Decolonising clientelism: ‘Re-centring’ analyses of local state–society relations in South Africa
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Concepts such as democracy and accountability rely heavily for their normative framing on scholarship originating in Europe and America. While these theories of democracy are useful for setting up frameworks with which to engage, it is important to assess the actually existing practices of everyday state–society engagement in informal locations and economies of the global south. Practices of everyday democracy may differ in contexts such as South Africa’s and it is important to assess what this tells us about reconceptualising democratic theory in our region. While not uncritical of the power imbalances inherent in clientelism, this article attempts to provide a clear conceptual definition of clientelism and then investigates how this practice may fulfil democratic tasks such as increasing participation and accountability at the local level of governance. By reframing democratic expectations and unpacking where traditionally vilified practices such as clientelism may hold moments of democracy, the paper advances the idea that the study of democracy can be decolonised.