Veranstaltungen: Dokumentation


Panel I: Corruption – less than clearly defined? Theories of corruption and their applicability

IRRESISTIBLE? A symposium on the phenomenon of CORRUPTION

Saturday, 17 June 2017, 9.30-11.00

PDF-Icon Panel I german

Andreas Bågenholm (University of Gothenburg, Sweden)
Jens Ivo Engels (Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany)
Davide Torsello (Central European University, Hungary)
Moderator: Florian Kührer-Wielach (IKGS, Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich, Germany)

Audio-Record: Panel 1: Corruption - less than clearly defined? Theories of corruption and their applicability; June 17, 2017 (© 2017 Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung)

"Society cannot function without corruption?" The introductory panel of the symposium took on the challenge of tracing the emergence of corruption, drawing on theories, criteria and definitions for that purpose. Representing different disciplines, the scientists invited to the panel generated a range of general questions that were to be taken up in various subsequent discussions and conversations.

The history of corruption

Jens Ivo Engels represented a historian on the panel whose research is predominantly focused on the history of corruption. To him, corruption is a relative concept, as what is classed as corruption today may not always have been considered such and vice versa. Corruption in the sense of the symposium is thus a modern phenomenon, based on the historically relatively recent separation of the private and public sphere. He particularly warned of a “guilty fight against corruption” that conceals other political motives. For example, the fascist dictatorships of the 1920s came to power by levelling corruption allegations against established politicians. The anti-corruption struggle is therefore not always honest and unobjectionable.
IRRESISTIBLE? – A symposium on the phenomenon of corruption - Panel IIRRESISTIBLE? – A symposium on the phenomenon of corruption (© bpb/Dorothea Tuch)

Could society not learn from this particular history at least? According to Ivo Engels, there is no simple answer to this question as the fight against corruption cannot be “learned” in a classical sense. With a view to history, however, it is possible to reflect on which political instruments are more or less helpful in fighting corruption.

Corruption and democracy

Andreas Bågenholm represented the political science perspective on the panel. Based in Gothenburg, the Swedish political scientist’s research mainly focuses on the influence of corruption scandals on democratic voting behaviour.
IRRESISTIBLE? – A symposium on the phenomenon of corruption - Panel IIRRESISTIBLE? – A symposium on the phenomenon of corruption (© bpb/Dorothea Tuch)
An important aspect is that corruption represents a danger to democracy. Current research shows that voter turnout is much lower in countries permeated by corruption. Voter turnout increases as soon as a party takes up the issue of corruption and uses it in its election campaign, although election results for that party do not hugely improve as a result. An interesting aspect is that voters on the extreme margins of the political spectrum are more tolerant of corruption because their political choices are much more limited, compared to centre-oriented voters who have more choice with respect to their political orientation.

Numerous follow-on discussions also resulted from Bågenholm’s exploration of the link between gender and corruption. He presented globally measurable empirical evidence that shows women as significantly less tolerant of political corruption scandals.

The third scientist to be welcomed by moderator Florian Kührer-Wielach was anthropologist Davide Torsello of Budapest Central European University. He raised a number of points that were referred to time and again during the conference. One question that proved particularly relevant is whether "corruption is part of the culture of the respective country". To illustrate the complexity of the cultural contingency issue, he explained that some countries consider it polite to give presents to state-employed physicians after successful therapy.
IRRESISTIBLE? – A symposium on the phenomenon of corruption - Panel IIRRESISTIBLE? – A symposium on the phenomenon of corruption (© bpb/Dorothea Tuch)
According to common definitions of corruption, however, this same act constitutes bribery of state employees. At the same time, corruption has been present everywhere and at all times throughout history, contradicting the local contingency concept and making corruption a "universal phenomenon".

The subsequent discussion between the panellists highlighted considerable differences with respect to the need for a uniform definition of "corruption". According to Andreas Bågenholm, the discussion on corruption should not be restricted to small groups, but take place actively within many areas in society. Otherwise, the discussion can become easy prey for populists or a convenient means for autocrats to bully unwelcome opponents. A lively plenary discussion brought the panel to a close. This particularly addressed practical approaches for fighting corruption. The overall focus of the discussion was also queried which according to some participants had concentrated too much on the supposedly lower level of corruption in Scandinavia. The speakers emphasised the need for “zero tolerance politics” as corruption proliferates unless it is actively countered.

The summary emphasised that "morals alone will not change society". With corruption a strongly moral term, functioning practical approaches need to be applied in order to fight different forms of corruption.

Summary: Christoph Velling

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