Democratization and corruption: the state of the art

This chapter critically discusses the main contributions of the literature on the relationship between democratization and corruption, focusing on the perspective of how the former is expected to affect the latter and highlighting the different hypotheses and empirical findings presented by the most relevant and recent scholarly work in this line of research. Additionally, the discussion introduced here refers to a number of conceptual issues that remain obscure in the existing literature, with regards to the concept of both corruption and democratization, but at the same time stressing the gaps related to the latter, as to complement other contributions of the report that more thoroughly explore different conceptual approaches to corruption.

The literature surveyed and the analysis presented in the text illustrates some of the central issues of interest raised throughout the report. Firstly, the branch of the literature reviewed in the main part of this section of the report is similarly concerned with the issue of comparability in the study of corruption. The impact of democratization on corruption is most often analyzed from a cross-national comparative perspective in the recent literature, and a universal concept of corruption is an essential foundation for studies of this nature. This is also an important matter for the less ubiquitous in-depth single-country studies examining the effects of democratization on corruption over longer periods of time, which have their contribution to the accumulated knowledge on this topic much potentialized by the possibility of later comparison with similar studies in other countries and contexts. Therefore, with regards to the discussion contrasting universal and relativistic perspectives on corruption, the topics addressed by this section of the report make a strong case for the former.

At the same time, it becomes clear that the study of the relationship between democratization and corruption is much negatively affected by the blurred boundaries between the two concepts and by their mutual normative character. In fact, the normative perspective argued for in this report with regards to the concept of corruption has great impact on the analysis of how democratization and corruption are associated, given that part of the normative foundation attributed to corruption is similarly linked to democratization (or democracy) in some of its broadest conceptions. In this discussion, the distinction between access to and exercise of power evoked in the report and in the literature reviewed may offer useful categories for a conceptual strategy allowing for a clearer distinction between the two concepts. In this case, a more restricted view of democratization stressing its dimension of how access to power is conducted becomes more easily compatible with a view of corruption centered on the violation of the principle of impartiality in the exercise of power, for the purpose of analyzing hypothesized causal relationships between the two. Another possible approach that this section of the report raises refers to a more fragmented understanding of democratization that focuses on how its different dimensions may affect corruption through distinct concrete institutional mechanisms. These and other alternatives providing for a clearer conceptual separation between these two phenomena should be explored in future research in order to avoid some of the conceptual pitfalls that have been identified in the existing research on their relationship.

The stream of research reviewed in this part of the report is also closely related to part of the empirical work conducted as part of the ANTICORRP project, in particular in WP 3 (Corruption and governance improvement in global and continental perspectives). As is the case of that Work Package, the literature surveyed here embodies research questions ultimately related to a central puzzle of interest in corruption research, namely the determinants of this phenomenon. In WP3, this subject is comprehensively addressed from a global comparative perspective and with selected case studies seeking to explain successful experiences in reducing corruption, in which the democratic development of each country is also considered as a potentially strong explanatory factor.

Tags: , , ,