Corruption: expanding the focus

A number of concerns about current work on the issue of corruption, and especially with the ‘thinness’ of modern academic and public policy accounts of the issue, have been raised. Just as empirical studies of democracy draw on a minimalist, Schumpeterian conception of democracy so too recent empirical research on corruption tends to work with a thin, proceduralist approach. Corruption tends to be seen either as a matter of improper conduct with damaging economic effects or, somewhat more generally, as illegal activity on the part of elected or appointed officials in the course of their public employment. The World Bank and international aid agencies tend to favour the first while public regulatory bodies, like the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), tend to favour the second. Such definitions, and the discussions based upon them, ignore the rich tradition of political thought (in the West and in other parts of the world) which sees corruption rather as a disease of the body politic. As a result, broader questions such as the ability of citizens to participate in public and political life and related issues such as the health of the body politic have dropped out of the vocabulary of those who work on the issue of corruption.

A related concern is that, while the notion of corruption necessarily involves a normative claim, many studies distinguish between normative and institutional aspects of the problem and then focus largely on the latter. The normative issues are generally acknowledged, but they receive only limited attention in the literature. The result, in the view of the Convenors, is that there is a significant disjunction between popular concerns about corruption – which can be found in all contemporary societies – and the treatment of the problem both by academics and by regulatory agencies. One aim of the workshop: to clarify the reasons for this disjunction and to explore ways in which it might be remedied.

The workshop will furthermore examine the limitations, and the strengths, of influential contemporary perspectives on corruption and explore ways in which the debate could be broadened. To this end, the workshop will bring together scholars who have worked on corruption and related issues from a range of disciplinary perspectives.

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