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Problems in the analysis of political corruption

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Hay, PR (1976) Problems in the analysis of political corruption. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

A number of recurrent problems have plagued attempts to
render political corruption amenable to academic study. The problem
which is most readily tackled concerns the identification of those
factors which are conducive to high rates of corruption. These
factors may be discovered through analysis of historical periods
during which corruption was apparently rife, or from investigation
of contemporary conditions in the Third World, where high levels of
corruption reputedly exist. Yet it may be that any such investigation
is premature, for it presumes the existence of a shared
agreement on what activities are to be classed as corrupt. Clearly
no such consensus exists, for one of the most perennial problems of
the study of political corruption centres around whether there is a
fixed universally-applicable standard of public ethics, or whether
the term “corruption” specifies different activities in different
circumstances. It is here argued that corruption does not refer
to a standardized set of activities, but is a term imparting
quality of moral condemnation to certain practices and different
practices will be condemned in different cultural circumstances.
Yet the debate is less clear-cut than this, for protagonists of each
position have tended to adopt stances which are rather more inflexible
and extreme than is warranted. In theory, the champions of the
cultural relativity of corruption are certainly correct, but in
practice they ignore the substantial similarity between conceptions
of public ethics; a congruence which relegates most difference to those activities generally located on the fringes of public morality.
A similar tendency to gravitate to extremes is to be found in the
debate concerning the effects of corruption on the well-being of
the political system, where those who hold that such effects must
always be dysfunctional are in fundamental disagreement with those
who perceive corruption as capable of conferring benefits upon the
system in which it occurs. It is held here that no general law
governs the relationship between corruption and its political effects,
and whether the results of corruption are ultimately beneficial or
dysfunctional must be determined in each separate instance. In
theory then, the position of those who are here designated. as
“functionalists" is closest to reality, though in accordance with
the black/white syndrome which is also evident in this debate, they
have grossly overestimated the degree to which it plays a positive
role in political and economic development, Examination of the
role played by corruption in violent physical change and, less dramatically,
electoral change, further suggests the absence of any
general rule concerning the political effect of corruption, though
it is unlikely to ever be a prime mover of change. The fourth oft-discussed
problem is the operational one of rendering political
corruption amenable to comparative study. As it is here argued that
corruption wears different clothes in different cultural circumstances,
any attempt to find an objective standard of corruption is
doomed to failure. Comparative analysis is not thereby rendered
impossible, however, for the broad similarity between systems of
public ethics means inter-cultural differences will be marginal
rather than pivotal. To prepare the subject for analysis the ethical status of fringe activities must be first ascertained;
an onerous task, but one much less laborious than those who have
been moved to seek an objective standard of political corruption
believe. To demonstrate how this task may be undertaken, two fringe
activities in the Australian political context are examined.
Finally, note is made of a number of problem areas in the study of
political corruption which have not yet been accorded the attention
which they deserve.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
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Date Deposited: 12 Feb 2013 03:42
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2017 01:06
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