STORM & The Entrepreneurship and Innovation Research Center Proudly Present:


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


About the Research

(with Yuhao Zhuang)


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.

About Elisabeth Clemens

Dr. 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.


Her coauthor Yuhao Zhuang (post-doc at HEC Paris) will be visiting us as well.

Date: Tuesday 30 May, 2023

Time: 12:00-13:30 CET

Venue: Learning Lab, Building B (Zoom link provided to registered attendees)

Should you want to attend, please register at