Reviewed by: Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: The Political
Secondary Theme: Citizenship
Over the past two decades, corruption has become a topic of acute concern in polities across the globe. Indeed, the prominence of the problem of corruption is a point of commonality in otherwise disparate and seemingly unrelated locales. Of course, which forms of corruption trouble the public conscience varies considerably from place to place. What is more, the term itself is referentially vague. However, far from being liabilities, these ambiguities have been crucial to the global circulation and varied local appropriations of the concept.
This roundtable interrogates corruption as an emergent problematic, the visibility of which needs to be accounted for in historically and socially specific ways. Toward that end, we ask, What about the contemporary moment makes corruption such an obvious and concerning problem to so many people in such different contexts? We approach that question by exploring the salience of corruption in authoritarian and nationalist movements on the one hand and in globalizing processes of (neo)liberal governance on the other. In particular, we suggest that the heightened visibility of corruption may lie in the recently intensified dynamic between these modes of illiberal and liberal politics.
The roundtable participants approach this dynamic with perspectives rooted in long-term ethnographic fieldwork in a wide-ranging set of contexts and across various temporal and socio-geographic scales of analysis. Tidey’s research on village politicking in eastern Indonesia and Sharma’s work on urban and national-level politicking in Delhi, India both explore the double-binds and dead-ends that anxieties about corruption can produce for all sorts of political actors. Meanwhile, Musaraj’s work on the negotiation of licit and illicit economic practices in Albania and Cherkaev‘s analysis of Soviet and post-Soviet economic policies in Russia focus on the particularities of corruption within the long-term political, economic, ideological, and sociocultural legacies of socialism. Finally, Muir’s work on the the so-called “turn to the Left” and subsequent backlash across Latin America illuminates the role of corruption in region-wide political movements, while Shore’s work on the “Big Four” accountancy firms offers crucial insight into the paradoxes of anti-corruption initiatives in global corporate governance. Two discussants, Smart and di Leonardo, will engage with the presenters’ remarks with comments that draw on their own research in Hong Kong and the United States, respectively.