People's Newsroom

Social structures and Cultural codes

Existing social structures and cultural codes that permeate all spheres of society—‘traditional’ and ‘modern’; economic, social, and political—make the inclusion of citizens into the economic and political system a function of particular connections. The stability of such a social order, defined and glued together by particularistic loyalties, then becomes a function of the resources and power of one particular social group. This order explains the high incidence of ‘corruption’ or, better: boundary-crossing connections. Corruption is the means to access political and economic resources and is accorded a high premium, especially by those who are not part of the right network, those who are excluded. Of all the authors, Myrdal emphasizes the dark sides of such exclusionary socio-political relations most strongly, ranging from issues of dependence, marginalization, and social polarization, to the negative impact of corruption in terms of loss of legitimacy and waste of resources. In Myrdal’s view, the prevalence of corruption is a minefield for society, for it fosters political instability as well as more latent processes subverting the ideals of modernization an analysis that pre-empts the gist of many contemporary theories on politics, as will be discussed.

The key characteristics of corruption and the development of this early discourse are portrayed in distinct but interrelated ways. Firstly, all authors carefully trace the relationship between social, political, and economic order and the function that corruption takes on in terms of inclusion and assimilation into such spheres. Although they highlight different aspects, stressing political access, political integration, or political destabilization, respectively, they provide a multidimensional understanding of corruption in relationship echo Scott’s empirical postulate that “it is impossible to ascertain the effects of corruption on political integration, income distribution, or economic growth without first asking who benefits in what ways from what kinds of corruption” (Scott 1969). Secondly, they carve out that power, accumulation, and the exercise of violence are not regulated primarily by the rule of law; the rule of law merely features as one amongst alternative systems of social reference. The ‘state’, i.e. public institutions function in practice along different lines. One common feature of these early and seminal studies on political change is their emphasis on the prime importance of political office in developing states. The political office is the clearinghouse for status and prestige as well as for economic and political resources. Therefore, access to and control of the political center is synonymous with access to and control of the distribution of benefits, which is key to cementing political support. The state neither has the primacy over nor capability to implement the rules of public affairs nor what Bourdieu terms (in a neat twist of Weber’s much-quoted definition) the monopoly of legitimate symbolic violence (Bourdieu 1985), i.e. the authority to define and impose ‘official’ viewpoints. Insofar the state is institutionalized, the importance of ‘reciprocity’ becomes paramount as a means of securing and defining predictability. The uneven internalization of formal norms and political processes, and uncertainty about the sources of legitimacy and capacity of the system, lead to a situation in which power may exchange with status and material wealth so that short-run, concrete inducements serve to secure political cooperation and support.

The assumption shines through (maybe with the exception of Myrdal) that societies will move on from this phase to the next, rational-legal phase depending on the “process of industrialization as new economic arrangements take hold and provide new focuses of identification and loyalty” (Scott 1969). They all shared similar premises with regard to necessary processes of value-formation and social differentiation. Still, the analyzed dynamics and features of the political order in developing societies depict political institutions that are intimate—but unevenly and informally—embedded in society, economic opportunities that are framed by political offices, and social practices evolving and crystallizing within parochial as well as market norm systems.

Back to top button