While the system of serfdom was established by law, the dependency of tenants was ensured through a mixture of economic and religious ties, which are covered by the general terms ‘patronage’ and ‘clientage’. These set up a relationship between a politically and economically powerful patron, usually a landlord, and a weaker client. While the relationship may be regarded as socially necessary and honourable by both parties, its inequality makes it a potent source of exploitation. The ties established may link two families over many generations and may be reinforced by accumulated debts that make the client fundamentally unfree.
The economic means of establishing patron—client relationships nearly always have their basis in systems of landholding, such as share-cropping. Client families may be lent money, seed or goods by the patron, in order to see them through bad seasons, often in return for the unpaid labour of client family members. This can be regarded as benevolent, but also creates debts that may never be paid off. This is one of the underlying factors in systems of debt bondage (sometimes called bonded labour) that are widespread in India, although forbidden by both national and international law.
The ties of patron-clientage were basic to the system of land tenure and agricultural production in feudal Europe, where they still persist in Northern Mediterranean countries. Clienteliamo is the basis of the varied contractual relationships throughout Southern Italy, for example. Its essence is not the fixed and contractual but rather the informal and flexible. It is a face-to-face relationship, and many writers stress its importance in giving clients a degree of political power, through their support of the patron in his external political activities.
The conquerors and colonists of Latin America imported many of the values and legal institutions of feudal Europe, including patron-client relationships. The predominance of Roman Catholicism in Latin societies links this system of asymmetrical political and economic relationships to the system known as compadrazgo, or godparenting. The godparent-godchild relationship established in baptism is actually a link between two sets of parents, the biological and the spiritual. In systematic compadrazgo, the child links a powerful godparent, who is supposed to ensure its spiritual welfare, to economically and politically weaker natural parents. Co-parenting ties, once established, give the natural parents the right to call on the godfather for material assistance and legal support. In return, their obligation is to support the political activities of the godfather, and to work for him when he requires it. Being a godfather confers prestige as well as economic and political advantages. Although the term patron-client relationship is not always used within or about compadrazgo, it clearly applies.
Compadrazgo is a form of fictive kinship that enables actual kin networks to be extended. In the Arab world, the transition from kin-based networks to the more complex relationships of modern states is also marked by extensive political patronage, although this is not nearly so strongly characterized by economic exploitation as the form found in Latin societies. Despite stressing the asymmetry of the patron-client relationship, writers on this area emphasize the political content: the role of the patron as a cultural broker, and a system of obligations that is moral rather than monetary. Clients may become wealthy, but they do not lose their jural status as clients.
For anthropological accounts of this form of (what has been called) ‘lop-sided friendship’ see Julian Pitt-Rivers , The People of the Sierra (1954) and Michael Kenny , A Spanish Tapestry (1961
"patron-client relationship." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 25, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/patron-client-relationship
"patron-client relationship." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Retrieved October 25, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/patron-client-relationship
Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).
Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.
Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
- Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
- In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.