problem-solving networks, intricate webs of mate-
rial, and symbolic resources.

The characters in the problem-solving network: Clients and brokers

Goods are used for establishing social relations.

Mary Douglas

Juancito and I "began our friendship more than twelve years ago...."
Nelida told me one cold winter morning in Villa Paraiso. Juancito
Pisutti is the president of the Unidad Btsica (UB) "Peron Vive."35
Nelida tells me that Juancito "is so good. He always lends you a hand.
Now I am on medication, because I had a hemoplegy, and the medicine
is so expensive ... I can't afford it, and he helps me, he gets the medicine
from the municipality... he helps me a lot, and whatever happens at
the UB he calls me, because I collaborate at the UB." She says that the
most important politician in Villa Paraiso is Juancito. "Here, on our
block, we have Juancito," she assuredly notes.

"I always show up at Matilde's UB, in gratitude or because of our

friendship, they always call me, and I go," Adela says. Her daughter
and husband got their jobs (respectively, as a public employee at the
Municipality and as a garbage collector) through Matilde, who is a
councilwoman of the Peronist Party. Adela never misses the political
rallies organized by Matilde, she "has to be thankful to her."

Adela and Nelida are what the literature on political clientelism would
label "clients": actors who give their political support to a broker or a
patron in exchange for particular goods, favors, and services. Scholarly
and journalistic accounts would also label Nelida and Adela as "clients."
They are the ones who attend rallies, support this or that politician and
- usually - vote for Peronism because, so the tale runs, they "receive
things" from the Party: a job, medicine, a metal sheet for the roof, pairs
of sneakers for their sons and daughters, a choripan (meat sausage
sandwich) on the day of the rally, etc.36

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Matilde and Juancito are what the literature on the subject calls politi-
cal brokers, mediators between a political patron - in this case, Rolo
Fontana, the mayor of C6spito - and some of his supporters, known
as "clients." Capituleros, in the Peru of the 1930s and 1940s, cabo
eleitoral in Brazil from the 1930s on, gestor, padrino politico, or cacique
in Mexico at various points in its history, precinct captains in the
political machines of Chicago and elsewhere in the U.S., caudillo barrial
in the Radical and the Conservative parties of Argentina in the 1920s,
referente or puntero Peronista in the Argentina of the 1990s:37 although
there are significant differences among them, their function is essen-
tially the same, they operate as go-betweens.38 They mediate between
their caudillos, chefes politicos, or ward bosses and clients.

In Villa Paraiso, as in many poor neighborhoods in the Conurbano

Bonaerense, one of the available means of satisfying the poor's basic
needs for food and health care is through the political party that has
direct access to national, provincial, and, as in this case, local state
resources: the Peronist Party. In poverty-stricken neighborhoods,
squatter settlements, and slums, the Unidades Bdsicas constitute one
of the most important places in which basic needs can be satisfied,
through which basic problems can be solved. These Unidades Basicas
give incredible organizational strength to the Peronist party and are
the sites in which Peronist brokers - known as punteros or referentes -
are located.

Brokers usually do favors (such as distribute food and medicine) for

their potential voters and for others, but they are not alone in their
work. They almost always have an inner circle of followers. These
followers are the brokers' "personal satellites."39 The problem-solving
network consists of a series of wheels of irregular shape, pivoting
around the different brokers. The broker is related to the members of
his or her inner circle through strong ties of long-lasting friendship,
parentage, or fictive kinship. Both Matilde and Juancito - the two
most important and powerful local leaders in Villa Paraiso - have this
"effective network"40 around them, people with whom interactions are
more intense and more regular. This inner circle helps the brokers to
solve the everyday problems of slum-dwellers: they run the soup-kitchens
that function at the broker's Unidad Bdsica; they are normally in charge
of opening, cleaning, and maintaining the locale; they usually announce
when the broker is available at the UB to the "outer circle," and they
spread the news when food is being distributed at the UB or the
Municipal building.

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The outer circle - i.e. the potential beneficiaries of the brokers' distrib-
utive capacities - are related to brokers through weak ties. 41 They
contact the broker when problems arise or when a special favor is
needed (a food package, some medicine, a driver's license, the water
truck, getting a friend out of jail, and so on); but they do not develop
ties of friendship or fictive kinship with brokers. Although they may
attend some of the rallies or gatherings organized by the broker, or
even vote for him or her, they do not have an everyday, close, intimate
relationship with them. In other words, the borker's ties to the inner
circles are dense and intense; their ties to the outer circle are more
sparse and intermittently activated.

The bases for this strong relationship are multiple. Those who are part
of the brokers' inner circle have known "their brokers" for quite a long
time (usually more than four or five years), and the brokers have "lent
them a hand" - as Adela told me - in a time of extreme hardship. In
the life-stories and interviews I recorded, most of the members of the
inner circle highlighted a foundational favor that inaugurated this
long-lasting and - as we shall see - "very useful" relationship. Brokers
are portrayed as coming to rescue them without ulterior motives. With
that foundational favor a relationship of mutual help is established.42
The foundational transactions develop into ties, which in turn will
concatenate into networks. Rosa represents an ideal typical illustration
of what I am trying to convey. She is now 54 years old, and has known
Juan Pisutti since 1990. In her own words, "I didn't have enough
money to buy the eyeglasses that the doctor prescribed ... a neighbor
suggested to me to go to the Unidad Basica, where Pisutti would tell
me whether I can get the eyeglasses or not." It was through Pisutti
that she got her new eyeglasses. When the soup-kitchen opened in the
UB, Pisutti called Rosa to join the activities in his UB. Rosa reported
that invitation in this way: "While I use these eyeglasses, I have to be
grateful to you, because I got them through you...."

Within the Peronist problem-solving network, Peronist brokers func-

tion as gatekeepers for the flow of goods and services coming from the
executive branch of the municipal power (the mayor) and the flow of
support and votes coming from the "clients." Resources (food and
medicine) come from the Municipality to the Unidad Basica, where
the brokers have discretionary power to do what they want with them.
The information concerning food distribution at the municipal build-
ing also circulates through the UBs. As a woman from a UB told me:
"Every month, at the Party meetings, the mayor informs us (the 140

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UBs that usually attend the meeting) of the date when they are going to
give out food.... We tell the neighbors."

Being members of the Peronist party, brokers have the connections

that enable them to gain access to knowledge about resource-distribu-
tion. They enjoy what network analysts call "positional centrality."43
Although neighbors know, in general, about the food distribution at
the municipality, they do not know the precise date on which the
distribution will be carried out. Furthermore, they ignore the always
changing procedures to obtain the bags of food. Brokers do know the
dates, and have the specially designed cards without which people
cannot obtain the food. These cards are small tickets that have a
number on them that indicates the date on which they can go to the
municipal building. Whether or not the general population's ignorance
is "deliberately created," or is an ignorance that "just happens,"44 it is
clear that Peronist punteros or referentes constantly attempt to erect
themselves as the (only) channels that facilitate transactions or re-
source flows.45

These functions of gatekeeping and information hoarding are shared

by many of the different types of brokers in diverse historical and
geographical settings. Precinct captains, capituleros, cabos eleitorales,
caudillos, and punteros partake of the same structural location and
function: "A political broker can either obstruct or facilitate the flow
of demands, favors, goods and services to or from some constitu-

The client's viewpoint

Despite the limitations of the "clientelist impasse," the literature accu-

rately delineates the system of objective relations briefly summarized
above. With minor differences, most of the literature describes the
systems of relations in which patrons, brokers, and clients are located
(networks, dyads, sets), the "exchanges" that take place within those
networks, and the brokers' functions within them. Notwithstanding
recent actor-centered approaches,47 a vital shortcoming of most of the
literature is that it provides an inadequate explanation for the subjec-
tive dimension of clientelism, i.e., insufficient attention is paid to the
experiences, thoughts, and evaluations embodied in those "objective"
relationships. As much of the literature on political clientelism suggests,
but inadequately explores, the distribution of goods and services is a

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necessary, but not the only, condition for the operation of the clientelist
world. Because the acts of giving and receiving are, to use E. P. Thomp-
son's phrase, lived human experiences, the cluster of beliefs and assump-
tions encompassing them - explaining and clarifying them, justifying
and legitimizing them - is as important as the "exchanges" themselves.
If we are to understand the full complexity of political clientelism, we
should thereby retrieve, or better, reconstruct, the client's perspective.

The effort dovetails with Geertz's emphasis on the need to study social
phenomena "from the actors' point of view."48 Far from being a new
version of the impossible task of entering the actors' minds, recovering
the protagonist's point(s) of view means that we should situate ourselves
in the position and in the set of relationships from which "clientelist"
practices, evaluations, and beliefs are being constructed, and make
sense of them from the vantage point of that location. Although I think
it is important to retrieve the "clients' point(s) of view," I share the
critique that has been made of the purposely "empathetic dissection of
the native's point of view." As Wacquant points out in his exploration of
the "pugilistic point of view," it is very debatable "whether one can
pinpoint a single, generic, 'native' point of view, as opposed to a range
of discrepant, competing, or warring viewpoints, depending on struc-
tural location within the world under examination."49

To anticipate some results of this reconstruction, I will argue that, from

the outside, what appears as an exchange of votes for favors is seen
from the inside in many different (and, sometimes, antagonistic) ways:
manipulation versus caring, interested action (politics, calculative ex-
change) versus disinterested actions (friendship). Furthermore, most of
those who receive vital resources on an everyday basis do not see their
bond with the broker as a power relationship. For them, clientelism is
habitual practical knowledge, thus hampering a spectatorial posture
on those power relations.

Same rally: Contrasting interpretations

"On our block," Susy told me, "Matilde donated the pipes to construct
the sewer. Yet she never told us: 'I give you this, but you should do this,
go there, or vote for me.' The only thing she told us was that she would
like to come and see when we have finished constructing the sewage
system." Susy lives across the street from the local school. Esther, the
school's director, has another interpretation of the same sewage instal-

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lation. She agrees that the pipes were supplied by councilwoman

Matilde, but she stresses the exchange aspect of the operation by
reproducing a phrase that - Esther believes - Matilde presumably
told the beneficiaries of "her pipelines": "Whenever I send the bus to
the corner of your house in order to be loaded (for a rally)... you know
what to do." For the school director, Matilde exchanges pipelines for
attendance to rallies. For Susy, who is the direct beneficiary of the
sewage installation, the pipelines are one demonstration - among man),
others - of how helpful Matilde is.

Agents who - as the director of the school - do not live in the slum but
only work there are the only ones who use the term "political clientelism"
to convey this exchange of goods and favors for demonstrations of
support. An architect from a non-governmental organization, the
school director, and an activist of a center-left party (who lives in a
nearby neighborhood) are the only ones who refer to the political
practices inside the slum as following a "clientelist logic." They use the
notion of "clientelism" as a) an indictment of the manipulative practices
of the slum's political brokers, b) evidence of the "innocence" of slum-
dwellers, or c) a manifestation of their enduring and "traditional ways
of doing things." As the activist of the center-left party tells me as soon
as we start our conversation about politics in the slum: "You know, we
are against political clientelism, the handing out of food so that people
go to the rallies...." Yet, although they are the only ones who use the
term "clientelism," they are not alone in denouncing the "utilization of
the needs of the people for political purposes." Many neighbors usually
refer to the rallies organized by the Peronist party as a palpable demon-
stration of the way the needy can be "used" by "corrupt politicians."

Many neighbors insist that the "punteros use the people" for the rallies,
and that this "use" works against the interests of the neighbors because,
as one of them puts it, "there are not enough rallies in a month to feed
a family." Rally attendance is seen as a demonstration of the "naivete"
of some inhabitants or of their lack of psycho-social development ("Do
you see those buses, they are going to pick people up for the rally.... " I
don't understand, we will never grow up...." Toni, an old-time resident
of the slum, told me). As Horacio - a Peronist who used to attend
rallies - angrily told me:

H: How are you gonna go to a rally in which there are four or five bottles of
red wine circulating, and they touch your wife's ass? And in which you see
that they are drunk and smoking pot? ... He (the Peronist broker) is the one

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who takes 50 people that smoke marijuana and drink wine and go and shout
as crazy people, and if they have to punch someone they will.... Nobody is
gonna come for me, because I do not smoke or drink, and because I will go to
the rally to listen to what is being said.... I like to bring 20 people that are
healthy. They (Peronist brokers) prefer to bring 100 because they give them
wine and pot, they don't go without that. Politics is like that....

The distribution of marijuana and wine to the young people who

attend the rally is an open secret, something that, as Toni told me,
"everybody knows." This "open secret" has a polemically double edge.
On the one hand, it serves to vent one of the dominant antagonisms
that runs through the slum: youngsters versus the rest. Older residents
ubiquitously point at the youngsters of the slum as the major source of
delinquency, insecurity, and danger.50 The rally is another occasion to
single out these youngsters and hold them publicly responsible for
everything that happens in the slum. On the other hand, the associa-
tion between drugs/alcohol and politics is a way of condemning the
political doings of slum brokers and to assert that this "way of doing
politics" has nothing to do with the way they understand things should
be. As Toni succinctly puts it:

Toni: Inside the slum she (Matilde) does whatever she wants....

J: What do you mean?

Toni: She calls the people whenever there is a rally, she uses those guys who
are idling around, she takes them to paint walls, she uses them for the rallies,
to play the drums, and when the day is over she gives them a packet of food
or a joint.....

The attendance at rallies to show support for a candidate or an official

is probably the most blatant manifestation of what many label "clientel-
ist politics." Yet, it is the most superficial expression. Attending rallies
expresses deep-seated, usually long-lasting relationships between those
who participate in them - the problem-holders ("clients") and the
problem-solvers (brokers of the Peronist Party). The next section ana-
lyzes this superficial manifestation by asking: How do those who are
pointed out as "used," "manipulated," "carried," or "clients" evaluate
their attendance at the rallies?

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Rallies as "demonstration of gratitude" or "collaboration"

Although none of those who got a job or some favor through the
decisive intervention of the Peronist brokers would admit that they
were asked something in exchange for what they received, a more
subtle association can be seen. Specifically, the "client" feels compelled
to attend the rally (the acto) but does not understand it as a reciprocating
duty in exchange for the job or favor rendered.

Lucina was Matilde's cleaning lady until she had a stroke. She gave up
her work and got a pension of $110 through Matilde who, at the time,
was the director of the Social Welfare section of the Municipality.
Currently, Lucina is taking very expensive medicine for her sickness,
which is also provided by Matilde. Her physician at the Hospital Evita
is a friend of Matilde's and, thereby, "assists me very well." Lucina's
husband works as a public employee at the Municipality - a job he got,
needless to say, through Matilde.

Lucina: Maybe for the rallies ... yes (she asked us for something), but she
doesn't pay attention to whether someone who got medicine from her really
attends the rally or not. Sometimes, she promises a bag of food for the people
that go to the acto.

Monica agrees, Matilde never explicitly asks them to attend the rallies
in exchange for what they receive "from her" (mostly medicines and
food, in her case).

(People) go (to the rally) because they like it. They think that they have to
thank her (agradecerle) for what she gives us. I talk to my neighbors about
Matilde, and they really appreciate her. I tell them to go and ask for medi-
cine, because if she has it, she will hand it out. And if she doesn't she will try
to get it, or tell you where to look....

No one designated - and stigmatized - by neighbors and outside

agents as "manipulated" would say they go to the actos because they
receive things. They would call their assistance either collaboration or
gratitude (colaboracion, gratitud).

Rosa gets expensive medicine for her father through Juancito. She also
got her eyeglasses through his intervention at the Welfare Section of
Municipality. In reference to her usual participation in the Peronist
rallies she says, "I say that I have to fulfill my obligation to him (para
cumplir con el). If my presence is useful to him [Juancito], I'll go
there.... It is my form of saying 'thank you.'"

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Coca is part of the permanent staff at Juancito's Unidad Basica. She

sometimes gets a bonus from him to get food at the Municipality and
she receives milk from the UB for her child. She openly admits that
there is distribution of food before and after the rallies; yet, she contests
the view that that is the cause of their attendance. Carefully analyzed,
her statement can be taken as a clear-cut distinction between the
exchange of things and the generative principle of the clients' actions.
Most of the half-scholarly and half-journalistic literature on political
clientelism conflates both elements. Yet, if we are to believe Coca, the
things that circulate before and after the rally should not be taken as
the reasons of their attendance to the rallies. She, in a way, cautions us
against a common misperception: we cannot take the network flow
(goods and favors, votes and support) as an explanation of actor's dis-
positions and representations.

We go to the rally and after attending, after a week or so, Juancito brings food
from the municipality, and he distributes it among those who have attended
the rally, in gratitude to those who went. Sometimes he buys chorizos (meat
sausages), he prepares some sandwiches, he gives out sandwiches. I under-
stand that he does that because people support him, I understand it as a kind
of gratitude, I do not think (he does that) to buy people (comprar a la gente).
It is a way to show gratitude (mostrarle el agradecimiento).

"Gratitude" goes without saying, because - almost always - it comes

without saying. People who receive things know that they have to go,
they are part of a universe in which everyday favors imply some return
as the rule of the game, a rule understood as a "scheme immanent in
practice,"51 as a mandate that exists in a practical state. As relations
between problem-holders and problem-solvers are "practical" - insofar
as they are routinely "practised, kept up, and cultivated" 52 through the
distribution of things and the granting of favors - attendance at a rally
is part of the stock of practical knowledge. This habitual knowledge
can be the subject of discourse only when explicitly requested. They
have such a close relation to the broker's distributive practices that
a spectatorial point of view on the "exchange" is precluded.53 Chatting
with Coca - and pretending that I was not understanding what she was
telling me (or probably not really understanding it) - I asked her.

J: So when Matilde gets the medicine you need, does she come and tell you:
you have to come with me to the rally?

C: No (explaining to me), I know (yo se) that I have to go with her instead of
with someone else. Because she gave me medicine, or some milk, or a packet
of yerba or sugar, I know that I have to go to her rally in order to fulfill my

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obligation to her ( Yo se que tengo que ir al acto para cumplir con ella), to show
my gratitude. Because if I do not go to her rally, then when I need something
she won't give it to me, (she would say) "go ask the person who went to the
rally with you."

Mariana tells me her family was having a hard time because her father
had been fired from his job as a carpenter, and her sister (Luisa) had
lost her part-time job.

Mariana: ... we didn't have any resources at all. So my mother looked for the
support from Matilde, and Matilde helped her a lot. She helped us with food
and with the job for Luisa. That's the reason why, if my mother can help with
anything, she will be there, with Matilde....

J: Helping Matilde in which sense?

Mariana: Attending a rally, because Matilde always needs people. Or when

she organizes a festival, she always needs some people to help her in the

Out of gratitude for or in collaboration with the broker's needs, few

believe their participation in the rallies constitutes an obligation.
Victoria's husband (Mario) works full-time at the local health center,
a job that he got after participating in Matilde's clique for more than
six months. "Matilde really delivers ... she sends powdered milk to the
UB around the corner."

J: Does she ask something in exchange for that?

Catalina (Victoria's daughter): No, sometimes we go to the rallies, but there's

no obligation....

Victoria: It is not an obligation, as my husband (Mario) says: "You have to

invite (people to the rallies) and tell them that it is through Rolo (the Mayor)
that they are getting the milk ... they are being helped, so it would be good if
they show up in at least one rally."

In addition to being a "collaboration" with the brokers, or an "expres-

sion of gratitude" for their "sacrificed work," the rally is also seen as
"spontaneous" participation, and as an opportunity to evade the dull-
ness of everyday life in the slum. Ruli and her neighbor tell me that
they attend the rallies for "enjoyment."

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We are inside our homes the whole day, we cannot go out anywhere ... so
when there is a rally, we catch the bus, we take a ride, we go to the park, we
enjoy ourselves ... (nos distraemos).... We amuse ourselves ... but don't ask
us what happened in the rally, because we don't understand anything, that's
the truth. We enjoy ourselves 'cause, where else can we go? ... (Nos divertimos,
porque si no, donde mas vamos a ir?).

Against the dull and violent environment of the slum, the entertain-
ment provided by the rally can hardly be underestimated. Only a
removed and distant point of view can miss the fact that some of those
who attend the rallies do not usually have "free time." The extreme
material deprivation in which they spend their everyday lives can also
help us understand the meaning of a "free ride." In a demonetized
environment in which a peso (a dollar) is a lot, a free round trip to the
center of the capital for the whole family - around 8 dollars - is
extremely significant, not only materially, but also symbolically as
illustrated in the case of Juana. Juana is probably an extreme case, but
nevertheless worth mentioning as an example of the entertainment
that a rally might provide in these deprived contexts. During the
summer of 1989, she attended the launching of Menem's presidential
campaign in Mar del Plata (Buenos Aires' main beach resort). It
was the first time that Juana (by then 34 years old) saw the sea. The
party paid for the bus fare and they stayed at the Transport Union's
hotel, where - Juana remarked - "they even have hot water, I can't
complain...." It was through the Party that she saw the sea and stayed
in a hotel with hot water.

The literature on political clientelism and most of the political and

journalistic accounts of "clientelist practices" are constantly concerned
with the "negative determinants" 54 - mainly economic deprivation, but
also "lack" of civic culture, a resilient "culture of dependency," etc. -
that supposedly hold poor people under the grip of clientelist politics.
Although the (diverse and, sometimes competing) meanings of the
rallies can only be grasped against the backdrop of extreme material
deprivation and the sense of isolation that pervade much of the harsh
reality of slum-dwellers, the "positive attraction" that this specific
social universe might have should not be neglected. Although hardly
the only possible meaning, the "entertaining" character of a rally
should also be included in the picture if we are to take the participant's
point of view seriously. As Ruli precisely summarizes (laughing), "We
go to the rallies to enjoy ourselves, we really enjoy ourselves." And as
Juana insisted, "I saw the sea.... It's so nice." If we, meaning people
who neither live nor work in the slum, are to understand what Juana is

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saying, that is, to imagine ourselves in her place and to take her point
of view, to understand that if we were in her shoes we "would doubtless
be and think just like her," 55 we could not miss the apparently super-
ficial point that she (a 34-year-old-woman, with no stable job, with a
husband who just lost his, with a handicapped baby girl) witnessed for
the first time the vastness of the sea and stayed in a hotel with hot
water. Can she really complain? Doesn't she have to be grateful to the
one who invited her to that rally?

The "positive attraction" is not limited to the day of the rally. Those
who got a municipal job through the explicit action of "their brokers"
believe that attending the rallies is an important element in a long
process through which they demonstrate their faith in the broker. In
this way, they show him or her that they are loyal, "ready-to-help," and
responsible, and, in turn, hope they are given the chance to get a public
job. In this sense, attendance at the rally provides information about
commitment to a broker (and his/her commitment to followers). As
such, the rally is a ritual, in Paige and Paige's sense of the term: an
opportunity to declare the intentions of followers and brokers, and to
evaluate each other's intentions.56

Alfonsina is in charge of the distribution of milk from a state-funded

social assistance program at "Juancito's UB." She got her job as a
cleaning woman at a public school through Juancito.

A: When there is a rally, we (the people of the Party) collaborate in any way
possible ... so, maybe you can get a job there, but you have to be patient....

J: And you were patient....

A: Yes, I was patient, and with patience I got it....

From a removed point of view, the rally is seen as the product of

the things given, and the actors who attend them as subjects who
mechanically respond to material incentives. Once we take the client's
point of view seriously we see that the rally - either conceptualized as
collaboration, as an expression of gratitude, or as an occasion for
having a good time - is not an extraordinary event but part and parcel
of the routine solution ofsurvivalproblems. It is not an addendum to the
act of solving a problem, of obtaining medicine, a package of food, or
- in the best case - a public post, but is an element within an everyday
network of relationships.57 It is true that one of the constitutive out-
comes of this on-going problem-solving network is rally attendance.

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But to understand the massive attendance as a mere product of the

personalized distribution of favors and goods is a "distortion border-
ing on disfigurement," of the kind that reduces boxing to physical
aggression.58 This distortion oversimplifies a complex and multifarious
activity into a single aspect, usually the most salient and questionable
to those who are not part of it.

Brokers, good or bad?

For those who view participating in a rally as collaboration or an

expression of gratitude, brokers are not the unscrupulous and corrupt
politicians whom other neighbors talk about. They are "good," "help-
ful," and "sacrificing" people with whom problem-holders have a per-
sonal relationship, a relationship sometimes conveyed as "friendship,"
but always referred to as worth keeping.

Although Juancito is not held responsible for the distribution of mar-

ijuana and wine among the youngsters of the neighborhood - as
Matilde is - both are seen by many neighbors as "using the people"
and, for that reason, as "bad and corrupt" politicians who "play their
own game." Those who see the rallies as manipulation of the people
hold - needless to say - a negative evaluation of the brokers. They hold
the brokers responsible for the limited amount of resources that social
assistance programs distribute in the neighborhood ("they always keep
the goods for themselves"), and they accused them of "deceiving the
people."59 Brokers are seen as politicians who only think about the
way to rise in the political hierarchy.

This view contrasts with the one held by residents who solve most of
their everyday life problems through the broker's intervention. Rosa
points out what an "excellent person" Juancito Pisutti is:

The way he takes care of people, he is an exceptional human being.... He

suffers, because those who go there (the UB) will never leave without a
solution to their problems. He has a solution for everyone. He willingly
advises everyone. Many people ask him for money... and he uses his own
money. He never tells them that he doesn't have any money.

According to Alfonsina, "everybody appreciates Juancito. He is always

keen to serve. He likes to help people. He is very patient." Carlitos
shares this belief: "Juancito sacrifices himself for the people of the

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Self-sacrificing and helpful are also terms other people use when refer-
ring to Matilde: "She is always present when something happens,"
"She is so good," "Matilde pays attention to every single detail." All of
them remark on her accessibility: "You can go and see her whenever
you have a problem, any problem, medicine, she will get it ... if she is
able to (solve the problem), be sure, she will do it...."

It would be a gross misunderstanding to approach these evaluations as

calculated or cynical behaviour. The feeling of togetherness that many
experience with "their" brokers and their sincere belief in the "caring"
actions of Matilde or Juancito prevent any possibility of distancing
themselves from the relationship and of acting as if they were trying to
maximize opportunities through the expression of affection.

The most important point of agreement among slum-dwellers about

the brokers is that they are personally responsible for the distribution of
things. The organization that grants a pension, offers a job, or gives out
medicine or a food package is not the local, provincial, or national
government, but Matilde or Juancito. They are the ones who really care,
who feel for them, who are their friends and who - as good friends - are
always available. Hundreds of pages of interview transcripts and field-
notes testify to one simple - although essential - fact: it is not the state
that is perceived as the distributing agency; it is Matilde or Juancito.
And as they are the ones who distribute the goods, they are seen as not
having any obligation at all to do it; they do it because they really
want to, because they care, because they "sacrifice for the people." As
a youngster who is part of Matilde's circle nicely puts it:

People think it's her obligation to give out things, and it's not an obligation,
she does it because she wants to. What's her obligation? Who is she? Is she
your mother? People get confused a lot. You do them a favor, and it seems
like it is an obligation. And it is a favor.

A favor, according to the Oxford American Dictionary is "an act that

is kindly or helpful beyond what is due or usual." Because Matilde
personally and willingly delivers the goods - beyond what is customary
and without having any obligation whatsoever to do it - the beneficiary
cannot invoke any citizenship right to the thing given or the favor
granted. There is no third party to which you can resort in order to
enforce your claim (what might constitute a right),60 but a personal-
ized relationship out of which nothing can be obtained, no problem
can be solved.

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Politics, helpful or dirty?

"I don't work, I do politics" - old bumper sticker

in Villa Paraiso

It is hardly a new observation that party politics in Argentina is seen as

extremely distant from everyday life concerns. It is seen as a "dirty"
activity that makes its sudden appearances at electoral times, and then
disappears in the obscure realm of unkept promises.61 As we saw, the
association between the attendance at rallies and the distribution of
drugs and alcohol is one expression of discontent with politicians and
politics in general.

Some slum-dwellers believe that there is a "time for elections" when

demands can be quickly satisfied and goods promptly obtained because
politicians are eager to get their votes.62 As in many other settings
throughout Argentina and Latin America,63 the "time for politics" is
seen as something that occurs once in a while, something that breaks
with the routine of everyday life in the barrio.

Rogelio, president of one of the few neighborhood associations, tells

me: "Matilde shows up when there is time for politics, when there are
elections, that is when politicians show up...." Horacio, himself the
president of one of the many soccer clubs in the area, agrees: "If we
want to get something (sewage system), we will have to wait for the
elections. At that time we can demand something ... we provide so
many (votes) that we might get something in return." This belief that
"electoral times" are an opportunity to solve problems is anchored in
their own experiences. Both Rogelio and Horacio got aid for their
respective organizations before the past two elections. "Through politics,
Hugo tells me, we got a plot of land for the club.... Now we need the
bricks, so I will have to wait for the next election."

"Today is the anniversary of Peron's birthday," Toni tells me, "and I am

sure that all the brokers are handing out food in the municipal building."
And later he adds, "Today you are gonna see the workings of a UB.
There is a young woman working in that UB across the street. She is
going to look for some elderly people in the neighborhood, and she
brings them, she hugs them. She never goes and sees how they are
doing...." Toni summarizes this intermittent character that, he firmly
believes, politics takes in the slum: "Each time there is a rally or an
election, they (people at the UBs) hand out food." Politics, in this

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shared view, is also seen as something you "must do" if "you wanna get
things done." As Mabel says, "You know, nobody pays attention to you
unless you are a relative or an acquaintance of a politician." Either
restricted to electoral times or limited to the multiple rally days, poli-
tics is seen as a discontinuous activity. It is also seen as "dirty" and
"corrupt." It is a "lucrative business," an "opportunity to get ahead"; it
is "deceitful" and "manipulative."

As I said before, this is not a new observation. However, if one "takes

the trouble to look closely," as W. F. Whyte recommends in his seminal
study of the street-corner society,64 within the same destitute neighbor-
hood, and even among people who live on the same block and who
share the same categorical sociological attributes, there are strikingly
contrasting evaluations of politics. Almost all of them share the idea
that politics is something "I don't do" - and by implication, "others
do" - sometimes insisting that they "don't understand shit." All agree
that politics is a universe with its own rules and that it might serve to
improve one's lot, regardless of the common good. Yet some of them
highlight certain aspects of politics worth exploring.

Some residents appraise the work that brokers and the municipality do
for the neighborhood, not only with the distribution of food, but also
with metal sheets and mattresses. "There is a lot of help ... the munic-
ipality always has an answer, not only with the food, if you need a
metal sheet, they'll give it to you.... In a UB, they used to give milk
with a piece of bread. Here, there is a lot of help, the one who says
there is no help is lying.... What happens is that you have to go there
and wait, everything has its own time."

In consonance with the perceived steady accessibility of the brokers of

the Peronist Party, some people do not believe that the aid coming
from politicians increases during election periods: "assistance" is an
everyday personalized issue.

J: Some of your neighbors told me that the aid comes quicker during election

V: No, I don't think so....

A: From my point of view, it is always the same....

Estela gets free (birth-control) pills from Matilde, and stresses that in
this way she saves ten pesos a month, "which is a lot." She values

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Matilde's constant preoccupation with the barrio's problems: "If you

ask her for something, she will give it to you." But it is probably in the
following two dialogues where the continuous character of local poli-
tics, and the immediate relationship certain people have with local
politicians, can be best grasped. Nelida receives the medicine for her
hemoplegy from Juancito.

J: Who do you call when you need the water truck?

N: I look for Juancito....

J: And when you have to do some paperwork at the municipality?

N: Juancito... Juancito... (laughing).

J: How did you become part of the (food distribution program) Plan Vida?

N: (laughing) Juancito involved me in the program.... He registered me.

J: And how did you get involved in the Plan Pais?65

N: We registered here, on the corner....

J: Through Juancito?

N: (smiling) ... always through Juancito ... Juancito (is) always there in the
middle (my emphasis).

Adela, whose daughter and husband got their jobs with the help of
Matilde, comments:

J: What do you do when people ask you for medicine?

A: I send them to Matilde ... because they are there in the afternoons....

M: (A's daughter) - Yes, Matilde also helps....

A: Here we resort to Matilde....

M: Matilde is like a small municipality, everybody goes there....

J: Is there any place where powdered milk is distributed?

A: Matilde's!!!! (laughing).

The perception of politics as a continuous and helpful activity dovetails

- although imperfectly - with a certain narrative about the history of

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the neighborhood. Those who see politics as an everyday issue, as a

constant way of solving problems, and who perceive brokers as people
who are accessible and always ready to help, will highlight the presence
of the state - personified in the mayor or a particular broker - in their
recounting of the barrio's history. In contrast, those who, as we just
saw, view politics and brokers as dirty, corrupt, or unscrupulous will
place emphasis on the neighbors' collective action to improve the slum.

The "statist" narrative of the barrio versus the "epic" version.

Are we talking about the same asphalt?

One of the aims of my research was to trace a history of problem-

solving in a poor neighborhood in Greater Buenos Aires, with the
purpose of illustrating the increasing relevance of clientelist arrange-
ments in the way in which poor people solve their everyday survival
problems. With that end in mind, I began to pay particular attention to
the stories people told me about the history of the neighborhood and
of their own history in it. I was looking for patterns in the way people
solve their problems in a unitary history of a self-made neighborhood.
After a period of holding stubbornly to the idea that "there has to be
one history of this place," I found myself reading the testimonies of
people who were telling me that the same asphalt was built by different
people, or that the slum "improved a lot" because of different actions.
During my first months of fieldwork, it was frustrating to discover that
what I was looking for - a "history of the slum" - was not there.
However, the initial unmanageable anxiety gave way when I realized
that these conflicting narratives were much more interesting. They
were different narratives of the same events.

According to most residents, the slum improved a lot during the last
decade, basically because of the paving of the streets. Before that, a
light rain could turn the whole slum into a muddy nightmare. Yet,
although everybody agrees that the asphalt "made a real difference,"
there are at least two versions of the "history of the asphalt." One
stresses the collective organization of the neighborhood that, so the
story goes, "got together" for the first time in the slum's history.

The asphalt was made by the neighbors, we organized soccer competitions,

we sold chorizos and empanadas, and we collected the money... and the
municipality charged us to build it. The whole neighborhood was united....

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Not only did the neighborhood change radically due to the asphalting,
but "el asfalto" also implied a very important organizational experience.
In the extreme version of the "collective action" story, the asphalt meant
an increase in the level of political consciousness of the slum-dwellers.
Others stressed the role played by the particular organization to which
they belonged:

The asphalting was made possible through the church organizations. The
neighbors organized raffles, street fairs, festivals, soccer competitions. We
collected the money and went to the municipality. That is the way Villa Para-
iso was asphalted.

Note that none of them overlooks the role played by the Municipality
in paving the streets, but the emphasis is placed on the collective
organization of neighbors in pursuit of a common objective. This
"epic" version also stresses the collective action of neighbors that
resulted in the building of the sewage system and the health centers
that serve the slum. The closer we look, however, the more we realize
this "epic version" is not the only one.

J: How was the asphalt made? Was it made by the neighbors?

Coco: No, the municipality did it. It was all made by the municipality....

A suspicious reader may think that they are talking about different
sectors of the same slum, but most of the testimonies about the asphalt
were gathered from people living on the same block. In the same way
that they referred to the same broker and the same party in contrasting
ways, now they talked about the same asphalt and the same sewage
system. Yet, as is quite clear, they express it differently. Although their
stories do not differ altogether - after all, they are talking about the
same "material" asphalt - the accents, the highlights are posited in
different moments. The "statist" narrative of the neighborhood stresses
the mayor or some particular broker as protagonist in the general
improvement of the living conditions.

The mayor built the health center, paved the streets ... he did a lot for the
neighborhood. He tried to improve the neighborhood.... We have always
gotten aid from the mayor.... We go to see him when we need something
and, sooner or later, we get an answer [to our demands]. (Cristina)

The neighborhood has improved a lot, and many people thank Rolo [the
mayor]. The neighbors put up the money to have the paving done, but

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whenever they ask him for pipelines, sooner or later they arrive. He sent the
machines to do this paving, although we paid for the renting of the machines
and for the materials.(M6nica)

The president of one of the neighborhood associations told me that he

and some of his neighbors started to "struggle" to have the health-center
built, by "pressuring" the mayor. "They" built the place. "They" painted
it. "They" got the first physician. Lucina, who lives a block from the
president, has another version of the same health center:

Matilde was the one who started with the health center at the neighborhood
association; she brought the nurse and brought the first desk. Although the
president of the association is the one in charge, Matilde always "lends him a

It is a matter of accents, of course, but the differences can hardly be

missed. The "epic" and the "statist" histories refer to the same place, to
the same material improvements, but they do so in ways that give a
central place to diverse protagonists. Those who recount the "statist"
narrative are the ones who perceive politics as something that might
help them, as something that is continuous. Today's constant presence of
politicians in their everyday problem-solving dovetails with a narrative
that gives central place to those same protagonists. It is probably
Josefa who better summarizes this complicity of "helpful politics" and
"statist neighborhood history":

Politics helps a lot.... I improved my home through politics, I constructed all

the pipelines and the sewage system for my home through politics.... The
paving was done through politics, it was done by Rolo [the mayor]. The
municipality helps a lot. Politics helps a lot. When we need them to get
drinking-water, they are here.

On the other hand, those who stress the "collective-effort" version are
those whose distaste for party politics and whose aversion for local
brokers are explicitly stated. As the president of the neighborhood
association (who, according to his own version, was the protagonist
of the construction of the health-center) asserts, implicitly linking
Matilde with the distribution of drugs in the villa, "Matilde's politics
is dirty."

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Where do differences come from? Embedding voices

Where does the rich variety of narratives, perceptions, and evaluations

come from? What is the importance that these different voices have in
politics? The testimonies quoted above belong to people from the same
social class, and roughly the same age group. They are women and men
living in the same destitute and stigmatized neighborhood; some of them
- holding completely different views - often living half-a-block from
one another. They share similar categorical attributes and they have
different (sometimes antagonistic) experiences of politics, diverse evalu-
ations of the (praised/condemned) actions of the political brokers of the
neighborhood, and distinct visions of the history of the neighborhood.

For statistical purposes they are the same people, living in the same
poor neighborhood, below the (same) official poverty line. With their
strikingly different opinions and evaluations, they defy all the classifica-
tory attempts that relate categories to beliefs/perceptions. In other
words, once we take a closer look, the same "poor people" living in
the same space hold varied "points of view."

The mere fact that there are different points of view coming from
similar social settings leads to an obvious conclusion: there is no
categorical explanation for these viewpoints. Yet, and although imper-
fect, and far from clear-cut, there is a sort of pattern to be found in
these viewpoints, a pattern that is rooted not in categories but in the
"relational settings,"66 in the "structural location"67 in which these
voices are embedded. To all appearances the randomness of voices,
evaluations, and narratives is chaotic. However, these "points of view"
are visions taken from different positions. These disparate locations, in
turn, matter for purposes of political mobilization.

As I mentioned above, problem-solving networks consist of a set of

concentric circles that surround the broker - the focal point. The
different circles consist of groups of actors who have differential access
to the goods and services distributed by the broker. As we saw, some
people receive their daily medicine from their brokers. Others have
obtained their jobs through them. Still others get packages of food.
Some have routine access to their brokers. Others have an occasional
relationship to them. Others do not even know them personally. What
we have are different degrees of contact with the broker: a gradient that
goes from everyday (and in extreme cases, vital) contact, to an inter-
mittent relationship, to no relation at all.

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Drawing upon Tilly's model of the polity (and defining the broker as a
local center of power)68 and Bourdieu's notion of doxic experience (as
the recognition of the legitimacy of a social order through the mis-
recognition of its arbitrariness),69 we can formulate the following
hypothesis that explains part of the variation found in previous sec-
tions: the closer to the broker the resident is, the better will be his/her
evaluations of the broker's activities and about localpolitics, the closer to
the broker, the more the history of the neighborhood will be recounted in
terms of the decisive influence of the state - personified by the broker or
the mayor. In short, proximity to the center of power (self-perception
as "protected by" the broker, and narrative identity as neighbors living
in a barrio that was "made through politics") makes the political order
less arbitrary.

For those actors located closer to the broker (in terms of personal
contact, of the type of favors received, of the duration of their relation-
ship) Matilde or Juancito constitute their paramount reality. In Schutz's
sense of the word, brokers are part of their everyday, wide-awake,
commonsense world. The broker's inner circle is, to paraphrase Schutz's
brilliant analysis of the world of truth created in the interaction be-
tween Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, a common sub-universe of
discourse. Established, kept up, and cultivated in the interaction be-
tween problem-solvers and problem-holders, both have "good arguments
for explaining away discrepancies." 70 Within this province of meaning
politics is helpful, the rallies are a collaboration and a demonstration
of gratitude, brokers - as I was repeatedly told - "really care," and the
history of the neighborhood has them as the central protagonists.
Within this inner circle there is an uncontested acceptance (doxa) of
problem-solving through political mediation. Members of this inner
circle have such a close relation to the broker's distributive practices
that a spectatorial point of view on the "exchange" is precluded.

Due to its narrative emplotment and its paramount presence, the

identity - the experience of a shared social relation71 - that is being
forged around the center of power of the problem-solving network
presents neither signs of active resistance nor subtle indications of
"hidden transcripts."72 And yet, in the slum there is - as we saw -
resistance to "clientelist and manipulative" practices. These counter-
voices are usually located outside the broker's inner circle of strong
relations and, more often than not, take the form of a complaint about
the scarce resources delivered by the brokers. "They [the brokers] give
food to whom they want," "Juancito hands out food once in a while,

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and people need more than that," "they never keep their promises,"
"they give things out, but they keep the best for themselves" are the
most commonly heard complaints about the actions of the brokers,
reproaches that come from people who are usually disconnected from
the network.

For those within the inner circle of close relations, domination presents
itself as a paradoxical antinomy.73 If they "resist" - which is out of the
question - they might lose access to vital resources and thus deepen
their deprived condition. If they assimilate the brokers' world of truth
- as I think they do - they are coopted by the institutionalized practices
of clientelism,74 and thus partake in the reproduction of the hierarchical
relations within the local field of politics and within the space of the

Reappraising clientelism: Favors, domination, and votes

The act of giving itself assumes very solemn forms.... The giver affects an
exaggerated modesty.... The aim of all this is to display generosity, freedom,
and autonomous action, as well as greatness. Yet, all in all, it is mechanisms
of obligation, and even of obligation through things, that are called into play.
Marcel Mauss

The distribution of material resources is a necessary, but in itself

insufficient, condition for the smooth operation of the clientelist world.
As Robert Merton argued long ago in his analysis of North American
political machines, "it is important to note not only that aid is provided
but the manner in which it is provided."75 The political machine, Merton
pointed out, "fulfills the important social function of humanizing and
personalizing all manner of assistance to those in need."76 For the case
at hand, the implications of Merton's (functionalist) interpretation are
quite clear: what is being given (and received) and how it is being given
(and received) are equally important elements in the operation of
political clientelism.

As we just saw, the type of good distributed matters. Vital resources

distributed on a daily or weekly basis (such as food or medicine) and
special favors that require greater skill or effort to deliver (such as
public jobs) tend to generate a different type of relationship between
broker and prospective client than general goods (i.e., those goods that
benefit the whole community and cannot be granted to a single indi-
vidual while being withheld from other residents, such as the paving or

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lighting of a street, or laying sewer mains). Although further investiga-

tion is needed of the material basis of clientelism in Argentina, existing
research shows that it is not the good per se that has the capacity to
generate one or another type of relationship.77

In their everyday "acts of giving," brokers tailor these goods and favors
in special ways. As the extensive literature on the subject insists, trust,78
solidarity, "hopes for the future,"79 familistic orientations,80 or reci-
procity,81 do exist in the relationships established among patrons,
brokers, and clients. They are verbalized by both clients and brokers
whenever asked about them. They are remarked time and again in
broker's public speeches. As I showed in another work,82 brokers of
the Peronist party present their gatekeeping function as a special rela-
tionship with the poor, a relationship conveyed in terms of a personal
and deep commitment they claim to have to them. Through a ceaseless
symbolic labor intended to deny the logic of self-interest underlying
their practices, brokers claim to care for "their people" - as Juancito
remarks time and again. They say that their actions are based on the
"love they feel for them (the poor slum-dwellers)," as Matilde put it
many times in interviews and public speeches, to the point that bureau-
cratic indifference is eliminated. Brokers of the Peronist party present
their political work not as a job but as a "passion for the people"; theirs
is "all sacrifice" to the point of exhaustion in the job. By way of an
incessant performative work, brokers attempt to construct their inner
circle of followers as a family, the "Peronist family" as both Matilde
and Juancito call their closest followers. This transpersonal person of
the Peronist family is (constructed and performed) as a "world in which
the ordinary laws of the economy are suspended, a place of trusting
and giving ... a place where interest, in the narrow sense of the pursuit
of equivalence in exchanges, is suspended"83 "We care about them,"
the brokers say. "They - the brokers - care about us," some of the
clients say. "They only care about themselves," the ones outside the
network say about the brokers.

Yet, "as the truth of the interaction is never entirely contained in the
interaction," 84 we should look more closely at the effect of this discursive
emphasis on trust, solidarity, reciprocity, caring, and hope. Insofar as the
solutions, services, and protection provided by brokers (inseparably
material and symbolic exchanges, in which a thing is given, a favor
granted, and something is communicated) are inclined to legitimate
a de facto state of affairs that is an unequal balance of power (i.e., a
domination network), we can describe them, following Bourdieu, as

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ideological machines. The act of giving, the caring actions of brokers,

and the trusting response of their inner circles transform, or attempt to
transform, a contingent social relationship - the help of someone who
is in need - into a recognized (i.e., acknowledged as lasting) relation-
ship: We solve our problem and, by the way, we recognize Matilde or
Juan as our problem-solver. This recognition is at the basis of problem-
solving through political mediation. Within an ideological environment
of cooperation, companionship, and solidarity, ties are constructed that
solidify a particular balance of forces. The more some actors partici-
pate as members of the polity, the more they will share the ideology of
"caring for the poor," of "social help" proposed by political leaders
and brokers alike, and, in turn, the more doxic the relationship will be
with respect to the asymmetrical bond that ties them to the broker.
Paraphrasing Mauss's analysis of the gift in archaic societies, through
favors "a hierarchy is [re]established."85

Between political brokers and their inner circles, giving turns out to
be a way of possessing, to use Bourdieu's apt expression. Brokers, in
contrast, do not "possess" the outer circle through such acts of discre-
tionary giving. Those with intermittent relationships with brokers ob-
tain benefits when needed, but - as is clear from the harsh criticisms
they receive - they sometimes withhold their political loyalty. This
said, it is important to highlight that the outer circle is a constitutive
part of the network of relations surrounding the broker. Although they
are not entirely the "captive electorate" that progressive politicians and
part of the media see in every recipient of the party favors, these
beneficiaries may become at some point members of brokers' inner
circles. After all, the distinction between inner and outer circles is an
analytical one. In reality, the line that separates them is porous and
mobile; its changes depend on the amount of available resources, on
the number of brokers competing for electoral posts, and on the local
political opportunity structure. In other words, as "potential clients"
members of the outer circle are fundamental elements in the network
of problem-solving through personalized political mediation.

What practical consequences do these different perceptions have for

local politics? Undoubtedly, the acceptance that members of the inner
circle confer to the world of problem-solving through political media-
tion constitutes the strength of the brokers' position. Ultimately, it is
the expression of their legitimacy. Yet, at the same time, it represents its
major weakness. This legitimacy is the product of a close, everyday,
strong relation between problem-holder and problem-solver, a relation

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that has to be constantly upheld, continuously practiced, personally,

daily, and directly exercised. This keeping up of the relationship de-
pends on the capacity of the brokers to maintain the strength of these
ties, something that - although not exclusively - is contingent upon
their capacity to deliver. As it turns out, this capacity is limited and
dependent on other things. It is limited because the broker can get jobs,
deliver medicine, do an essential (or founding) favor, and assist some-
one as if he or she were part of her family, for a restricted number of
people. In the case of the most powerful broker in the slum (Matilde),
there are no more than a hundred people who are - almost literally -
bound to her through strong ties (among a voting population of more
than seven-thousand people). The capacity of the broker to maintain
the tie is also contingent because it depends on the broker's relationship
to a third party (in this case, the Mayor of C6spito) who provides her
with the goods to be distributed.

Thus, the image of an extended "captive" clientelist electorate (stereo-

typically portrayed by the media, and sometimes unreflectively
adopted by scholars) is, in the case I am analyzing, empirically shaky.
Although significant, the size of brokers' inner circles can hardly account
for the "conquest of the vote" and "building of electoral consensus" that
is usually attributed to clientelism. If we are to use the word "clientelism"
we should therefore restrict it to the inner circle of doxic experience.

This does not mean, at any rate, that we should dispose of the study of
political clientelism. Not only because domination and inequality are
being constantly reproduced within the inner circles but also because
the strong ties forged within those circles are extremely important in
local politics. Specifically, the functioning of the inner circle gives an
impressive resiliency to the Peronist Party (a party with the "phoenix-
like quality of arising strong and unspoiled from their ashes" that
Merton detected in the operation of political machines).86 On the one
hand, although the number of inner circle members is small, this
amount proves crucial during internal party elections not only as hard-
core voters but also as activists and poll-watchers during electoral days
when the temptations of fraud are large if the other faction does not
send its own poll-watchers (fiscales). On the other hand, while solving
their own survival needs, members of the inner circle solve an organ-
izational problem for party leaders, namely, how to keep the party
structure and its members active between elections.87 On the whole,
inner circles are cardinal elements in the organizational strength and
territorial penetration of the party.

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Coda: The trope

This article examined the form and functions of problem-solving net-

works linked to the Peronist Party in contemporary Buenos Aires. It
reconstructed the different points of view agents have of the workings
of what some call "clientelist politics." Finally, it grounded those dissim-
ilar viewpoints in the relational settings in which agents are located.

After reconstructing these diverse and competing viewpoints and em-

bedding them into ongoing problem-solving networks, this work has
shown that the type of relationship that some actors establish with the
local centers of power explains their (different) views of local leaders,
politics, and history. The ties continuously constructed around local
centers of power freeze a particular balance of forces: the more some
actors participate as members of the polity, the less arbitrary they will
find their lopsided bond with the broker. This reconstruction also
challenged the (often taken-for-granted) massive vote-getting capacity
of clientelism.

An ethnographic and relational approach to the clients' views shows

that the trope of political clientelism is often the product of what
Bourdieu labels a scholastic point of view, an externalist and remote
perspective. This view from afar constructs complex relations and lived
experiences as mere exchange of resources, thus losing sight of the
specificity of the clients' and brokers' practices. It seems to me that this
point of view is (pre)constructed far from where real action lies. It is
not in the boisterous - and often pathetic - distribution of food pack-
ages before a political rally or election, but in the abiding ties, in the
enduring webs of relations that politicians establish with their "clients"
and in the - sometimes shared (although not cooperatively constructed)
- array of cultural representations.


I received assistance for this research from the Joint Committee on

Latin American and Carribean Studies of the Social Science Research
Council and the American Council of Learned Societies with funds
provided by the Ford Foundation. I would like to thank Charles Tilly,
Deborah Poole, Elizabeth Jelin, Jose Nun, Robert Gay, Chandra
Mukerji, Ricardo Sidicaro, Judy Hellman, Lucas Rubinich, and Steve
Levitsky for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article.

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Earlier drafts were presented at the Colloquium on Argentine Political

Culture at the University of Illinois, Urbana, the General Seminar at
the Casa de Altos Estudios/Fundacion Banco Patricios in Argentina,
the Contentious Politics Seminar in Columbia University, and various
seminars at the New School for Social Research and the Universities of
Buenos Aires, General Sarmiento, and Di Tella. I would like to thank
the participants in those forums for their many useful insights, sugges-
tions, and criticisms.


1. This title paraphrases (and this article was greatly inspired by) that of Wacquant's
article published in this journal. Loic Wacquant, "The Pugilistic Point of View: How
Boxers Think and Feel About Their Trade," Theory and Society 24/4 (1995): 489-535.
2. See Kenneth Clark, Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power (New York: Harper &
Row, 1965); and Loi'c Wacquant, "Three Pernicious Premises in the Study of the
American Ghetto," International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 21/2
(1997): 335-354.
3. See Janice Perlman, The Myth of Marginality (Berkeley: The University of Califor-
nia Press, 1976); Alejandro Portes, "Rationality in the Slum: An Essay in Interpre-
tative Sociology," Comparative Studies in Society and History 14/3 (1972): 268-286.
4. To use the expression of Arjun Appadurai in "Putting Hierarchy in its Place,"
Cultural Anthropology 3/1 (1988) 36-49.
5. Robert Gay, "Community Organization and Clientelist Politics in Contemporary
Brazil: A Case Study from Suburban Rio de Janeiro," International Journal of
Urban and Regional Research 14/4 (1990): 648-665.
6. See, among others, Amparo Menendez-Carrion, La Conquista del Voto en el
Ecuador. De Velazco a Roldos (Quito: Corporacion Editora Nacional, 1986); Nicos
Mouzelis, "On the Concept of Populism: Populist and Clientelist Modes of Incor-
poration in Semiperipheral Polities," Politics and Society 14/3 (1985): 329-348;
Steve Stein, Populism in Peru. The Emergence of the Masses and the Politics of
Social Control (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1980).
7. See, for example, Carlos De la Torre, "The Ambiguous Meanings of Latin American
Populism," Social Research 59/2 (1990): 385-414.
8. E.g., Nicos Mouzelis, "On the Concept of Populism: Populist and Clientelist
Modus of Incorporation in Semiperipheral Polities," Politics and Societ) 14/3
(1985): 329-348.
9. See, for example, Guillermo O'Donnell, "Illusions About Consolidation"; Jonathan
Fox, "The Difficult Transition From Clientelism to Citizenship," World Politics 46
(1994): 151-184; Richard Gunther, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, and Hans-Jiirgen
Puhle, "O'Donnell's 'Illusions': A Rejoinder," Journal of Democracy 7 (1996): 151-
159. See also, Gary Hoskin, "Democratization in Latin America," Latin American
Review 32/3 (1997): 209-223.
10. Frances Hagopian, "The Compromised Consolidation: The Political Class in the
Brazilian Transition," in Scott Mainwaring, Guillermo O'Donnell, and J. Samuel
Valenzuela, editors, Issues in Democratic Consolidation. The New South American
Democracies in Comparative Perspective (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame

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Press, 1992), 243-293; Carlos G. Velez-Ibafiez. Rituals of Marginality. Politics,

Process, and Culture Change in Urban Central Mexico, 1969-1974 (Berkeley, CA:
University of California Press, 1983).
11. Gary Hoskin, "Democratization in Latin America," 217.
12. Ruth Cardoso, "Popular Movements in the Context of Consolidation of Democ-
racy," in Arturo Escobar and Sonia Alvarez, editors, The Making of Social Move-
ments in Latin America (Boulder, Col.: Westview Press, 1992), 291-302; see also
Cristina Escobar, "Clientelism and Social Protest: Peasant Politics in Northern
Colombia," in Luis Roniger and Ayse Gunes-Ayata, editors, Democracy, Clientelism,
and Civil Society.
13. See the various essays in Charles Reily, editor, New Paths to Development in Latin
America (Boulder, Col.: Lynne Rienner, 1995).
14. David Rock, "Machine Politics in Buenos Aires and the Argentine Radical Party,
1912-1930," Journal of Latin American Studies 4 (1972): 233-256; David Rock,
Politics in Argentina. the Rise and Fall of Radicalism, 1890-1930 (Cambridge, Mass.:
Cambridge University Press, 1975); Guillermo O'Donnell, "Transitions, Continu-
ities and Paradoxes," in Mainwaring et al., Issues in Democratic Consolidation, 17-56.
15. Gerrit Burgwald, Struggle of the Poor: Neighborhood Organization and Clientelist
Practice in a Quito Squatter Settlement (Amsterdam: CEDLA, 1996).
16. Susan Stoke's study of a low-income neighborhood in Lima, Peru constitutes an
almost perfect ethnographically-based illustration of this dichotomy. Susan Stokes,
Cultures in Conflict: Social Movements and the State in Peru (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1995). Robert Gay's recent work exposes and dismantles most
of the false and simplistic antinomies that populate the literature on clientelism in
Latin America. See "Rethinking Clientelism: Demands, Discourses and Practices
in Contemporary Brazil," forthcoming in European Review of Latin American and
Caribbean Research.

17. See, various articles in Arturo Escobar and Sonia Alvarez, The Making of Social
Movements in Latin America.

18. Luis Roniger and Ayse Gunes-Ayata, Democracy, Clientelism, and Civil Society.
19. Robert Putnam, Making Democracy Work (New Jersey: Princeton University Press,
20. In his review of the recent literature on the subject (with special emphasis on Brazil,
but with larger and important implications for the rest of Latin America), Robert
Gay acknowledges the "lack of attention to matters of definition" of the concept of
clientelism. See his "Rethinking Clientelism."
21. David Knoke, Political Networks (Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press,
22. Larissa Lomnitz, "Informal Exchange Networks in Formal Systems: A Theoretical
Model," American Anthropologist 90 (1988): 42-55; Larissa Lomnitz, C6mo Sobre-
viven Los Marginados? (Mexico: Siglo XXI, 1975).
23. Georg Simmel, On Individuality and Social Forms (Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press, 1971), 133.
24. See, for example, Jonathan Fox, "The Difficult Transition"; Michael Bodeman,
"Relations of Production and Class Rule: The Hidden Basis of Patron-Clientage,"
in Barry Wellman and S.D. Berkowitz, editors, Social Structures: A Network
Approach (Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press, 1988); Laura Guasti,
"Peru: Clientelism and Internal Control," in Steffen Schmidt et al., editors, Friends,
Followers, and Factions: A Reader in Political Clientelism (Berkeley: The University
of California Press, 1977).

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25. Luis Roniger, Hierarchy and Trust in Modern Mexico and Brazil (New York:
Prager, 1990), 3.
26. Luis Roniger, Hierarchy and Trust in Modern Mexico and Brazil, 4.
27. See, for example, Robert Gay's study of local politics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil;
Gerrit Burgwald's of Quito, Ecuador; and Cristina Escobar's of Sucre, Colombia.
28. The literature on political clientelism is extensive. When referring to the "clientelist
impasse," in this article, I allude to: Samuel Eisenstadt and Luis Roniger, Patrons,
Clients and Friends (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984); Samuel Eisen-
stadt, Power, Trust and Meaning (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995);
Luis Roniger, Hierarchy and Trust in Modern Mexico and Brazil (New York:
Praeger, 1990), the essays in Luis Roniger and Ayse Giines-Ayata, editors, Democ-
racy, Clientelism, and Civil Society (Boulder: Lynne Reinner, 1994); and the classic
works in Steffen Schmidt, Laura Guasti, Carl Lande, and James Scott, editors,
Friends, Followers, and Factions. A Reader in Political Clientelism (Berkeley: Uni-
versity of California Press, 1977); and Ernest Gellner and John Waterbury, editors,
Patrons and Clients in Mediterranean Societies (London: Duckworth, 1977).
29. Velez-Ibafiez' Rituals of Marginality stands as one of the few exceptions to this
general absence of serious treatment of the clients' viewpoints. His ethnography
documents the different rituals of marginality (i.e., patron-client relationships,
brokerage, political friendships of convenience, and other favor-producing ex-
changes) that local elites maintain with a marginalized local population in Mexico
City, paying particular attention to the process of "entanglement" of local leaders
in the domains of political elites (and the further exclusion of the local population).
He not only describes the process by which local leaders of popular organizations
become "enmeshed in the processes of political brokerage and swallowed up in the
rituals of marginality" (182), but also focus on the process of cultural change
undergone by marginalized populations after participating in those rituals. Despite
the cooptation of local leaders by political elites, Velez-Ibaiies observes a process of
cultural change manifested in the emergence of networks of women and men who
disdain those rituals of marginality, becoming "problematical to the traditional
means by which political actions become diffused in Mexico" (245). For another,
more recent, ethnographic approach to the clients' viewpoints see Burgwald's
Struggle of the Poor.
30. Names of people and places have been changed to ensure anonymity.
31. The Conurbano Bonaerense is the area comprising the nineteen districts in Argen-
tina's industrial heartland surrounding the Federal Capital.
32. For an ethnographic description of the slum, see my "This is a Lot like the Bronx,
Isn't It? Lived Experiences of Marginality in Argentina," forthcoming in Interna-
tional Journal of Urban and Regional Research.
33. Charles Tilly, From Mobilization to Revolution (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978);
Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge Univer-
sity Press, 1977).
34. Norbert Elias, What is Sociology? (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978).
35. "Unidad Basica" is the name given to the neighborhood offices of the Peronist
Party in Argentina, hereafter cited as UB.
36. See, for example, the (almost denigrating) newspaper and television reports on the
Peronist rally organized on the occassion of the anniversary of Eva Per6n's death,
on July 26, 1997.
37. Steve Stein, Populism in Peru. The Emergence of the Masses and the Politics of Social
Control (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1980); Michael Conniff, Urban

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Politics in Brazil: The Rise of Populism 1925-1945 (Pittsburgh: University of Pitts-

burgh Press, 1981); Nicos Mouzelis, "On the Concept of Populism: Populist and
Clientelist Modes of Incorporation in Semiperipheral Polities," Politics and Society
14/3 (1985): 329-348; Luis Roniger, Hierarchy and Trust in Modern Mexico and
Brazil (New York: Praeger, 1990); Robert Gay, Popular Organization and Democracy
in Rio de Janeiro: A Tale of Two Favelas (Philadelphia: Temple University Press,
1984); Robert Gay, "Community organization and clientelist politics in contemporary
Brazil: a case study from suburban Rio de Janeiro," International Journal of Urban
and Regional Research 14/4 (1990): 648-666; Antonio Ugalde, "Contemporary
Mexico: From Hacienda to PRI; Political Leadership in a Zapotec Village," in
Roberto Kern, editor, The Caciques. Oligarchical Politics and the System of Caci-
quismo in the Luso-Hispanic World (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press,
1973), 119-134; Wayne Cornelius, "Contemporary Mexico: A Structural Analysis
of Urban Caciquismo," in Robert Kern, editor, The Caciques, 135-150; William
Kornblum, Blue Collar Community (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974);
Thomas Guterbock, Machine Politics in Transition: Party Community in Chicago
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Ira Katznelson, City Trenches: Urban
Politics and the Patterning of Class in the United States (Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press, 1981); David Knoke, Political Networks (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1990); David Rock, "Machine Politics in Buenos Aires and the
Argentine Radical Party, 1912-1930," Journal of Latin American Studies 4/2 (1972):
233-256; David Rock, Politics in Argentina: The rise and fall of Radicalism, 1890-
1930 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975).
38. As was suggested to me by Robert Gay, an important difference between brokers is
that some of them are "tied" to a specific political party (or to a specific patron), as
is the case with the punteros Peronistas. As Gay shows in Popular Organization and
Democracy, the allegiance of the cabo eleitoral to a specific political party is much
less solid.

39. To use the expression of Marshall Sahlins, "Poor Man, Rich Man, Big-Man, Chief:
Political Types in Melanesia and Polynesia," in Steffen Schmidt et al., editors,
Friends, Followers, and Factions, 222.
40. A. L. Epstein, "The Network and Urban Social Organization," in J. Clyde Mitchell,
editor, Social Networks in Urban Situations (Manchester, Manchester University
Press, 1969), 77-116.
41. On the difference between "strong" and "weak" ties (time, intimacy, and emotional
intensity involved in the relationships), see Mark Granovetter, "The Strength of
Weak Ties," American Journal of Sociology 78 (1973): 1360-1380.
42. Paraphrasing Durkheim in The Division of Labor in Society (New York: Free Press,
1984), we may say that the members of the inner circle are linked to the brokers by
ties that extend well beyond the brief moment when the act of exchange is being
43. David Knoke, Political Networks (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
44. For the relationship between access to information and network structure, see
Bonnie Erickson, "The Structure of Ignorance," Keynote Address, Sunbelt XVI,
International Sunbelt Social Network Conference, Charleston, South Carolina,

45. Roger Gould and Roberto Fernandez, "Structures of mediation: A formal ap-
proach to brokerage in transaction networks," Sociological Methodology 89 (1990):

46. Manuel Carlos and Bo Anderson, "Political Brokerage and Network Politics in

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Mexico: The Case of a Dominance System" in David Willer and Bo Anderson,

editors, Networks, Exchange and Coercion. The Elementary Theory and its Applica-
tions (New York: Elsevier, 1991), 169-387.
47. By "actor-centered," I do not necessarily mean subjectivistic. For the lack of a
better term, I use this one to refer to approaches to clientelism that take actors'
perceptions of clientelist exchanges seriously, and consider the interplay between
the structure of exchange networks and the actions - individual and collective - of
the actors involved in these webs. E.g., Gerrit Burgwald, Struggle of the Poor;
Robert Gay, Popular Organization and Democracy.
48. Clifford Geertz, Local Knowledge (New York: Basic Books, 1983).
49. Loic Wacquant, "The Pugilistic Point of View. How Boxers Think and Feel About
Their Trade," Theory and Society 24 (1995), 491.
50. The destructive consequences of the drug economy have a strong impact on the slum,
which, according to official information, is the locality with the highest percentage
of drug trafficking and addiction in Greater Buenos Aires. Drugs are contaminating
the space of the neighborhood, terrifying and humiliating residents, and making
them insecure about their own future. Insecurity is the most pervasive feeling
among its inhabitants. Drug-dealers and addicts are a tiny minority of the slum
population, but they have taken over the public space of the slum and managed to
"set the tone for public life." Philippe Bourgois, In Search of Respect (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1995), 10. Or in the residents' own voices: "The prob-
lem here is drugs ... dealers are killing the kids.... (Lucho) This is terrible ... on the
corner, many kids get together and they smoke ... weird things ... you can't take
your kids to the sidewalk because of the smell. And at night it is terrible, they fire
their guns at the police.... (Adela) There are a lot of drugs, insecurity.... (Juan) You
can't allow your kids to play on the sidewalk, because everyone is smoking marijuana,
doing drugs.... (Victoria) There are a lot of kids who have been stealing since
they're five or six ... they act as lookouts, who tell the others if the police come...."
(Josefina) Drug-trafficking and diverse addictions (mainly alcohol, marijuana, and
cocaine) are having devastating consequences on the life-world of slum-inhabitants.
Their feelings about young dealers and consumers not only point to the insecurity
they feel, their fear of being mugged or assaulted, but also to the abandonment and
the impotence they experience. Violence is becoming, to quote Elias, an "unavoid-
able and everyday event" in the slum, pervading "the whole atmosphere of this
unpredictable and insecure life," Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process (Oxford:
Blackwell, 1994), 448-449. For an argument concerning the generalization of vio-
lence in Latin American shantytowns, see Paulo Pinheiro, "Democracies Without
Citizenship," Nacla XXX/2 (1996): 17-23.
51. Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, 38.
52. Ibid.

53. My point here is not to deny the much noted existence of strategic calculations on
the part of clients but to stress the fact that these calculations are predicated upon
the reciprocal recognition of actors as repeated actors. Individual interest max-
imization within the specific social world of clientelism (to be carefully distin-
guished from "resistance" to clientelist manipulation) grows out of the mutual
recognition between clients and brokers crafted within inner circles. In this sense,
we can say that brokers' closest followers form a "circle of recognition" that hinders
a detached point of view on the relationship. See Alessandro Pizzorno, "On the
Individualistic Theory of Social Order." In Pierre Bourdieu and James Coleman,
editors, Social Theoryfor a Changing Society (Boulder: Westview Press, 1991).

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54. Loic Wacquant perceptively analyzes the interplay between negative determinants
and positive attractions for the case of boxing in the "Black ghetto." In "A Sacred
Weapon. Bodily Capital and Bodily Labor among Professional Boxers," in Cheryl
Cole, John Loy, and Michael A. Messner, editors, Exercising Power: Making the
Remaking the Body (Albany: State University of New York Press).
55. Pierre Bourdieu, "Understanding," Theory, Culture and Society 13/2 (1996): 34.
56. See Karen E. Paige and Jeffery M. Paige, The Politics of Reproductive Ritual
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981).
57. The residents of Villa Paraiso who attend these rallies not only share a network of
relationships and a category (they are poor people living in the same barrio) but
also claim a common - although multifarious - political identity: they define
themselves as Peronists and vote for the Peronist party. Thereby the rallies are
(also) an expression of a deep-seated and resilient political identity: that of "being
Peronist." Further research is needed on the diverse ways in which problem-solving
networks symbolically reproduce and reconfigure the multiple Peronist identities
embedded in this web of relations.

58. Wacquant, "The Pugilistic Point of View."

59. The charge against the "political use" of food programs has been noted in other
popular barrios in Argentina; see, for example, Laura Golbert, "La asistencia
alimentaria: Un nuevo problema para los Argentinos," in Susana Lumi, Laura
Golbert, Emilio Tenti Fanfani, editors, La Mano Izquierda del Estado. La asistencia
social segtn los beneficiarios (Buenos Aires: Mifo y Davila, 1992).
60. A right, according to Tilly, is an "enforceable claim, the reciprocal of obligations,"
Charles Tilly, "Democracy is a Lake," in Roads from Past to Future (Maryland:
Rowman & Littlefield, 1997), 198. Rights are "enforceable claims on the delivery of
goods, services, or protections by specific others. Rights exist when one party can
effectively insist that another deliver goods, services, or protections, and third
parties will act to reinforce (or at least not to hinder) their delivery." When the
"object of claims is a state or its agent and the successful claimant qualifies by
simple membership in a broad category of persons subject to the state's jurisdic-
tion," those claims - or, entitlements - become citizenship rights. Charles Tilly,
"Where do Rights Come From?" Center for the Study of Social Change, New
School for Social Research. Working Paper 98 (July 1990), 1.
61. Other works have shown that, in many other lower-class neighborhoods of Con-
urbano Bonaerense, politics is experienced as something distant, linked to delusion
and trickery, especially among the youth. The distribution of drugs among youth
groups by local politicians in poor neighborhoods has also been noted as quite
generalized. See, for example, Silvia Kuasfiosky and Dalia Szulik, "Desde los
margenes de la juventud," in Mario Margulis, editor, La juventud es mcs que una
palabra (Buenos Aires: Biblos, 1996). The participation in political rallies and
soccer barras bravas has proven to be a free source of drugs (marijuana and
cocaine) and alcohol for many youngsters.
62. Although I do not agree with her understanding of Peronist clientelist practices,
additional evidence of distribution of goods as a means of "purchasing votes" can
be found in Nancy Powers, "Popular Discourse about Politics and Democracy in
Argentina," paper delivered at the Latin American Studies Association Conference,
September, 1995.
63. See, for example, Albert Hirschman, Getting Ahead Collectively: Grassroots Expe-
riences in Latin America (New York: Pergamon Press), Beatriz de Heredia, "Politica,
Familia y Comunidad," paper delivered at the Encuentro Internacional de Antro-
pologia, IDES, Buenos Aires, August, 1996.

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64. William Foote Whyte, Street Corner Society: The Social Structure of an Italian
Slum (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1943).
65. Launched almost ten years ago, this state-funded program intended to strengthen
community organization in poor neighborhoods through the subsidized development
of productive micro-enterprises. In the slum, some of the funds of the program were
captured by Peronist brokers, becoming an extra source for their inner circles.
66. Margaret Somers, "The Narrative Constitution of Identity: A Relational and Net-
work Approach," Theory and Society 23 (1994): 605-649.
67. Wacquant, "The Pugillistic Point of View."
68. Tilly, From Mobilization to Revolution.
69. Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice.
70. Alfred Schutz, Collected Papers (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1962), 143.
71. Charles Tilly, "Political Identities," Working Paper 212 (Center for Studies of Social
Change, New School for Social Research, 1995).
72. To use James Scott's expression from Domination and the Arts of Resistance.
Hidden Transcripts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990).
73. See Paul Willis, Learning to Labor (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983).
74. The dominated, as Bourdieu constantly notes, "are very often condemned to such
dilemmas, to choices between two solutions which, each from a certain standpoint,
are equally bad ones," Pierre Bourdieu and Loic Wacquant, An Invitation to Reflexive
Sociology (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992), 82.
75. Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure (Glencoe, Ill.: The Free
Press, 1949), 74.
76. Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure, 74.
77. See Thomas Guterbock, Machine Politics in Transition.
78. Luis Roniger, Hierarchy and Trust.
79. Ayse Giines-Ayata, "Clientelism: Premodern, Modern, Postmodern" in Roniger
and Giines-Ayata, Democracy, Clientelism and Civil Society.
80. V. Tellis-Novak, "Power and Solidarity: Clientage in Domestic Service," Current
Anthropology 24/1 (1983): 67-69.
81. James Scott, "Political Clientelism: A Bibliographical Essay," in Steffen Schmidt et
al., Friends, Followers, and Factions; James Scott and Benedict J. Kerkvliet, "How
Traditional Rural Patrons Lose Legitimacy: A Theory with Special Reference to
Southeast Asia," in Steffen Schmidt et al., Friends, Followers, and Factions.
82. See my "Performing Evita. A Tale of Two Peronist Women," forthcoming in
Journal of Contemporary Ethnography.
83. Pierre Bourdieu, "On the Family as a Realized Category," Theory, Culture and
Society 13/3 (1996): 20.
84. Bourdieu, Outline, of a Theory of Practice, 81.
85. Marcel Mauss, The Gift, 74.
86. Robert Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure, 71.
87. See Steve Levitsky, "Institutionalization and Peronism," Party Politics 4/1 (1998):

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