The ethnographic study of corruption

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Transcript The ethnographic study of corruption

The ethnographic study of corruption:
ethical, methodological and analytical
Davide Torsello
1. Integrity and corruption defined
2. The “silence” of anthropology
3. Ethical and epistemic issues
4. Research fields
5. Methodological issues, ANTICORRP
 6. Conclusions: interdisciplinary synergies
1. Integrity and Corruption: definitions
“The steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical
code” (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language )
“The abuse of public office for private or exclusive
gain” (World Bank, with addition)
Underlying principles (manifest)
 Moral (factual, purpose oriented, emic, mores, customs)
 Ethical (general, etic, ethos, character, credibility in
Aristotle’s Rhetoric)
 Code (systematic collection of regulations and laws)
 Public office
 Private gain
 Exclusiveness (not allowing something/somebody else)
Underlying principles (hidden)
 Steadfast: stead (position/to be of advantage to) + fast
(characterized by lack of moral conventions)
 Moral: from factual, emic observation: Is that a universal
 Code: a system of symbols having certain arbitrary meanings.
Is there any form of relativism?
 Public/private: Are these categories clearly definable in any
culture/social context?
 Exclusive: ..mechanisms define boundaries that exclude and
Problems with (claims of):
Determination of group boundaries
Determination of roles
And with: gain: rationality?
2. The “silence” of anthropology
 Less than 2% of literature on corruption is based on
ethnographic research.
 After Scott (1972) the next volume on corruption is in
 So far 9 books in anthropology deal explicitly with
corruption (4 monographs)
 Journal publications are scattered, very few articles focus
on corruption/integrity only
3. Ethical issues
 Ethnographic data expose “informants”
 It is difficult to start a field research on corruption as
main topic (interpersonal trust)
 Are second-hand data reliable?
 Imposition of a moral judgment on local people by
the researcher
 How to observe corrupt deeds?
3. Epistemic issues
Eurocentrism of the notion
Public-private division is often arbitrary
Relativism of moral claims
Legal codes are pluralistic and dynamic
Ethnographic research unveils grey areas, are existing
models fit enough for them?
 If corruption is a cultural phenomenon, then how to
avoid essentializations?
4. Research fields
The state
Regulating weak or capturing agent?
Governmentality legitimized by corruption
Unease to deal with the dichotomy legality/illegality
Corruption as discursive form of empowerment
 Conflicting, overlapping, polysemic moralities
 The ethos argument is about excessive
 Morality is a social construct, mediated, negotiated
and interpreted differently
 Trust, moral economy generated by face-to-face
Types of corruption
 Petty instead of grand corruption
 Corruption as processual force (development, EU
enlargement, post-colonialism)
 Corruption as social exchange (blat, guanxi, kone)
 Integrity and the economic crisis
 Refuse culturalistic approaches: tendency
towards particularism
 Yet: universal appeal of corruption
 History, comparison can substantiate culture
 Can corruption perception be usefully
measured through cultural indicators?
Corruption and power as discourses
Increase public awareness (media and third sector)
Foster political and collective action
Lower transaction costs
Excessive corruption talk brings cynicism, it is
instrumentalized, but citizens exchange informations
5. Methodology (strenghts)
 Ethnographic research explores ground-level
practices and discourses
 Winning trust may lead to disclosing of information
and true opinions
 Interviews allow direct interaction with key
 Participant observation allows to test possible gaps
between ideas and practice
 Complemented with other disciplinary analyses can
offer a good balance of qualitative-quantitative data
Methodology (weaknesses)
 Uneasy balance particularism/universalism
 Caution to denounce “informants” may hamper the
success of field research
 Excessive weight on discursive aspects is of little
interdisciplinary contribution
 Too little emphasis on measurement and impacts on
ANTICORRP Methodology
 Complexity of the task requires multiple research
 Difficulty to observe, attention on phenomena
that converge on integrity/corruption
 9 case studies treated comparatively, to a certain
 Methods include: participant observation,
interviews, focus groups, questionnaire survey
 Common set of research issues among countries
 One original research field per country:
business and local politics
public sector
party financing
public procurement, non-profit
donor agencies
health sector
health sector
Survey questionnaire
 Common, regular citizens
 Sections:
1. Personal data
2. Local institutions (important for
wellbeing, public officers, trust, quality of
3. Local issues (informal practices, bad practices,
who might help)
4. Social norms (gift, reciprocity, hospitality,
simulation stories, leadership)
5. Values (Cultural Theory)
6. Conclusion: Contributions from
 Integrity/corruption as complex notions which are neither
static nor universally equal in place
 Regulations and policies: do they express the particular needs
of a societal context?
 Volatility of markets, economic recession, state capture and
uncontrolled development facilitate opaque practices
 Less concern with culture and more with socio-political
 Discursive dimension may tell of the gap between practices
and ideas
 Study of values and social norms may help to understand the
persistence and spreading of corruption