Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

State capture: elites, legality and access to power

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Who this event is for

  • Everyone


Chakrabati Room (208), John Henry Brookes Building, Headington Campus, Gipsy Lane site


State capture: elites, legality and access to power

A one-day comparative workshop with papers on countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Southern Africa and the former Soviet Union

State capture as an issue emerged in the aftermath of the collapse of communism in Europe and the former Soviet space to explain processes of partial economic reform. Adopted by policy makers en masse to make sense of the ways in which individuals, groups and firms in both the private and public sector seek to influence government policy to their own advantage through the illicit provision of private benefits to public officials, it was soon clear that state capture was not unique to the former communist space. State capture concerns the ways in which economic and political power are often fused and whereby informal, complex elite networks of political and economic actors seek to shape the institutional legal environment for private benefit. The product of such behaviour is corruption, patronage and inequality of access to decision making. Countries from across the developing world, especially those producing bulk raw materials in deregulated markets have witnessed such growing trends in inequalities related not just to income distribution, but of access to power and the lucrative resources and benefits of the state. Such phenomena has tended to have a negative impact on the quality of democratic governance too as elite groups alter the legal environment for private benefit shutting out access and public goods to large swathes of ordinary citizens.

This workshop is intended to explore the phenomenon of state capture in comparative perspective and from different analytical vantage points, something which hitherto has not been sufficiently achieved in a systematic fashion in the literature. For the most part the literature has focused too heavily on the post-communist space and has failed to adequately address the similarities (as well as differences) of state capture across cases. The papers will examine how corporate and other elites, in a variety of different contexts, have gained dominance over decision making in areas crucial to the maintenance and use of economic power. It will look at both the formal and less formal methods used to uphold that dominance and the wider implications for democratic governance.

The aims of the workshop:

Empirically, gather evidence from a number of disciplines (International Relations, economics, political economy, history, and sociology) to demonstrate the array of forms state capture can take, and the level at which it occurs (i.e. high levels of state capture to low levels), exploring in detail how the capturing of public assets by private interests through unequal access to the shaping of legal structures has implications for the types and level of corruptive practices which take place, relations of power between citizens and the state and the overall quality of democratic governance. The contributors of all the articles approach their cases with significant in-field experience of their respective countries/regions.

Theoretically, engage critically with the limitations of the concept and root our understanding of state capture within the broader history of the state and the different forms state development can take in varying regional settings. Additionally, the special issue will further develop and refine our conceptual understanding of state capture by probing its utility across cases and by co-joining the concept with other conceptual tools (eg. passive revolution in the case of Mexico and neopatrimonalism in the example of Kazakhstan).

Address policy, by being a useful resource for policy makers, analysts and development workers as it will address the impact of state capture on a range of issues related to democratic governance (conflict, corruption, organised crime, uneven and combined development and the development of the state in transition economies and societies).

Papers and paper givers:

  • ƒThe common history of state capture, Neil Robinson, University of Limerick
  • ƒƒLatin America in the twenty-first century: state forms, social power, and permutations of capital, Jeffery R. Webber, Queen Mary University of London
  • ƒƒDoes ‘state capture’ capture Central Asia? power, neopatrimonialism and the state in Kazakhstan, Rico Isaacs, Oxford Brookes University
  • ƒƒ‘State’ capture in Ukraine: continuity and change after the ‘revolution of dignity’, Sarah Whitmore, Oxford Brookes University
  • ƒƒState capture in Peru: the power of extractive elites, John Crabtree, University of Oxford
  • ƒƒState capture as passive revolution, Chris Hesketh, Oxford Brookes University
  • ƒƒPower, patronage and gatekeeper politics in South Africa, Alexander Beresford, University of Leeds
  • ƒƒFacing both ways – Montenegro, Western Europe and Russia, Alex Finnen, Ministry of Defence/ Oxford Brookes University
  • ƒƒPolitical economy of centralisation and control in India, Pritam Singh, Oxford Brookes University
  • ƒƒConcluding remarks with Lawrence Whitehead, Nuffield College Oxford



Welcome & introductory remarks (Prof. Barrie Axford, Oxford Brookes University). Tea and coffee


Plenary Session


Professor Neil Robinson (University of Limerick) ‘The common history of state capture’


Chaired by Dr Rico Isaacs (Oxford Brookes University)


Refreshment break


Panel 1


Dr Alex Finnen (Ministry of Defence/Oxford Brookes University) Facing both ways – Montenegro, Western Europe and Russia


Dr Jeffery Weber (Queen Mary University of London) – ‘Latin America in the twenty-first century: state forms, social power, and permutations of capital’


Dr John Crabtree (Oxford University) & Francisco Durand (Universidad Católica del Perú) – State capture in Peru: the power of extractive elites


Dr Chris Hesketh (Oxford Brookes University) - State capture as passive revolution


Chaired by Professor Barrie Axford (Oxford Brookes University)




Panel 2


Dr Alex Beresford (University of Leeds) - Power, patronage and gatekeeper politics in South Africa


Dr Rico Isaacs (Oxford Brookes University) Interest articulation in authoritarian regimes: political Parties and neopatrimonialism in Central Asia


Professor Pritam Singh (Oxford Brookes University) Political economy of centralisation and control in India


Chaired by Dr Michael Lister (Oxford Brookes University)


Refreshment break


Concluding Remarks and discussion


Laurence Whitehead (Nuffield College, Oxford University)


Chaired by Dr John Crabtree (St Antony’s College Oxford University)


Final comments and close