Dr Mahvish  Shami

Dr Mahvish Shami

Programme Co-Director of Development Management

Department of International Development

+44 (0)20 7852 3639
English, Urdu
Key Expertise
Clientelism, Pakistan, Poverty, Collective Action, Access to Justice

About me

(Sabbatical 2023/24)

I am an Assistant Professor at the Department of International Development. I have been a visiting research fellow at the School of Advance International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, and at Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford University. After completing my PhD from the LSE I did Post-Doctoral fellowship at the Institute of Food and Resource Economics, Copenhagen University and subsequently was a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the LSE.

My research interests focus on the impact of unequal power relations – particularly clientelism – on the welfare of the poor. While most of the literature on clientelism has focused on redistributive policies, my work looks at alternative solutions, aimed at altering relative bargaining powers, for improving outcomes for the poor. My research explores various aspects of the interaction between patrons and their clients. In the past I have looked at the level of collective action under hierarchical relationships, the affect this relationship has on levels of publics goods provision and how altering bargaining changes the nature of the relationship.

My current research focuses on poor citizens’ access to justice. I explore the barriers they face when accessing formal dispute resolution bodies. While the current literature looks at the institutional underpinnings of these restrictions, I argue that a major hurdle in developing countries comes in the form of social barriers, stemming from the presence of clientelist networks. I stipulate that asymmetric power distribution enables patrons to bar clients from accessing formal institutions. Such barriers can’t be rectified through institutional reforms. My work explores alternative policy tools which could be used to improve peasants’ access to formal justice systems.

Secondly, I look at how clientelism works in urban slums. While urban clientelism has been studied extensively over the last 2 decades, there is still a dearth of information at the household level. My research aims to fill this gap by making use of a unique household-level dataset from slums in Lahore, Pakistan. The aim of this research is to highlight the nuances of urban clientelist networks and how they compare to those found in rural settings.

Selected publications


Working Papers

  • Who provides to urban slums? Under review.
  • Targeting the Centre and (Least) Poor: Evidence from Urban Pakistan (with H Majid). Under review.

  • Unpacking Rural-Urban Clientelist Networks (with H Majid). Under review.
  • Decentralisation and Clientelism. Preparing for submission


Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship 2012-2015


Expertise Details

agrarian development; agrarian power relations; collective action; community-based development; development economics; informal institution; informal networks; interlinked markets; land reforms; political development; political economy of development