Date: Tuesday, May 30th, 2023

Time: 12:00 to 13:30

Paper by: Elisabeth S. Clemens (University of Chicago) and Yuhao Zhuang (HEC Paris)


On May 30th, 2023, we were honored to welcome Elisabeth S. Clemens from the University of Chicago. Professor Clemens is a political and organizational sociologist studying organizational innovation and state formation, who just completed a stint as the editor of the American Journal of Sociology.


The seminar was hosted in cooperation between EIRC and our friends at STORM. Professor Clemens and her co-author Yuhao Zhuang, who is currently a postdoc at HEC Paris, presented their paper “Beyond efficiency and capacity: Federal contracting as a political project, 1979­–2018.” The paper raised great interest and an engaging discussion with the audience from both research centers and other faculty members from emlyon and the University of Lyon.


Please find more details below.


Beyond efficiency and capacity: Federal contracting as a political project, 1979­–2018

Elisabeth S. Clemens (University of Chicago) & Yuhao Zhuang (HEC Paris)



Contracting reconstitutes boundaries of the public sector through ever-deepening engagement of government agencies with business firms and nonprofit organizations. Under the banners of neoliberalism, privatization, or marketization, proponents of contract often invoke either the goal of maximizing efficiency or building state capacity.  But these efforts are also political, possibly partisan, projects that play out in diverse ways:  as overarching ideologies, as electoral strategies, or as bureaucratic practices. These possible relationships are explored through analyses of the U.S. federal contract data across both granting administrative agencies and grantee states from 1979 to 2018.  Our findings demonstrate that public procurement is shaped by asymmetrical deployment of partisan ideologies, as conservative presidential administrations use contracting as a market-based solution to political and administrative challenges. Specifically, under Republican administrations, compared to their Democratic counterparts, contracting is more heavily used as a mechanism to consolidate electoral support and to buffer federal agencies’ tasks against partisan cross-pressures and budgeting uncertainty.



Elisabeth S. Clemens is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago as well as a former Master of the Social Sciences Collegiate Division. Her research explores the role of social movements and organizational innovation in political change. Clemens’ first book, The People’s Lobby: Organizational Innovation and the Rise of Interest Group Politics in the United States, 1890-1925 (Chicago, 1997), received best book awards in both organizational sociology and political sociology. She is also co- editor of Private Action and the Public Good (Yale, 1998), Remaking Modernity: Politics, History and Sociology (Duke, 2005), Politics and Partnerships: Voluntary Associations in America’s Past and Present (Chicago, 2010). Her recent awards-winning book, Civic Gifts: Voluntarism and the Making of the American Nation-State (Chicago 2020), traces the tense but powerful entanglements of benevolence and liberalism in American political development.