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Copyright (c) 2011 The American Academy of Political and
Social Science
The Annals of The American Academy of Political and
Social Science


July, 2011

The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science

636 Annals 150




Political Familism and Patrimonialism

Patrimonialism, as a classificatory project, is one of a number of theoretical interventions that have been attached to Lebanon. Lebanon has been classified also as a "plural," a "consociational," and a "communitarian" political system. While these classificatory efforts offer insights, they often gloss over the dynamic character of political relations and the institutional frames that animate ideologies and practices locally. The application of patrimonialism to Middle Eastern states in general, and Lebanon in particular, has presumed their political "otherness." Patrimonialism has been used to explain the "backwardness" of Middle Eastern states, their "lacks," especially of democracy, civil society, rights, gender equality, and political individualism. As a benchmark for such political assessments, however, patrimonialism may undermine its own insights by creating false binaries between "traditional" and "modern" cultural systems, "rationalistic" and "affective" modes of organization, and particular and universal political processes. It often overlooks history, even as it tries to situate such societies in the historical past. Patrimonialism may cloud the analysis of change even as it offers developmental stages of transformation.

Classificatory projects at times inscribe culturalist arguments that reify differences among societies, producing comparative work divorced of the complexities of the fluid material realities on the ground. Although useful, classificatory schemas can be driven by hierarchal rankings of societies and an impetus to judge social outcomes in terms of linear notions of progress--done so through a Western historical lens. Most critically, classificatory projects tend to "fix" or stabilize a political system, ...
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