28 September – 1 October 2022
Conference report for internal reflection
The purpose of the second workshop on Cres (Cres II) was twofold: to provide one more forum for our Ph.D. and postdoc researchers to discuss their work in a circle of experts, and to gather ideas for a follow-up project, since next year all funding (DFG, EU, Bayhost) for the Regensburg Corruption Cluster will end. While we invited fewer guests than last year (every researcher was allowed to invite 1-2 commentators based on his or her own needs and interests), in practice, the workshop was even smaller than scheduled, since Björn Hansen and Aram Simonyan had to cancel at the last minute, while Miloš Lecić had to stay at home due to the impending birth of his first child. Aram and Björn, however, took part via Zoom. This conference report does not provide a chronological account of the workshop but is divided instead into two parts: First, the general discussion; and second, the presentations and discussions on current empirical projects in the Regensburg Corruption Cluster.
The general discussion
The workshop began with Klaus Buchenau’s introductory talk on The future of corruption studies, in which he warned of dangerous developments for the humanities, such as a growing polarisation of the scientific community and of a new authoritarianism which may have an influence on academic life and work. For the future of corruption research, he hopes to see more bottom-up rather than top-down approaches, or as he put it: “to help a society to get rid of those phenomena it wants to get rid of”, rather than defining and globally fighting corruption according to conceptions of (Western) centres of power. He also recommended, in accord with Alena Ledeneva, diving more intensively into legal corruption and observing changes in anti-corruption and corruption studies provoked by the current crisis. As an advocate of more “leftist” and less “elitist” understandings of corruption, he is also critical of the dominant use of agency theory and recommends a turn towards a common good approach (i.e., corruption is not necessarily what a government or a CEO tries to curb as a “betrayal by its agents”, but what a society sees as a violation of justice).
In the ensuing discussion, Dubravka Stojanović shared Klaus’s pessimism, stressing that the current multiple crisis (climate, Corona, war) is deeply altering the role of corruption in politics and society, since corruption has come to be viewed as acceptable if it “achieves” something in a key struggle—we only need to look at the numerous Corona-related manipulations or corruption in the weapons industry. Part of this, Klaus replied, is rather legal corruption, i.e., big and powerful “problem-solving” industries now find it easier to remove barriers which limit their pursuit of their particular interests. Or in other words, they can now redefine their interests as the pursuit of a common good.
Jelena Budak asked for more concrete ideas on how to proceed, how to derive the new project from an analysis of the old one; for bullet points, and for defined roles foreach of us in a follow-up project. In such a distribution of tasks, Jelena would feel responsible for the field of policy advice.
Thomas Steger’s talk on The future of corruption studies from a Business & Management perspective contained two basic ideas: On the one hand, that times of crisis lower a society’s sensitivity to corruption, since in such moments, a society “has other problems”. This first facilitates open elite corruption (e.g. masks deals or extreme inroads of pharmaceutical lobbyism in Corona times), and then, as a kind of imitation, leads to mass corruption in the population (e.g., false medical certificates created to allow the untested and unvaccinated to participate in social life).
On the other hand, Thomas wanted to shed more light on the role of business than Klaus had. Particularly compliance rules may have a positive effect since they can help to protect the environment and social rights of workers. The role of non-financial reporting in Multinational Corporations (MNCs) is constantly increasing. And all this also influences smaller companies, for which the bigger ones serve as a role model.
Klaus, as could be expected, did not really buy into this optimism, since ever more compliance rules open the door to a de-differentiation between politics and economics and to new varieties of authoritarianism. Businesses become agents of politics and are forced to act as state-like controllers against their subcontractors.
When it comes to theories, Thomas was not content with Klaus’ tendency to limit the space of the desirable (Klaus’ preference for common good and bottom-up approaches) and stated that corruption is too complex to use just a narrow bundle of theories and methods. For Thomas, a multi-method approach is the right thing with no aprioristic theoretical limitations. This also means that the established principal agent theory must be maintained as one among several possible instruments.
A special unit at Cres II dealt with future cooperations/projects in Business, and our guest commentators Jelena Budak and Adnan Efendić were involved here. Jelena fears that corruption will no longer be an interesting topic for funding institutions, which will now focus on crisis management and interpretation: corruption might become a marginal issue. This opinion was not shared by everybody. Mihai Olaru does not see a problem in the probable reorientation of funding institutions towards research topics related to the current crisis. He considers that the issue of corruption can be linked to numerous research topics and to war (i.e., public expenditures motivated by war or various other urgent matters). Funding institutions will also be interested in new development indicators, sustainability, and digitalisation. We could try to connect to these new trends by proposing something on digitalisation + corruption, sustainability + corruption (i.e., how do people try to cheat or “egotistically interpret” the transformation agenda?/what about greenwashing?). Like others, Jelena is interested in corruption as a strategy to cope with crisis. Does corruption in times of crisis stabilise resilience?
Adnan Efendić would like to better understand the nexus between migration, informality, and corruption. This issue is interesting for migration research, said Klaus; he promised to ask Ger Duijzings (Professor of Anthropology at the University of Regensburg, with a focus on Southeastern Europe) whether he would like to connect his own migration research to the corruption-informality question. We might also try to involve Čarna Brković (proposed Klaus). She is a social anthropologist at U Göttingen, is a member of that university’s Center for Global Migration Studies, and has worked extensively on informality in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Dubravka Stojanović added that the historians’ key contribution to crisis is that they can foresee what happens after a crisis as well as what the consequences of typical crisis behavior and policies are. While Klaus lauded this argument, since for historians there is “nothing new under the sun”, so that we can always be generous and helpful for other disciplines ;- he also had an argument of his own: if crisis means de-differentiation of society (see the constant calls for “concerted actions”, solidarity, unity and so on), informality can be seen as a strategy to replace the lost differentiation of spheres, that is, an informal attempt to functionally replace civic liberties.
Cres II concluded with a Free discussion session, designed to sum up and to synthesise the impulses of the workshop. It was not so easy to derive a joint course or conception out of our discussions during the days on Cres; what we have now is rather a bundle of ideas. To start with Klaus: Thinking about a second phase of the Regensburg corruption cluster, he first deliberated that after having focused on scandals, and thus grand corruption in the first phase, the most logical thing to do would be to deal with petty corruption in the second one Especially since the historical and business parts of our work were centred on local logics and understandings from the beginning. The lower the level you look at, the more you can grasp the bottom-up aspect of the issue. For the historian, dealing with petty corruption is no more difficult than dealing with the grand one, only the sources may be different ones. The press or parliamentary debates would not be the main sources, but rather personal files of state institutions, political parties, or bigger enterprises.
In the discussion, Björn also alluded to petty corruption as a future research subject, with similar possibilities for data sharing as now exists between the subprojects of Miloš and Jovana. But Björn also mentioned other vectors, such as sociolinguistics (is the corruption vocabulary a part of standard or substandard varieties?), or to use big data to compare the corruption vocabulary in different countries. This would amount to “quantifying” the findings of the Global Informality Project via large web corpora. In conducting such an analysis, the linguists would, like Jovana in her current research, not only analyse the frequency of particular words, but also of word combinations. Björn presented his Sketch Engine analysis of Czech and Croatian web corpora showing that the verb “to bribe” is found mostly in combination with “judge” in Croatian, while in Czech the most frequent combination is with “[state] official”. Such phenomena may be analysed together with disciplines looking at society as such (sociology, anthropology, history) which may be better equipped to explain specific correlations. Björn also reminded us that the German Research Foundation (DFG) increasingly stresses that research data should be stored in open access formats to allow peers or later scholars to check our work and to use our data themselves.
In Klaus’ view, there are also some weighty arguments speaking against only focusing on petty corruption. In times of crisis, as has been mentioned several times throughout the workshop, other things (such as survival) become more important than corruption, and corruption itself acquires a different meaning. This is true for people living in times of crisis, and it is also true for the researcher himself, who is looking for something relevant to do. If the relevance criteria of his surroundings shift, so do his own (this is at least what Klaus feels). And then there is also Jelena’s justified fear that corruption studies may not survive the current turmoil unless they change and “prove” their relevance to society. As a convinced liberal, Klaus would not like to interpret this idea in the sense that our approach needs to “please” the Zeitgeist, but rather that this approach should enable us to say something solid and original which is interesting to the society we live in. He doubts that just turning from grand to petty corruption would be this kind of answer because it stems from a time when the world, including ourselves, was comparatively intact, possessed a seemingly uncontested normative order, and one could just go and analyse the various “exceptions” to this rule. Now, we are forced to leave the dichotomy between the normal and the exception, since everything is in flux. Our follow-up project should be able to grasp such a type of change; sticking to established juxtapositions such as grand vs. petty corruption might not be the right answer in this situation.
As mentioned in Klaus’ introductory talk, we are now living in times of war, of emerging new block divisions, and of a vanishing Western hegemony. It is a time of culture clashes transforming into military conflicts, or of power struggles camouflaged by value talk. Klaus thinks that our follow-up project must somehow fit into this new situation. In that sense, the concluding discussion contained several ideas which I will turn to now. Dubravka would like to align our future corruption research with the big issues which bother many European societies today, such as retraditionalisation, repatriarchialisation and the return of religion, which she sees as ways to cover up corruption, and which create new informalities which endanger modern democracies. One example for this would be the stricter abortion laws in countries such as Poland or the United States, which produce new informal practices to circumvent the changes. In my view, this new informality is not tied to retraditionalisation as such, but rather to authoritarian politics which leave little space for open contestation but make citizens “cheat” their state. This means which we gradually switch from corruption-as-greed to corruption-as-opposition—an interesting phenomenon, which could be, as Klaus had toadmit, analysed as an aspect of petty corruption.
An interesting way to transform the current crisis experience into empirical research would be to focus on the nexus between religion and corruption. As Dubravka correctly said, in most Eastern European societies, religion is a driving force on the conservative part of the great divide. Critical of “Western values”, which themselves are being overturned as we can see in the example of the many “illiberal liberals” pressing for intense top-down transformations of society, the religions are sources of how to think about corruption, and they are practical fields of corruption and informality. In this barely researched field, we find the ethical teachings of the religions; we can observe their “legal culture”, which differs from religion to religion, and even between the Christian churches. We find archetypal relationships, such as patronage by clerics, saints, prophets, or angels, which help in the communication between the individual and God. We can analyse practices within the church apparatus, between church and state, between clergy and believers. Here we have the church finances as a potential money laundering machine (see the relationship between oligarchs and religious communities), or the issue of blackmail against homosexual clergymen in a basically homophobic society. But you also have the religious roots of anticorruption, such as the decalogue or the negative arch-image of Judas, betraying Christ for thirty pieces of silver. And the corresponding counter-image of martyrdom, i.e., an ideal of being incorruptible by any promises for an easier life.
In short, the nexus religion-corruption opens interesting research perspectives and is, at the same time, close enough to the issues which torment the world in this time of crisis. Looking at religion allows one to find a stronger focus on bottom-up aspects, on petty corruption, and on common good understandings of corruption, since religions represent much more than just their hierarchical leadership. Religions are broadly present at the grassroots, represent populations western researchers frequently prefer not to see, and they are institutions which enjoy significant levels of authority and trust in “their” societies. To sum it up: they are relevant to what we are interested in.
In practice, and as a compromise solution if we cannot find a consensus on the general direction, a follow-up project could also be created from the “bottom up”, that is, beginning with subprojects which are then united under a common roof. Since we now all know each other quite well, it should not be too difficult to integrate when writing the subproject as we have smaller “bridges” to the other participants in the follow-up. Maybe at this point, it would make sense to just formulate some keywords to delimit our future work: bottom-up; crisis; corruption notions in divided societies; corruption in “cultural wars”; “corruption and religion”. One last thing to mention here is also the comparative approach between countries – this was not only an impulse from Björn, but also from Mihai, who asserted that for his Wallachian 18th century case, real comparative studies were lacking, so that a talk about similarities to and differences from, for instance, France, are mere intuition and speculation at the moment. Since the University of Regensburg also hosts the Leibniz Science Campus “Europe and America in a Modern World”, a desire to be more comparative could also lead us to a cooperation with that institution. Other such combinations could include having some of our activities (invitation of scholars, particularly) financed by our new VW grant “A small but fertile field: Strengthening Southeast European Studies in Regensburg”; or to integrate corruption into a planned grant application by Ger Duijzings and Klaus Buchenau on religious diaspora communities from Southeastern Europe in Germany.
Presentations of our empirical projects
The first to present was our postdoc Mihai Olaru with a report on his intermediary research results called Varieties of corruption in 18th century Wallachia. Mihai’s presentation clearly showed the development his research has gone through since Cres I – atthat first workshop, Mihai analysed changes in the legal framework and the motives behind it, i.e., to enhance state efficacy in extracting taxes. In this year’s talk, Mihai delved into corruption vocabulary and corrupt practices: transgressions of judges, tax collectors, clerks, police officers, border officials, the Bucharest city nightwatch, county administrations, and various non-state actors.
Mihai started by citing two interesting articles by US historical sociologist Mara Loveman on the failure of civil registration in 19th century Brazil, which are pretty much about the top-down/bottom-up problem. According to Loveman, Brasilian political elites wanted to force registration of births and deaths onto the people without dialogue, and ultimately failed in constructing modern institutions, precisely because of that lack of dialogue.
While Loveman’s work may be an interesting impulse for our follow-up project, it washard to see (at least for Klaus) what the connection to Mihai’s work really is. While Loveman writes about direct popular resistance against formalisation, Mihaidoes not mention explicit local struggles against the Phanariots’ reforms. Rather, his work seems to be about factual transgressions from the written norms, which might be seen as a form of tacit resistance, though such an argumentation is somewhat speculative.Can Mihai really trace a conflict between populace (where are the peasants in this account, the serfs?) and modernising elites in his source material, or is this material just on norm change on the one hand and on norm transgressions, on the other? Where is the perspective of the transgressors? Mihai Olaru in turn mentioned that he did not engage the empirical aspect of Mara Loveman’s studies. Her theory of the accumulation of symbolic power by modernising states was employed to show that corruption emerges in those areas of social reality in which the state extends at the expense of other social actors. Nevertheless, the problem of the resistance to the Phanariot princes’ reforms more generally and to their anti-corruption measures is a salient one. Mihai Olaru will tackle this issue in his research project starting from the few cases he has already encountered in the sources.
Mihai’s invited commentator Robert Bernsee introduced a comparative aspect. He asked Mihai about the differences between 18th-century Wallachia and Western states of the same time. Bernsee stated some factors of the “saddle period” (germ. Sattelzeit), namely the dynamisation of the public sphere through press and enlightened “early civil society”, embodied in freemasonry and academia. Was something of this “missing” in Wallachia? Klaus commented on this, stating some of the main differences. In Wallachia, modernisation came almost exclusively from above; there was widespread illiteracy, the cities were comparatively few and weak. Finally, there was serfdom and even forms of slavery – the social structure was thus not favorable for the creation of a vital civil society, meaning that the Phanariots could develop their formalisation and anti-corruption without a broader social dialogue, which the term “Sattelzeit” usually implies (indeed, this may be a parallel between Wallachia and Loveman’s studies on Brazil). And we must not forget: the Phanariot reforms were meant to organise a more effective exploitation by imperial rulers in remote Istanbul, meaning that the Phanariots’ general legitimacy was more than questionable.
In her presentation of two papers, our Ph.D. student Barbara Frey, started by giving an outline of her dissertation, which is a cumulative one with three papers altogether, one on Serbia and two on Croatia. In her talk, she introduced her two papers on Croatia. While one of them mirrors what she presented on Cres I on Serbia, a survey-based research on corruption and informality as perceived by owners and managers of small and medium-sized enterprises, her talk focused on her other Croatian paper No 3, which is completely different from No 1 and 2 – diachronic and interdisciplinary. Its co-author is Miloš Lecić, a history Ph.D. student, another member of the Regensburg corruption cluster. The paper, the draft of which is ready, deals with path dependency, that is, similarities and ties between corruption in socialist and post-socialist times, on a case study of two corruption scandals.
In the 60s and 70s, Ante Todorić ran the socialist food producer Agrokombinat like a private enterprise, but this was, due to his political ties, considered an “allowed deviation” until the Croatian spring, when Ante Todorić was sentenced to 13-year jail. His son Ivica opened a flower trading company in 1976, which then developed into an impressive conglomerate named Agrokor. In independent Croatia, Todorić Jr. amassed impressive wealth but in 2017, the general prosecutor warranted his arrest for falsification of balance sheets and delayed filing of insolvency. Though father and son pursued their business in very different institutional surroundings, Barbara and Miloš stress the path dependency – 1) a continual lack of separation between business and politics; 2) the presence of a “strong capable man” cult; 3) the subordination of institutions to the political apparatus; and 4) nationalism as a key justifier for cronyism and worker exploitation.
In the discussion, Adnan Efendić stressed that informal managerial ties can be inherited and transferred between generations; Klaus recommended a comparison with Western family enterprises and their ways of conveying informal ties; Jelena Budak stressed it would be good to have a larger sample of Croatian firms so as to detect quantifiable patterns.
Dubravka Stojanović stressed that path dependency can be detected not only on the family level, but also in larger political structures such as parties. In Serbia since the late 19th century, the Progressives, the Radicals, the Communists, and the main post-communist parties all practice(d) certain extractive schemes, which they could only exert by constructing enemy images against which all of society was supposed to unite with the political leadership. As Klaus (and maybe Dubravka?) would say: This should serve western societies, with their latest tendencies of authoritarian crisis rule, as a warning, since a constant (real or imagined) state of emergency creates the climate for just that).
In her talk on the Frame-semantic analysis of the Agrokomerc scandal, Jovana Jović presented an article which should be published. For ordinary humanities scholars, her work has some methodological aspects which she first needed to explain. In preparing a frame semantic analysis, first a text corpus needs to be created, in this case it is the reporting of the Belgrade daily Politika on the Agrokomerc scandal (137 articles between August 1987 and December 1989). Her main research tool is the Sketch Engine, a computer program which “processes texts of billions of words and, within seconds, finds instances of the word, phrase or phenomenon and presents the results in the form of Word Sketches, concordances or word lists.” What Jovana is looking for are keywords, basic vocabulary, metaphors, and lexical bundles describing the affair; doing so, she proceeds from Transparency International’s definition of corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. While all the lexical phenomena can be (and are, in fact) quantified in Jovana’s work, she also highlights the historical, social, legal and socio-economic context of her findings by giving key citations about these aspects from her source material.
Jovana’s presentation was followed by an intense discussion. Since her methodology is radically different from that of the other subprojects, a main question was what the added value of her approach is. Corpus linguistics are strong in creating lexical, stylistic, or grammatical profiles of texts, but are they appropriate to work on corruption scandals, where most readers would expect an explanation of what a given scandal is really about? And is it sufficient to take TI’s contested definition of corruption for granted, looking for manifestations of it in the text corpus? How can this method grasp social understandings of right and wrong which do not visibly fall into the principal-agent search scheme suggested by the TI definition?
Jovana’s answers to these questions were elaborate and convincing. First, she made clear that the analysis she presented was only a smaller part of the dissertation and thus of a larger picture she intends to draw. Lining up a row of scandals scattered over the 20th century in former Yugoslavia, she will be able to compare the words, metaphors, and lexical bundles used. With such a diachronical view, interesting comparative perspectives, for instance between the first and the second Yugoslavia, or between early and late socialism, may be expected. Jovana stressed that her strict methodology renders her findings retraceable, which will allow the further use by other researchers. Concerning the contested corruption definition, she made clear that she was also collecting data on evaluation, so that subjective positions of people and places fall into the scope of her research. For the Agrokomerc scandal, this means that her findings mirror the double nature of socialist Yugoslavia’s understanding of corruption: on the one hand, the source material testifies to the TI definition, criticising the managers of a socialist firm whichcheast the socialist community by issuing false promissory notes; on the other, she collects evaluations that these actions where in fact “counter-revolutionary”, a reproach which goes far beyond the TI definition and is a specifically communist reproach.
Damjan Matković‘s talk on The Railway Affair was, just as Jovana’s, the presentation of a chapter within his dissertation on corruption in 19th century Serbia. The Railway Affair (1881-1891) was one of the first corruption scandals in post-Ottoman Serbia, and as such, it was a sign not so much of corruption itself, but of a developing public sphere whichwas beginning to discuss issues of national importance not only in parliament, but also through newspapers.
Before coming to the affair, Damjan provideda lot of context, which in this case was a good decision. If corruption affairs can be divided into those in which the corrupt practices per se are the most interesting element, here it is rather the interests of some protagonists using the corruption reproach to delegitimise the political enemy. As Damjan shows, the “corruption empirics” of this affair is rather scarce. After the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-1878, Russia used its military victory to create a Greater Bulgaria as a Balkan satellite state, thus frustrating Serbia’s territorial ambitions. In this situation, the Serbian government turned to Austria and Germany to press for a revision of these Russian policies. The price was high—in exchange for its diplomatic support, Austria obliged Serbia to finance and construct a railway from Belgrade to Niš, a project which served Austrian economic interests much more than Serbian ones. While king Milan Obrenović and the ruling Progressive Party hailed the railway project as a key component of a westernising modernisation, the political opposition protested that the project would only harm the peasant majority, flood the Serbian market with Austrian imports and burden the Serbian taxpayers with tremendous construction costs.
Damjan pointed out that the ensuing scandalisation can be understood only against the background of this political conflict, since the “corruption essence” itself was a rather modest one. The railway was constructed in a manner typical for that time—since many states lacked both the capital and the know-how for railroad construction, they concluded contracts with foreign states, banks, and enterprises to finance and execute the job. A global “star” for large infrastructure projects was France, and Serbia was among those developing states which turned to Paris. The contract concluded with the bank Union Générale in 1881 included a loan agreement, a construction agreement, and an exploitation agreement; however, all this came to nothing when Union Générale announced bankruptcy the following year, but soon an alternative investor stepped in with the same conditions, so that the construction could be terminated without losses for Serbia in 1884. So it seems there was not so much to scandalise – there had been a tender, the most favorable offer had won it; regardless of the bankruptcy of the winner, the project could be finished in a couple of years on the scheduled terms But despite this success, the political conflict over the railway remained, and scandalisation was a way to keep it on the political agenda and to enable the critics to get a grip on political power. Towards the end of the 1880s, rumors spreadthat Union Générale had bribed King Milan Obrenović and members of the Progressivist government. A lawsuit against a railway official whohad spread this story ended with the latter’s conviction for slander, but the politically victorious radicals upheld their vision of the Progressivists as traitors who had sold the common good for a bribe.
Damjan’s commentators Srđan Korać and Dubravka Stojanović both asked a key question—was there corruption at all, was it a “real” or a “constructed” scandal? Considering the mainlines of scandal theory, according to which every scandal is a construction, seems to suggest that this question is superfluous—but it is not, since for the Regensburg Corruption Cluster, the corrupt practices themselves are always worth researching. Srđan stressed that the Railway Affair serves well to explain key mechanisms of scandalisation, such as conflicts between elite groups; and he asked Damjan to compare this scandal to others within his dissertation, to detect patterns and anomolies, which Damjan will certainly do. For Dubravka, the treatment of the Railway Affair is paradigmatic for Serbian political culture—using scandalisation as a standard instrument in politics, to label every conflict as corruption, that is, not naming things by adequate names; to avoid discussions about the conflicts, and to leave the public frustrated and with a deep mistrust in politics. She recommended that Damjan read Latinka Perović’s latest book Dominantna i neželjena elita: Beleške o intelektualnoj i političkoj eliti u Srbiji (XX – XXI vek) from 2015 and to integrate its main idea of a constant and asymmetric elite struggle between the dominant national traditionalists andthe minority of pro-western modernisers into the interpretation of his corruption scandals. Klaus, finally, warnedDamjan that his narration (that there was little to scandalise) is not standing on solidground since nobody has had a look at the French archives. But instead of sending poor Damjan to France, Klaus stressed the need to terminate the dissertation in time and to just admit that the research on this affair should be considered preliminary.
In his presentation The link between the rational choice theory and the role of narcissism in favouring corruption, Aram Simonyan introduced a psychological approach to explaining corruption. Aram discussed his ideas to get feedback, which he will integrate into a funding application for his postdoc project. Since nobody in our research cluster is a psychologist and Aram approaches the issue as a business scholar, it seems hard (at least forKlaus) to assess the potential of Aram’s approach. Aram’s idea is, first, which the decision to bribe can be explained by rational choice – that is, the individual takes into account his or her own interests and the surrounding conditions (constraints, controls, alternatives) and then takes a decision whether to use bribery or not. Secondly, this rationality is influenced by personal profiles, making some types of personalities more prone to corruption than others. More specifically, Aram points to psychopathy, machiavellianism, and narcissism as possible breeding grounds for corruption, and he himself is mostly interested in narcissism. He mentions a couple of studies working on that connection but admits that research is still at the very beginning. Methodologically, Aram plans to conduct interviews at universities and business entities in Armenia and Germany (or the UK), online or face to face; the sample should be about 100 respondents from each country. The idea is to arrive at policy advice for both state institutions and businesses on how to better integrate individual psychological profiles into their anti-corruption efforts.
Though the circumstances (online presentation, bad internet connection on Cres) were not very favorable, there was a very lively discussion of Aram’s ideas. Klaus reminded Aram that both corruption and psychological diagnoses are social constructions and not objective givens. Egoism, as a personality trait, is given different social meanings in a capitalist and in a socialist society, for instance; collectivist and authoritarian societies could be expected to draw narrower boundaries for psychological “normalcy” than individualistic ones. Klaus also warns that aiming at individualised anti-corruption measures could mean intense personal profiling and increased control mechanisms, amounting to a new authoritarianism, disguisedas anti-corruption. A big question is also how to integrate individual psychology into the already existing corruption research. Aram’s approach seems to contradict the assumptions of the collective action approach, which see not the individual, but the collective as a key to understanding corruption. That is: What we do does not depend so much on our personality but on what we expect others to do. Klaus’ stance may be influenced by the German historical experience of two dictatorships, which leaves little ground to say that those involved in crimes really suffered from psychological deviations. “Hitlers willing executioners”, as Daniel Goldhagen put it, were mostly normal people wholater claimed that they had “just done their duty”. So why should it be different with bribery in a system with endemic corruption? Especially since unlike the Nazi crimes, bribery is mostly an act without direct victims.
Thomas asked Aram to show more awareness of the implications of rational choice theory, and especially whether the choice leading to corruption is really so rational; Damjan remarked that grand and petty corruption might relate to different types of personalities. An interesting sub-discussion opened up about Aram’s argument that religion might be a useful resource to curb corrupt behavior. While it seems clear that the Abrahamitic commandment “Thou shalt not steal” is a sacral resource of anti-corruption, religions give many and sometimes contradictory impulses. Patronage relationships, for instance, find a modelin sainthood, since the saints are frequently appealed to as intercessors between the individual and God.