ANT 391 • Behind the Stage and on Screen
9:30 AM-11:00 AM
The context for this semester was set by several incidents, foremost among which were the dramatic fraud and corruption scandals that rocked corporate America at the end of 2001 following the collapse of the U.S. energy corporation Enron. Outside of war, it is often argued that the greatest threat to democracy is corruption. Yet a cursory glance across the world today suggests that 'corruption' is rife and increasing - not only in so-called 'backward' developing countries, but also in the financial and political heartlands of advanced industrial societies, and in the various international bodies (UN, EU, WHO, UNESCO, OECD), that dominate the stage of modern global governance. Today, politics and society are by and large seen as arenas for contenion among groups and interests, rather than a set of coherent values. This has changed the view on corruption as well. The issue of fairness in politics now points to the rules of the game and not so much to fundamental moral values, goals, and issues. Social sciences have approached corruption broadly from two perspectives: the first approach is prevalent in the field of International Relations and is directed towards analyzing the system of formal rules and institutions with the aim to determine how and why elites are able to act for personal gain. IR scholars look at various factors, such as how the ruling elite is composed, what sorts of competition exists among the, and how accountable they are. The result is a set of correlations between certain factors and corruption, which form the basis for prescriptions against corruption.
The second approach is evolutionary and basic to a wide range of popular representations, from developmental politics, to popular media, and populist discourse. It adds corruption to the list of those negative characteristics which are applied to "the other", such as underdevelopment, uncivilization, poverty, repression of females, fundamentalism, fanatism, irrationality. Of course, "the others" are located outside civilized modern welfare states, and they are intrinsically caught in the webs of "their" culture. Anthropologists tend to view social relations from a more grounded, empirical and holistic perspective, one that is more sensitive to the informal rules and personal connections that govern everyday corrupt practices as well as narratives on corruption. In the seminar we investigate: How is corruption produced in the everyday practice in our field? Under what circumstances and by whom is behaviour regarded as corrupt? What does corruption mean in different contexts? When does the topic of corruption become relevant in social action/discourse? What are the methodological implications of conducting research on corruption, and how do we position ourselves within contemporary debates and scandals concerning financial improprieties and the ethics of public conduct? How are local and the global politics linked together through corruption and what functions do discourses on corruption and anti-corruption serve? Although the focus of the seminar will be corruption within Europe and the US, we will also discuss various forms of exchange, informal bonding and networking from all over the world for comparison, such as from India, Bolivia, Corea and postsocialist countries.