Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

Structural Holes and Structural Synergies: A Comparative-Historical Analysis of State-Society Relations and Development in Colonial Sierra Leone and Mauritius

Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

Structural Holes and Structural Synergies: A Comparative-Historical Analysis of State-Society Relations and Development in Colonial Sierra Leone and Mauritius

Article excerpt

During the past decade, state-society synergy has become a major focus of development theory, with numerous insightful analyses of economic and human development describing the positive-sum relations that can exist between state and society (Onis 1991; Uphoff 1992; Tendler 1993; Tendler and Freedheim 1994; Evans 1995, 1996; Wang 1999). A common concern of much of this literature is local empowerment through state decentralization (Hadenius and Uggla 1996; Heller 1999; Lange 2003). By increasing local participation in government, this view suggests that decentralization is able to exploit the knowledge and resources of both state and societal actors in order to optimize policy implementation and make possible a more democratic form of development. Yet, while not denying its potential benefits, others find that decentralization often fails and sometimes empowers a select few, resulting in rent-seeking and extreme power inequalities (Migdal 1988; Putnam 1993; Migdal, Kohli, and Shue 1994; Mamdani 1996). Consequently, an understanding of the processes underlying the different outcomes of decentralization is needed to guide future efforts to empower local communities and promote broad-based development.

This paper suggests that network structures affect whether decentralization will take the developmental or despotic form since they are the fundamental determinants of information and resource flows among state and societal actors. Adapting insight from economic sociology, it suggests that certain network structures--structural holes limit the possibility of positive-sum relations between state and society by endowing intermediaries with control of information and resource flows. Alternatively, dense networks that bypass intermediaries make possible a less encumbered flow of information and resources and thereby positive-sum relations.

After briefly presenting a theoretical framework and describing a nested methodological approach, the paper provides a comparative-historical analysis of two former British colonies in Africa: Mauritius and Sierra Leone. The analysis focuses on how different forms of colonial rule created different network structures between state and society and investigates the impact these networks had on the success of decentralizing reforms that took place after World War II. Comparison of the two cases provides evidence that structural holes promoted decentralized despotism in Sierra Leone and that structural synergies made decentralized development possible in Mauritius.

Network Structures and Development

Recent works on state-society synergy suggest that positive-sum relations among state and societal actors are made possible by three basic factors. First, as the state-centered sociological literature recognizes, effective states are necessary because they provide direction and resources to societal actors. This literature usually stresses the corporate coherence of the state and its ability to act collectively on a very large scale (Rueschemeyer and Evans 1985). The second emphasis is on civil society. Here, scholars suggest that dense and horizontal ties within society are needed to harness the participation and knowledge of societal actors. In addition, such relations promote norms of reciprocity and trust and therefore facilitate collaborative relationships among diverse actors (Putnam 1993). Finally, the actual structure of relations between state and societal actors affects state-society synergy (Evans 1995). Obviously, state and societal actors must engage one another in collaborative relationships in order to pursue common goals. In particular, network relations must exist for the transfer of information and resources among actors, both of which are necessary for large-scale coordinated action. While most scholars recognize that all three factors are necessary for state-society synergy, few investigate the latter, leaving a general lacuna in the literature on whether differences in network structures affect the possibility of synergistic relations. …

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