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The Anthropology of Corruption

Wenner-Gren Symposium
September 9 - 15, 2016

Over the past several decades, corruption has become an object of intense popular concern in otherwise disparate locations around the world. Over the same period, corruption has elicited a robust body of scholarship in disciplines such as political science, economics, and sociology. Meanwhile, anthropologists—wary of reproducing clichéd images of political dysfunction—have often approached the topic with reserve. Recently, however, a corpus of anthropological literature on corruption has begun to coalesce. Examining a variety of illegitimate, illegal, or otherwise irregular political and economic practices, as well as critical discourses about those practices, this literature has developed a properly anthropological approach to corruption. That approach challenges commonplace stereotypes regarding political cultures outside the global North, even as it also takes seriously the vehement complaints about corruption that have energized so many citizens in the global South.

It is an opportune time to take stock of the emergent anthropology of corruption because this literature has now reached critical mass. This symposium will gather together pioneering scholars working on corruption from a wide range of perspectives. The meeting will be aimed both at a stock-taking of where the anthropology of corruption has reached and, more importantly, as a place from which to generate new ideas for future research. The challenges are substantive, methodological, and normative. Participants will offer analyses grounded in research in varying places such as Europe, China, South Asia, Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. Our aim is to move across an array of theoretical and regional concerns to chart a set of problematics that will animate anthropological studies of corruption in the coming years.

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