Bribery in Preindustrial Societies: Understanding the Universalism-Particularism Puzzle

This paper investigates how ideas and sociocultural preferences with regard to “public” versus “private” spheres can account for bribery and corruption. An improved understanding of corruption in terms of differences among cultures concerning which goods are considered private or public not only can have new and unexpected implications for a general theory on this phenomenon, but more significantly it can provide insights into the high level of variation among societies. The methodology used in this research is a quantitative analysis of ethnographic data collected from the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) which explores the relationship between economic subsistence and bribery. The ways in which bribery is understood in different cultures relate not to different moral understandings of the problem of corruption, but rather to how different societies value the difference between private and public goods and the convertibility or blurring of goods belonging to the public and private spheres.

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