Center for Interdisziplinary Research

Political Corruption in Historical Perspective

Date: February 20 - 22, 2008

Organizers: Matthias Braasch (Bielefeld), Niels Grüne (Bielefeld), Simona Slanicka (Bielefeld), Andreas Suter (Bielefeld)

The main objective of the conference was to explore the potentials and limits of a cross-disciplinary dialogue in studying corruption phenomena. Accordingly, about 40 scholars from history, anthropology, sociology, theology, economics, law and political science came together to discuss the normative, analytical and application-oriented corruption concepts of the different fields of work and to consider their suitability for historical research. The 19 presentations were grouped in four sections: (1) Conceptual orientations and theoretical approaches; (2) Social capital and system functionality: 'corrupt' network resources?; (3) Corruption as political and moral argument: vocabularies, criticisms, conflicts; (4) In the focus of the third power: detection-criminalisation-prevention.
Overall, the conference has given a substantial stimulus to the ongoing debate about an interculturally and diachronically adequate notion of 'corruption'. In methodological terms, a non-essentialist consensus emerged that 'corruption' must not be seen as a fixed feature of certain ways of behaviour. Rather it should be viewed as a variable category of attribution of those interpretation patterns and discursive practices that shape social and political communication. It remained disputed, however, if in addition an analytical pre-understanding related to the modern concept of corruption (e. g. bribery, embezzlement, misconduct in office) is required in order to delineate the core area of historical corruption research from important context factors such as patronage relationships, gift giving, general criticism of authority or theological and moral ideas of decay. Thus, from an interdisciplinary angle, this comparatively young branch of historical study is confronted with the choice to adopt a more anthropological or a more sociological approach.

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