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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Davide Torsello


Understanding the complex realm of corruption in public administration is an effort that needs different and multiple methodological approaches which include quantitative and empirically grounded qualitative analyses. This volume has taken the second approach, of looking at corruption qualitatively, with the eyes of those who, in the eight countries that form our objects of research, encounter issues of integrity and corruption in their everyday work tasks and lives. The ethnographic approach in which this volume is grounded is not absolutely new in the field of corruption research, as pointed out in the introductory chapter to the book. What constitutes the real novelty of this work is the common focus that the authors of each chapter share on public administration environments in all the case studies. To our knowledge, this is the first time that a book on corruption assumes such a research scope. Making use of ethnographic methodology has not been a simple endeavor, as the complexity and richness of quotations from respondents in the text suggest. Unlike the “classical” understanding of ethnography, this book does not stem mainly from participant observation analyses of corruption practices in the countries that are our objects of research. This would have been impossible and, as stated in the introduction, deontologically problematic. This book demonstrates that the analysis of socially and culturally informed impressions, knowledge and processes of decision-making with regards to ethics and integrity in the public sector can bring a new perspective to the study of this phenomenon. Decades of anthropological work on the interpretation of cultures have demonstrated that the researcher may penetrate only to a level of investigation of people’s cognitive constructions of what matters and what does not, on how things should be, how they should not be, and how they eventually are perceived to be. The interviews and focus groups which have provided data for this volume have been aimed at penetrating into this cognitive and cultural realm through the lens of the phenomenon of corruption.

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