In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

27 The problems that result from public officials’ participation in corruption , and allegations of such problems, plague emerging and established governments. It is easy to deplore the existence of corruption; it is far more difficult to determine what corruption truly is and why we deplore it as a social and political evil. For those who are actively involved in fighting corruption, an in-depth examination of what appears to be a definitional question might seem to be a misplaced effort. Obviously, the definition of corruption is important in the shaping of legal prohibitions and controls. In addition, there are issues of cultural relativity in one’s understanding of corruption—for instance, one man’s bribe may be another man’s gift.1 However, as those on the front lines of corruption-fighting efforts rightly point out, there are many acts that are universally condemned as corrupt. For instance, as Noonan famously observes, “Not a country in the world . . . does not treat bribery [somehow defined] as criminal on its law books.”2 If there is overwhelming agreement that bribery, the illegal skimming of profits, and bid-rigging are corrupt acts, what more—in a general sense—can be gained from an examination of this definitional issue? This chapter examines the conceptions of corruption that are usually found in the academic and operational literature and explores the issues that these findings raise. I argue that these conceptions, although useful, fail to capture significant and substantial aspects of prevailing beliefs about what corruption is. Furthermore, I argue that what is missing from these theories—in particular, the conviction that corruption is a moral evil—has distinct implications for the identification and control of this governmentally and societally destructive phenomenon. 2 Defining Corruption: Implications for Action laura s. underkuffler 02 0328-0 ch2.qxd 7/15/09 3:43 PM Page 27 28 Laura S. Underkuffler Understanding Corruption: Mainstream Theories Corruption, as an idea in politics and government, has been the subject of extensive academic analysis and commentary. For many years, political scientists , sociologists, and legal academicians have generally assumed a particular understanding of corruption and proceeded to study its causes, effects, and methods of prevention. Corruption, for instance, has been assumed to be bribery and like acts, with little attention given to the precise contours of this idea or what the use of this idea added to the simple list of prohibited acts. In the 1970s and 1980s, this approach changed and more sophisticated analyses began to appear. This change was fueled by developments that were internal and external to the academic field. Political scientists such as Robert Klitgaard and economists such as Bruce Benson and John Baden began to focus on the nature of corruption as critical to how we envision corruption and whether it operates as a positive or destructive social force. Legal academicians , prodded by a general movement toward the merger of law with other disciplines, were no longer satisfied with the curt simplicity of statutory or other legal definitions. In addition, because of the importance of corruption and allegations of corruption in national and international politics and governance , additional attention to the core concept was inevitable. A uniform understanding of corruption has not emerged from these academic efforts. Although there is a popular understanding of corruption that is shared by politicians, journalists, and “the man on the street,” academic theorists have advanced a multiplicity of meanings, with more or less scrutiny or explicit understanding of the underlying idea. There are, however, several approaches that are dominant in theorists’work and that can be readily identified . In the following discussion I consider these theories and their ability to capture what, in “corruption,” we believe to be at stake. Corruption as the Violation of Law As Scott’s classic work begins, “Corruption, we would all agree, involves a deviation from certain standards of behavior. The first question which arises is: what criteria shall we use to establish these standards?”3 If public corruption is the concern, perhaps the most obvious place to start is this: corruption involves a violation of law. This understanding is based upon a common-sense observation. When one thinks about corruption by government actors, one tends to think of crimes such as bribery, fraud, extortion, embezzlement, kickbacks on public contracts, and so on. There seems to be a strong correlation between what one 02 0328-0 ch2.qxd 7/15/09 3:43 PM Page 28 believes to be illegal acts and what one believes to be...


Additional Information

MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.