Policymaking as gift exchange : an ethnographic study of lobbyists
- Over the past 40 years, corporations, associations, and other organizations have built a vast institutional field designed to shape public policy and amplify their influence in government. Occupying a central position within this social structure are lobbyists, who help sustain the system by which policy is enacted through the creation and maintenance of long-term, mutually reciprocated relationships with government officials. Throughout the history of the United States, as lobbyists have become increasingly more organized, the number of lobbyists has grown significantly along with the amount of money spent on lobbying. Many scholars suggest that lobbying is now the dominant form of political participation used by organizations. However, prior research on the political activities of corporations has focused primarily on political action committees and campaign contributions rather than lobbying. Prior studies that directly address lobbying tend to rely on data from surveys or lobbying disclosure forms and lack any direct observations of lobbyists themselves. In addition, these studies generally subscribe to the notion, adopted from the field of economics, that lobbying inherently involves a form of economic, or commodity, exchange between lobbyists and officials. In other words, lobbyists buy votes or access. However, after a multitude of studies over several decades, the findings regarding the validity of the commodity exchange model remain inconsistent. Some studies find support for this notion while others do not. Furthermore, this description of lobbying activity contrasts sharply with the few in-depth accounts of lobbyists written by ethnographers and investigative journalists. These authors found that lobbyists are embedded in networks of connections bound together by mutual obligation. Rather than exchanging favors quid pro quo, lobbyists and officials give each other a wide variety of gifts within the context of ongoing social relationships. This portrayal of lobbyists differs significantly from models of commodity exchange and suggests that gift exchange may be a more appropriate framework with which to discuss policymaking. Anthropologists have long differentiated between the exchange of commodities, denoted by their economic value, and the exchange of gifts, which counteract forces for social differentiation and reinforce social cohesion. To determine what lobbyists actually do and whether their involvement in policymaking is better understood as commodity exchange or gift exchange, I undertook a comparative ethnographic study, spending a total of six months engaged in participant observation at two of the top lobbying firms in Washington, DC. Using the data collected, I describe the daily work of lobbyists and the nature of their relationships with clients and government officials. I then compare these relationships with the primary features of commodity and gift exchange. My findings suggest that while the client-lobbyist relationship can generally be described as a commodity exchange, the lobbyist-official relationship involves a system of gift-giving that is better understood as gift exchange. The results of this dissertation have implications for theoretical models of exchange, the role of lobbyists, and the nature of policymaking.
|Type of resource
|electronic; electronic resource; remote
|1 online resource.
|Morales, Daniel Mark, Mr
|Stanford University, Department of Management Science and Engineering.
|Barley, Stephen R
|Barley, Stephen R
|Hecker, Siegfried S
|Hecker, Siegfried S
|Statement of responsibility
|Daniel Mark Morales.
|Submitted to the Department of Management Science and Engineering.
|Thesis (Ph.D.)--Stanford University, 2013.
- © 2013 by Daniel Mark Morales
- This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).
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