What is meant by “patronage”? The term appears with increased frequency in anthropological analysis. Indeed, it has become a major concept in the study of peasant societies, somewhat analogous to the concept of the “big man” in certain kinds of chiefdoms, or “fission and fusion” in lineage-type societies. There is, however, considerable ambiguity in the meaning given to the term. Consider, as examples, the following three excerpts from recent anthropological studies:
Patronage is founded on the reciprocal relations between patrons and clients. By patron I mean a person who uses his influence to assist and protect some other person, who then becomes his “client”, and in return provides certain services for his patron… Patronage is thus the complex of relations between those who use their influence, social position or some other attribute to assist and protect others, and those whom they so help and protect.