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The ‘real politics’ of systemic corruption: theoretical debates versus ‘real-world’ functions

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The ‘real politics’ of systemic corruption: theoretical debates versus ‘real-world’ functions


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The authors, Marquette, H. and Pfeiffer, C., of the 2018 paper. Grappling with the “real politics” of systemic corruption: Theoretical debates versus ‘real-world’ functions (Governance. Vol. 31. Issue 3), unpack the critique of anti-corruption efforts that says these are failing due to a flawed theoretical foundation. They advance several arguments related to the views that collective action theory is said to be a better lens for understanding corruption than the dominant principal-agent theory:

  1. The application of collective action theory to the issue of corruption has been, thus far, incomplete.
  2. A collective action theory-based approach to corruption is in fact complementary to a principal-agent approach, rather than contradictory as is claimed.
  3. Applications of both theories have failed to recognise that corruption persists because it functions to provide solutions to problems.

The authors conclude by arguing that anti-corruption effectiveness is difficult to achieve because it requires insights from all three perspectives – principal-agent theory, collective action theory, and corruption as serving functions – which allows for a better understanding of how to harness the political will needed to fight corruption.

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