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Class-based Society

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Class-based society carves out two main issues: first, social reality always produces messy and fuzzy connections between parochial and market corruption, or rather: between parochial and market processes of articulation and integration. Second, the question of the impact of corruption on regional stability depends on the relationship of the predominant forms of corruption with prevailing social structures. Scott’s premise is that the closer the ‘fit’ is between corruption and existing social structures, the less politically disruptive such corruption is (e.g. ethnic-based corruption is less disruptive in an ethnically organized society than in a class-based society). The hypothesis is plausible in that ‘fits’ between social structures and ‘corrupt’ practices narrow down the fields of social struggles and potentially increase the potential of connecting actors and discourses. However, with the benefit of hindsight, this assumption that certain social structures fit neatly and functionally with corruption has been rendered downright cynical. In the intermittent forty years, a plethora of fundamentally disrupting and destructive conflicts in this world has been a product of precisely this close ‘fit’ between social structures and corrupt practices. Instead of leading to a stable integration in the system, such a ‘fit’ has lead to violent politics of exclusion and particularism. One of the first scholars to be at odds with this functional view of corruption is Myrdal (1968). He carves out the destabilizing force of corrupt practices, especially in countries undergoing fundamental socio-economic transformations. His initial observation is that in developing countries in general, ‘corruption’ has become a political resource: governments lose elections over allegations of corruption, political parties win seats on an anti-corruption ticket, and, more seriously, regimes are toppled and coups are justified with the promise of eradicating corruption.

Although Myrdal chooses a different approach to Huntington by using the ‘folklore’, i.e. popular perception of corruption, as an analytical point of departure, he comes to similar conclusions with regard to the causes of corruption in developing countries. However, he places more emphasis on the nexus between cultural factors and economic necessities. In particular, the ‘plural societies’ of South Asian countries are characterized by the “fragmentation of loyalties and, in particular, little loyalty to the community as a whole, whether on the local or the national level” (Myrdal 1968). Hence, they are historically predisposed to express more loyalty to less inclusive communities (such as family, caste, or ethnic and religious groups). Modernization and the concomitant emancipation from such ascriptive loyalties and dependencies have the potential to fundamentally revolutionize static social structures. However, setting these social practices into the context of a fraught economy, i.e. inexistent, imperfect or fragmented market of goods and services, the socio-economic environment is such that the ensuing economic behavior cannot be solely guided by ‘emancipatory’ calculations.


As Myrdal elaborates, ‘connections’ must fill the gap. These ‘connections’ range all the way from the absolute dependence of attached labor in agriculture and the peasants’ relations with moneylenders and landlords, which are determined by custom and power, to the special considerations that lead to nepotism even in big business. In such a setting a bribe to a person holding a public position is not clearly differentiated from the ‘gifts’, tributes, and other burdens sanctioned in traditional, pre-capitalist society or the special obligations attached to a favor given at any social level (Myrdal 1968).

This description illustrates a key feature of corruption, operating not within dominant legal-rational boundaries, but in permeable arenas framed by diverse exchange rationalities and varying degrees and types of coercion.

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