Corruption in Public Administration
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Corruption in Public Administration

An Ethnographic Approach

Edited by Davide Torsello

Despite the growth in literature on political corruption, contributions from field research are still exiguous. This book provides a timely and much needed addition to current research, bridging the gap and providing an innovative approach to the study of corruption and integrity in public administration.
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Chapter 2: Culture, organizational change and the “bounded morality” in Hungarian public administration

Davide Torsello


This chapter deals with the analysis of ethnographic data on public administration cases in Hungary. The main focus is on the perception that public administrators have of challenges to integrity, how far these influence their daily tasks, the most relevant changes introduced at the government and policy levels, and the socio-cultural explanations that are most commonly given in relation to the issue of corruption in the country. I have chosen to deal with public administration in general for three reasons. First, understanding the everyday work of public administration in a country is a complex task which, starting with the study of the organisational structure and its dynamics and moving on to the changes introduced at the policy level, requires a nuanced and interdisciplinary approach. Nonetheless, I believe that through the innovative lens of the anthropological approach it is possible to investigate some of these features via a bottom-up perspective that looks at what administrators perceive to be the main challenges, their strengths and the changes in the field of integrity. Second, since corruption is a phenomenon that affects longitudinally all levels of a country’s public service (although to different degrees), I consider that information gathered from different sectors of the public administration and analysed comparatively may provide a multifaceted and dynamic picture of the phenomenon. Finally, and due to the overarching nature of corruption that covers any field in which the public sphere meets the private, it can be useful to understand what are the common risks and the diverse challenges that any of the sectors under investigation are determined by, in the exercise of the public office. The methodology of this research has followed two approaches. The first has been interviews conducted with 15 public administrators across different levels, but all of them located in the district of Budapest. The interviewed personnel belong to six administrative sectors: the Land Office, Health Control and Public Procurement, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, the Patent Office and the Labour Safety Office. The average age of those interviewed is low, in the range of 32–38 years. Seven of the interviewed are women. Three of them are directly involved with integrity management, and one has worked to draft the integrity measures described below. With the exception of one respondent, who did not give permission, all interviews have been audio-recorded; with the interviews averaging about 72 minutes’ duration. According to the preference of each interviewee, the potential questions were circulated beforehand or were shown at the time of the interview. Although the questions more or less were guidelines for addressing the key topics, the preferred option in all cases was for semi-structured interviews that left open space for discussion and the deepening of knowledge of particular topics that could be of interest.

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