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Corruption, informality and social norms

Introductory overview

Whether or not anti-corruption measures to improve natural resource management and conservation succeed is largely conditioned by context. Social norms are the unwritten rules of a society, and they can help explain people’s corrupt behaviour. Informal systems and networks that steer people's behaviour can both facilitate and mitigate corruption. Programme design should therefore be informed by careful analysis to understand social norms and values in the targeted region.

15 December 2020
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Corruption, informality and social norms

Main points

  • Social norms are the unwritten rules of a society that guide and shape behaviour. They can help explain why people participate in corrupt actions and how they interpret conservation and responsible natural resource management.
  • Knowledge about social norms can inform better anti-corruption responses in conservation and natural resource management.
  • There is no single ‘norm of corruption’. Rather, there are norms that, in certain conditions, may promote corrupt behaviour.
  • Norms need to be addressed carefully – avoiding ‘good/bad’ labels.
  • Informal systems and networks can both facilitate and mitigate corruption depending upon the context.

Cite this publication

Mullard, S.; (2020) Corruption, informality and social norms. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Brief 2020:17)

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About the author

Saul Mullard is a senior adviser at the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre and a civil society specialist with a background in historical sociology, development studies, and South Asian studies. His research interests include the relationship between corruption and climate change and the role of local communities and indigenous peoples in addressing corruption and environmental protection. Mullard holds a doctorate and master’s in South and Inner Asian Studies from the University of Oxford, as well as a BA in Development Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.


All views in this text are the author(s)’, and may differ from the U4 partner agencies’ policies.

This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


Kandukuru Nagarjun