New paper I like: The ethnography of corruption. Research themes in political anthropology

Today just a short post to share Davide Torsello's interesting paper on 'The ethnography of corruption: research themes in political anthropology' with you. I came accross a link to the paper on the very readable website/blog of the Anti-Corruption Research Network.The premise for his review is the lack of anthropological contributions to the corruption debate:
One striking feature of the booming literature on corruption in the social sciences is the comparatively weak role played by anthropology. A recent World Bank review notices that anthropological studies dealing with corruption cover about 2% of the relevant scientific literature. The reasons for this “silence” can be investigated trough a multidimensional attention to the methodological, empirical and theoretical positions of the discipline.
This is an academic paper (euphemism for being a bit dry to read at some points ;), but the range of resources to capture the multi-dimensionality of the topic and the anthropological contributions is quite impressive.  I particularly enjoyed the final paragraphs on 'The power of words' where Torsello engages with the discursive dimension of corruption:

Speaking about corruption is good, for two reasons. One is that this is a type of social practice that may contribute to build emotional ties of belonging, sharing and common identity. The same force of conviviality that ethnographers attribute to different forms of social interaction is sometimes observed in the case of corruption talk. Corruption talk, however, as some anthropologists have pointed out, have another important goal, that of permitting access to information. Corruption is about the management of information, about whom to bribe, how to bribe and at what extent (the amount of bribery). Only those who gain access to these information are able to get better deals out of common practices. This fundamental problem is not resolved out of the blue, but it needs a constant negotiation and time-consuming interaction among clients or those who are in the position of paying bribes (pp.18-19).
It is also worthwhile to point that corruption and political goals are intertwined when one applies an ethnographic-discursive approach:

Another aim of the discursive practices of corruption is to raise public awareness, which can be used for particular (political) goals. I have already mentioned the use of corruption in political campaigns, another aspect is the link of corruption discourses with civil society building (p.19).

Torsello concludes that more inter- and multidisciplinary research needs to be done (of course ;)!) and that ethnographic approaches can shed valuable light on the phenomenon of corruption:

One possible way to avoid reducing corruption to a black-box definition in the coming future is to analyze those practices that accompany the spread of corruption, such as gift and informal exchanges, as well as the strategic use of corruption talk in the light of the policy and power implications that the anti-corruption struggles require worldwide (p.20).

In case you are interested in political ethnography more generally, I can highly recommend Edward Schatz' book 'Political ethnography. What immersion contributes to the study of power' which offers a range of methodological and fieldwork insights and somehow escaped Torsello's critical eye.


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