Erin McDonnell, University of Notre Dame

Patchwork Leviathan: How Pockets of Bureaucratic Governance Flourish within Institutionally Diverse Developing States
Erin McDonnell


Fall 2018
Lecture Time: 
Friday, November 2, 2018 - 1:30pm to 3:00pm
Lecture Location: 
R0220 Ross School of Business
Introduced By: 
Yun Ha Cho


Within seemingly weak states, exceptionally effective subunits lie hidden. These high-performing niches exhibit organizational characteristics distinct from poor-performing peer organizations, but also distinct from high-functioning organizations in Western countries. This article develops the concept of interstitial bureaucracy to explain how and why unusually high-performing state organizations in developing countries invert canonical features of Weberian bureaucracy. Interstices are distinct-yet-embedded subsystems characterized by practices inconsistent with those of the dominant institution. This interstitial position poses particular challenges and requires unique solutions. Interstices cluster together scarce proto-bureaucratic resources to cultivate durable distinction from the status quo, while managing disruptions arising from interdependencies with the wider neopatrimonial field. I propose a framework for how bureaucratic interstices respond to those challenges, generalizing from organizational comparisons within the Ghanaian state and abbreviated historical comparison cases from the nineteenth-century United States, early-twentieth-century China, mid-twentieth-century Kenya, and early-twenty-first-century Nigeria.

Recording & Additional Notes

Erin Metz McDonnell is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame. Her research cuts across Organizational, Political, Cultural, and Economic Sociology. Her work focuses on the reciprocal relationship between culture and social organization, from consumer groups to state administrative capacity. Her award-winning work has been published in the American Sociological Review, the American Journal of Sociology, and Comparative Political Studies. Her book project Patchwork Leviathan analyzes the emergence and functioning of niches of organizational excellence within otherwise-weak state administrations, combining qualitative research on four niches within the contemporary Ghanaian state with comparative historical analyses of state organizations in China, Brazil, Kenya, and Nigeria.