Why does corruption exist? For some, it is an integral part of human nature. For others, it is something that is learned and ingrained over time.

This module helps make sense of why competing explanations exist and why understanding the causes of corruption is so vital in helping to tackle it.

The dominant narrative in this area centres around sets of ‘rational choices’ that actors make. This approach sees humans as hard-wired to look after their own interests. It says that if actors are presented with opportunities to do that via corruption, then we shouldn’t be surprised if they take them. This approach to explaining corruption centres on incentives, opportunities and rational calculations.

There are, however, a range of critiques of this dominant narrative. For starters, it doesn’t seem to account for why some people don’t take corrupt opportunities offered to them. Why are some individuals apparently above enriching themselves even when there is little to no chance of them being penalised for doing so?

There’s an ever-expanding body of literature that argues that humans aren’t just rational creatures assessing potential gains (and losses). That rather, humans often shape their behaviour based on appropriateness and the ‘done thing’ in each situation. The literature argues that nurture (for better or worse) is every bit as important in explaining corruption (or the lack of it) as nature.

This module introduces you to these (and more) theoretical approaches to explaining why corruption happens. It then grounds these approaches in a whole host of real-world examples, ranging from bad parking around the United Nations in New York City to the funding strategies of fringe parties in Germany.

The module therefore offers a balance between theoretical explanation and real-world practice.

Module Lead: Dr. Samuel Power

What you’ll learn

  • You’ll gain an understanding of the different models that claim to explain why corruption happens.
  • You’ll critically evaluate the explanatory value of these models by analysing a range of real-world cases.
  • You’ll unpack how different disciplines approach the challenge of explaining why corruption happens. These will vary from the positivist understandings of corruption based around notions of rationality to anthropological explanations of corruption based on contextual drivers of behaviour.

By the end of the module, you’ll be able to:

  • demonstrate an understanding of how different disciplines explain the existence of corruption
  • apply this knowledge to real-world cases of corrupt practice, illustrating how different understandings of why corruption exists can lead to (at times very) different anti-corruption policy solutions
  • critically evaluate the key arguments that claim to explain why corruption happens.

Types of assessment may include:

  • a group presentation (40%) – you’ll choose a corruption scandal from one country and explain how and why this corruption scandal occurred
  • an essay (60%) – you’ll focus on explaining why and how corruption has come to exist in a given setting (country, sector, city etc.).