EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


The intimacy of corruption as a conundrum of governance: secrecy vs inflated rhetoric

Location M-340
Date and Start Time 01 August, 2014 at 09:00


Davide Torsello (Central European University) email
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Short Abstract

This panel explores ways how corruption engenders new forms of social interaction that cut across actors, tasks and roles. Corruption has its own degree of intimacy and secrecy. Increased popularization of the phenomenon at political and business level endangers this intimacy.

Long Abstract

The contribution of anthropology to the study of corruption is relatively exiguous in number, though rich in pointing to new avenues for research. For example, anthropologists have avoided to investigate corruption since its empirical study could harm their informants. The quality of the observation depends partly of the trust relationship built over time with one's informants, which obviously means to avoid putting them into danger. However, despite such constrains, anthropological work in this field has produced new perspectives, especially regarding: governance, the morality of corruption and public discourse.

This panel is aimed at raising new questions and providing answers on how corruption, its investigation and punishment, and the widespread public discourse about corruption engender new forms of social interaction that cut across actors, tasks and roles. Corruption has its own degree of intimacy as it often involves transactions marked by secrecy. On the other hand, increased popularization of the phenomenon at political and, increasingly, at business level endangers this intimacy.

We are interested in ethnographically-based papers that deal with the topics listed below:

- corruption and the state, imagined and factual relationships

- the rule of law in corruption mechanisms

- intimacy and secrecy

- cooperative behavior, trust and corrupt deals

- the imaginary of the anti-corruption industry

- the power of discourses inflating corruption.

Chair: Davide Torsello
Discussant: Italo Pardo

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Governing European Union funding through corruption control

Author: Roxana Bratu (European Studies (SSEES/UCL))  email

Short Abstract

This paper looks at the mechanisms of governing EU funding in Romania. It is based on 16 months of ethnographic material collected in 2008.

Long Abstract

Transnational anxieties regarding possible abuses of European Union (EU) financial interests in Romania put in place new control routines. The institutional design of EU funding control was sustained by the specialisation of the justice circuits based on the systematic association between corruption and protection of the financial interests of the EU. However, the transnational-led control framework clashed with vernacular work routines creating its own informality. The unanticipated consequences of the establishment of EU funding control are analysed through three paradoxes: the discursive power of EU funding, informality and the costs of compliance.

"Help me out, pay a bribe": contested interpretations of the instrumental use of personal relations in Ukrainian anti-corruption courts

Author: Taras Fedirko (University of Cambridge)  email

Short Abstract

Building on court records, my paper investigates in how officials incriminated with corruption in Ukrainian land bureaucracies pragmatically embrace legal and moral ambivalence of personal relations in order to negotiate favourable judicial knowledge about their personal involvement into bribery.

Long Abstract

Ethnographers of post-socialist societies often invoke "personal connections" as an explanation for how corruption works. Yet, as Humphrey (2012) has argued, there has been little interest to what these connections actually are, how people understand them, and how exactly they relate to corruption. My paper studies how officials incriminated with corruption in Ukrainian land bureaucracies pragmatically embrace legal and moral ambivalence of personal relations to negotiate favourable judicial knowledge about their involvement into bribery.

Interested in how knowledge about bribery and personal relations is constructed and deployed in Ukrainian anti-corruption courts, I study 20 official records from court hearings on bribery in the land sector bureaucracy in 2011. In Ukraine, the task of producing land title certificates to be exchanged for bribes necessitates extensive informal cooperation among officials in different institutions. To get things done, bribed bureaucrats mobilise networks of personal connections. Bribes thus rely on, and engender, a plethora of social relations within bureaucracies, but these relations — whatever their specific content — often lack forms recognisable to bureaucratic gaze. Facing court evidence of participation in corrupt networking, bureaucrats struggle to reinterpret their informal connections in terms of disinterested help, official relationships, or deny them altogether. More specifically, they draw on the ambivalence of different forms of personal relations in order to manipulate official categorisations of their actions.

The strategies of legal knowledge negotiation I study illuminate how people make use, and make sense, of different forms of social relations within the bureaucratic domain in Ukraine.

The threat of "corruptions": kinship versus friendship in the Czech NGO sector

Author: Hana Synkova (University of Pardubice)  email

Short Abstract

While kinship and friendship links tend to be defined as private networks that threaten to “corrupt” organizations, there is high acceptance of friendship links and frequent condemnation of “family business”. The paper describes class and ethnic (Czech/Romani) dynamics of this difference.

Long Abstract

In my paper I present the everyday practices of a Romani NGO, where the reality of "family business" is on the one hand celebrated as a specific intimate feature of organizational culture and on the other hand hid, as it presents problems for legitimacy of the NGO. Both real and fake mediatised accusations of misuse of funding by Romani organizations only aggravate the problematic character of kinship links. While family appears as the illegitimate model of NGO functioning (and one disappearing with processes of professionalization), the large friendship networks around mainstream organizations do not seem to be challenged. Paradoxically friendship networks can deliver similar degree of intimacy and trust between the close ones and at the same time their bigger flexibility and middle class character offers more professional opportunities to their members. The fact of using this specific type of intimate networking thus allows the members to avoid moral condemnation and labelling.

Cultural repertoires in a comparative perspective: a cognitive approach to corruption

Author: Drazen Cepic (New Europe College)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores a possibility of comparative approach in the anthropology of corruption, which is done with help of new cultural sociology and cognitive linguistics.

Long Abstract

The cultural embeddedness of corruption has long been established in the anthropological literature. The notions of conflicting moralities and moral economy of corruption have all sought explanation of this phenomenon in parallel sets of values which, contrary to formal institutions, provided justification for the given behavior. At the same time, however, the cultural explanation has often been treated with distrust due to the possibilities of over-simplification and unjustified generalization. In this paper I seek to show that this very same distrust represents a serious obstacle to a comparative study of corruption. Instead of examining variations between different geographical contexts, the scholarship on corruption nowadays contains only fragmented insight in its cultural variability. In order to address this issue I propose a comparative cultural analysis, striving to analyze national cultural differences, while, as Michele Lamont noticed, avoiding the traditional essentialist pitfalls of culturalism. As a way to examine competing orders of worth contained in national cultural repertoaires, I present a new analytical framework grounded in cognitivist approach to culture and language (prototype theory, idealized cognitive models). I aim to show that concepts developed in cognitive linguistics can be of great help in solving terminological confusion plaguing the anthropology of corruption. Finally, I will argue that a more formal approach represents a necessary step in achieving comparative perspective. Even though my paper provides primarily a theoretical contribution, it is grounded in the field research in Croatia and Austria which I conducted for my doctoral research on friendship and social inequalities.

Corruption discourses and practices as an instrument for dismantling the (social) state in contemporary Greece

Author: Urania Astrinaki (Panteion University)  email

Short Abstract

Corruption has constituted a mode of governance in Greece since late 80’s. Yet when the debt-crisis erupted, allegations of state-corruption were strategically instrumentalised, in order to manufacture consent, compliance or indifference towards the dismantling of social state and public goods.

Long Abstract

Although received ideas of corruption considered it as a dysfunction-malfunction of the modern state and/or discussed it in terms of legality/illegality and morality/immorality of social-political actors, recent approaches to both state and corruption (especially with a view to recent state transformations) have complicated these ideas. In line with these discussions, this paper will develop along two roughly temporal axes. I will attempt to show that corruption has constituted a mode of governance in Greece since the late 80's: although by far unequally practiced between political classes and the ruled, it has been peculiarly 'democratised', at least at a phanticised level, and widely accepted, tying thus rulers and large segments of the ruled in a tacit pact of mutual benefits that largely delegitimised the ideas of the social state and the public good. Yet when the so-called debt-crisis erupted in 2009, and the violent neoliberal 'restructuring' of the state (along with economy and society) was promoted as the 'remedy', allegations of state-corruption were mobilised by the same political classes that established it and were strategically instrumentalised, in a highly moralised discourse, in order to manufacture consent, compliance or at least indifference towards the actual dismantling of the already delegitimised social state and public goods, that were the real targets of this 'restructuring'.

The role of law and ethical values in re-defining corruption mechanisms in Italy

Author: Maria Giulia Pezzi (Gran Sasso Science Institute, Italy)  email

Short Abstract

The paper looks at the relationship between laws and collective behaviours. The "Severino" law, approved in Italy in 2012, has set within new frames the understanding of corruption mechanisms, as well as the definition of core concepts of the anti-corruption discourse, such as "prevention" and "transparency".

Long Abstract

In 2012 a new law in matter of transparency and anti-corruption has been approved in Italy. The law has set within new frames the understanding of corruption mechanisms, as well as the definition of core concepts of the anti-corruption discourse, such as "prevention" and "transparency". Moreover it has also re-defined the roles and tasks of actors and employees of the public sectors.

This paper looks at the relationship between the principles contained in the new legislation, the anti-corruption discourse (and rhetoric), trust and collective behaviours on multiple levels.

An accent is put on the consequent re-signification and rehabilitation of virtues and ethical values, and their practical and performative roles, in matter of prevention and awareness of the consequences caused by high levels of secrecy and informality in the administration of the "res publica".

The paper presents data collected during ethnographic fieldwork in the city of Monza, Northern Italy.

Performing transparency and generosity: managing conflicting ideals in Javanese local politics

Author: Heikki Wilenius (University of Helsinki)  email

Short Abstract

This presentation discusses how the ideal of transparency collides with the ideal of generosity in Javanese local politics. Depending on the context of political practice, the ideals can either remain contradictory or mediated partially. This is an ongoing moral dilemma for most politicians.

Long Abstract

A central challenge of political practice in Java is facing the contradiction between the ideal of transparent politics and the ideal of a generous community leader. This contradiction is rarely verbalized, but manifests itself differently in various contexts. This presentation discusses ways of reconciling and mediating between these ideals, based on data gathered during a year-long fieldwork that was conducted in 2013 and 2014.

A key theme in Reformation Era Indonesian politics (1998-) has been the opposition to corruption. In the lead-up to the general elections in 2014, it is the main campaign theme of most parties. One example of a practice that is seen as corrupt is how politicians gather support for themselves by paying their potential voters, or giving them gifts. However, these same practices, depending on their context, can also be regarded as adhering to traditional values of hospitality and generosity.

When looking at campaigning at the grass roots level, the challenge of candidates is how to embrace the ideal of abstract and transparent politics, while on the other hand fulfilling an ideal of a community leader who concretely gives back to the community and is genuinely taking care of its interests.

This presentation analyzes this contradiction, discussing how it is negotiated in electoral committee meetings, how the candidates draw the moral boundary personally, and how the contradiction is mediated in practice during campaigning.

The Andaman nude video case: India's newspaper boom, media coverage on corruption and everyday office practice

Author: Markus Schleiter (University of Münster)  email

Short Abstract

In the paper I will (exemplarily) scrutinize how reports on the Andaman video case have impacted on everyday administrative affairs and forms of corruption within Indian governmental offices; and by doing so, hint at unintended results produced by the tremendously increasing news coverage on corruption.

Long Abstract

In January 2012, investigative reports on the existence of an illicit nude video of "indigenous" women shot by tourists, and the subsequent probe of officials' liability, hit the headlines in India for about four weeks. A police officer, on duty to protect the "indigenous" Jarawa people, took a bribe from a tour operator and eventually instructed the Jarawa women to dance bear-breasted. The outlook of the news coverage on the incident reflects an on-going trend towards news infotainment in India, which is part of the present newspaper boom there - namely, an immense increase of ad remunerations as well as of newspaper circulation.

On the basis of participant observation I will analize in this paper how the Andaman's news event became embedded in the setting of governmental offices. In detail, I will show that everyday office life in India has been characterized by a prevalence of administrative supervision, which, however, conflates with the even-handedly presence of deviations. As a consequence, I regard secrecy and intimacy as essential parts of performing corruption. During reports on the Andaman case, however, the backdrop of an everyday maintenance of intimacy altered and resulted in a shift of strategies, for example practices of seclusion have emerged and have restrained administrative access for "indigenous" people. I will consequently argue, that the inflating of news coverage on corruption in India - against its possibly well-meant pedagogic intentions - has paradoxically become part of and sustains new forms of negotiating corruption.

Negotiated moralities behind informal payments: gift or bribe

Author: Bori Fernezelyi (Central European University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper challenges the corruption-gratitude dichotomy that separates the international and local discourse on informal payments in health care, arguing that the multiple moralities operating behind the system can explain not only the individual’s but also the state’s relationship to the phenomenon.

Long Abstract

Informal payments in the health care system of the postcommunist states are subjected to a constant dichotomy, while the international corruption discourse lay claim, arguing it is just another form of the abuse of public office for private gain, the local public and politics often interpret it as a recognized form of social interaction. It is especially the case in Hungary, where the term for the phenomenon [hálapénz] translates as gratitude money has a positive connotation and where 52 % of the health care consumers have rather positive attitude toward it and do not consider it as a form of corruption (Baji et al. 2013). Based on an ethnographic study on informal payments in the Hungarian health system between 2012-2013, I argue that multiple moralities lay behind the informal payment relationship. The negotiation between these moralities has a profound effect on not only the individual stand toward the system, but also on the state's relationship to this form of corruption.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.