Marie Curie Individual Fellowship

A Genealogy of Corruption.

The transition from the Old Regime to modern Europeanstates in the 18th and 19th centuries entailed atransformation in the meaning of “corruption”. While seen as a moral failurefrom Antiquity to the Early Modern period, with the separation of the publicand private domains in the 18th and 19th centuries,corruption came to be strictly defined as the abuse of public office. Untilnow, this particular transition has been studied only in Western and NorthernEurope and in North America, where the reduced level of administrativecorruption came to be seen as part and parcel of successful state-building.Although corruption in Southeastern Europe has received ample attention, it hasmostly been treated as a quasi-natural or culturally-determined characteristicof the region, and but rarely discussed as a problem which governments andsocieties in this region saw as a problem to be tackled. My project addressesthis problem by scrutinizing the emergence of the problem of administrativemalpractice in the long 18th century Wallachia. Based on archivaland published sources (judicial decisions, regulations, chronicles, traveloguesetc.), the project offers the first systematic study of the practices which canbe called corrupt, of the discourses about corruption and of the reaction ofcontemporaries to this phenomenon. The importance of the project lies inthrowing light on processes of modernization in Southeastern Europe prior tothe conscious adoption of the Western cultural and political model during the19th century. Additionally, it promises to contribute to the understandingof corruption by looking at a peripheral – in both economic and geo-politicalterms – region, instead of privileging the more successful examples – WestEuropean and North American – of transition from patrimonialism to accountablegovernment.

Mihai Olaru

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