Contextualizing Conceptions of Corruption: Challenges for the International Anti-Corruption Campaign

GIGA Working Paper No 115

40 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2010 Last revised: 17 Aug 2012

See all articles by Malte Gephart

Malte Gephart

German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA)

Date Written: December 11, 2009


While in an initial legal and academic anti‐corruption wave corruption itself was at the center of analysis, research is now increasingly focused on anti‐corruption discourse and praxis. The latter analyses have generated numerous criticisms of anti‐corruption activities and anti‐corruption research, and these are presented in this literature review. These criticisms range from the anti‐corruption norm’s legitimacy deficit, to the difficulty of defining and measuring corruption, to the discourse’s depoliticization through its technicalization.

The anti‐corruption movement faces particular difficulties with respect to the tension between the universality of the anti‐corruption norm and its simultaneous contextualization for specific and local application. This tension is especially important because it touches upon the central issues of the respective political communities, such as the division of the private from the public, which differ from one cultural context to another. The contextualization of anti-corruption concepts has to be enabled in various areas: first, with respect to the culturally shaped conception of the division between the public and the private; second, with respect to local understandings of corruption, that is, what is actually meant when talking about “corruption”; and third, with respect to the low socioeconomic development levels in some countries, which do not permit the absence of corruption (evading a zero‐tolerance rhetoric).

Keywords: corruption, anti-corruption, global governance, norms, cultural specificity, local implementation

Suggested Citation

Gephart, Malte, Contextualizing Conceptions of Corruption: Challenges for the International Anti-Corruption Campaign (December 11, 2009). GIGA Working Paper No 115, Available at SSRN: or

Malte Gephart (Contact Author)

German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA) ( email )

Neuer Jungfernstieg 21
Hamburg, DE D-20354

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