Social science theories suggest that informal governance thrives when the state is weak. Shelby Grossman of Stanford University argues otherwise. In this episode of the Governance Podcast, she sits down with John Meadowcroft (King’s College London) to discuss the relationship between markets, states and informal institutions in Lagos, Nigeria.


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The Guest

Shelby Grossman is a research scholar at the Stanford Internet Observatory. She was previously an assistant professor of political science at the University of Memphis. Dr. Grossman’s primary research interests are in comparative politics and sub-Saharan Africa. Her research has been published in Comparative Political Studies, PS: Political Science and Politics, World Development, and World Politics.

Dr. Grossman was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law from 2016-17. She earned her PhD in Government from Harvard University in 2016.

Skip Ahead

00:28: Shelby, you’re involved in a research project on the politics of order in informal markets. You’re looking at informal governance in parts of Africa. Why did you choose to study Africa?

2:03: How do the markets in Lagos work?

5:18: Would most economic exchanges in Nigeria take place in this informal context?

6:05: You did extensive fieldwork in the Lagos markets. Tell us about that process.

9:20: You mentioned that these markets often exist on land owned by local governments. I imagine that introduces a lot of local politics into the equation. Could you give us an account of how local government works in this context?

12:44: What would be the key cleavages in Lagos or Nigerian politics?

13:28: That takes us to the heart of your work, which is the interaction between the politics and markets. What does the literature lead us to expect about that interaction in a place like Lagos?

16:45: Who writes the constitution in the market?

18:58: You mentioned that market leaders were responding to pressure from politicians– what sort of pressures were they exposed to?

20:45: What then is the relationship between the market leaders and the politicians?

22:51: In the absence of those sort of political threats, how does a market leader tend to behave?

25:01: Did you have outliers at either end? Were there examples of having almost no formal governance but very good informal governance, or vice versa?

26:07: What were your overall conclusions vis a vis the relationship between formal and informal governance?

26:57: How does this play out in other contexts? Have you observed other examples that seem to follow the same pattern?

28:18: In one sense, what you’re saying is that there isn’t a simple downward sloping demand curve for informal governance… it’s actually a U shape of sorts.

28:32: What are your next research pathways?