Political Science Governmental Responses to Political Corruption
Diğdem Soyaltin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 October 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0177


Corruption is a complex social, political, and economic phenomenon that affects all countries to different degrees. There has been a dramatic resurgence of interest for the term in the early 21st century. As a term it has many meanings. It is viewed most broadly as the misuse of office for unofficial ends. Transparency International defines it as one of the greatest challenges of the contemporary world. The catalogue of corrupt acts includes bribery, extortion, nepotism, fraud, and embezzlement. There are also different forms of corruption. While bureaucratic or petty corruption occurs at a smaller scale and within established social frameworks and governing norms, political or grand corruption occurs at the highest levels of government, involving significant subversion of political, legal, and economic systems. Political corruption is a relatively new challenge for social sciences, although it has been an issue for politics and society for many centuries. The topic attracts international scholars from various fields of social science such as political science, economics, international relations, philosophy, law, sociology, and history. The notion of corrupt and/or unethical behavior is usually analyzed by Western scholars from perspectives of political economy, behavioral ethics, organizational behavior, and management studies. However, some of the most important “classic” social science perspectives such as history, sociology, anthropology, and psychology provide important insights on corruption in particular for the non-Western contexts. There are a growing number of studies employing an interdisciplinary or even a holistic approach toward corruption that helps us to understand the complexity of the concept more adequately. In this regard, various empirical and theoretical studies have produced a bewildering array of alternative definitions, typologies, and remedies for corruption in various countries. Especially after the availability of wider data sets, empirical studies have flourished immensely to examine the causes and consequences of corruption. However, this has generated a rich methodological debate on how corruption could be measured and assessed. Coupled with emergence of wider data sets, including many countries around the globe, the signatures and ratification of international conventions against corruption resulted in significant anticorruption boom at the global scale. International efforts have promoted anticorruption provisions at national levels. Most of these anticorruption reform processes are driven to a large extent by government responses to economic crises. Following this trend, literature focusing on national anticorruption policies has emerged. Since then we have witnessed a boom of useful single and comparative country studies that analyze the diverging effects of international anticorruption initiatives. Yet, the cross-country comparisons revealed problems due to the fact that the definitions and meanings of corruption vary across countries, legal traditions, and cultures. Recently, more research has been conducted on country-specific conditions and implementation of anticorruption strategies in different contexts. The selected outputs listed below provide a general framework on political corruption including definition, historical background, measurement, and government responses at national, regional, and international level.

General Overviews

There has been a considerable increase in the number of studies on corruption specifically focusing on the nature, causes, consequences and remedies of the phenomenon in the past thirty years. The studies listed below give a general overview about political corruption and mark new avenues in the research field. Heidenheimer 1970 provides a general overview of corruption. It contains a wide range of seminal pieces, and along with subsequent editions, has built upon this nucleus of classic studies in laying out the nature and development of the concept of corruption. Rose-Ackerman 1978 on corruption is a classic study of corruption in bureaucratic and legislative processes. In her recent handbook on the economics of corruption Rose-Ackerman provides cutting-edge work regarding economic research on corruption. Heywood 1997 is a comprehensive volume of essays specifically addressing political corruption and devotes its attention primarily to the public sphere in which political actors operate. Klitgaard 1988 provides one of the more influential definitions and explanations of corruption in terms of the presence of monopoly and discretion and the absence of accountability and identifies remedies for it. Rothstein 2011 provides an analysis on the connection between the quality of government and important economic, political, and social outcomes and grapples with issues of corruption and legitimacy. Heywood 2014 is a well-structured handbook on political corruption that is devoted to definition, causes, consequences and measurement of corruption. The book also points out new directions in the corruption research.

  • Heidenheimer, Arnold J. Political Corruption: Readings in Comparative Analysis. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970.

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    Drawing on the classic studies on corruption, this study offers concepts, cases, and evidence for comparative analysis on political corruption and incorporates critical analyses of approaches to reform.

  • Heywood, Paul. Political Corruption. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.

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    This is a comprehensive set of studies dealing with political corruption and moves beyond descriptive work by highlighting unexplored dimensions of corruption and developing a model to explain cyclical corruption.

  • Heywood, Paul. Handbook of Political Corruption. London: Routledge, 2014.

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    This is a must-have handbook on political corruption edited by a well-known scholar in the field. It provides research being conducted in Europe and North America in the field of political corruption and is structured around four core themes in the study of corruption in the contemporary world: understanding and defining the nature of corruption, identifying its causes, measuring its extent, and analyzing its consequences.

  • Klitgaard, Robert. Controlling Corruption. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

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    This is an excellent book that provides an elegant formula for corruption: Corruption is equal to monopoly plus discretion minus accountability. Klitgaard also presents a framework for designing anticorruption policies. Through five detailed case studies the author elaborates on how corruption could be controlled.

  • Rose-Ackerman, Susan. Corruption: A Study in Political Economy. New York: Academic Press, 1978.

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    This is an essential book that will help many readers to understand bureaucratic and legislative corruption. It provides a helpful reading on political economy aspect of corruption in modern societies that heralds the interest of economics in the study of corruption.

  • Rose-Ackerman, Susan, ed. International Handbook on the Economics of Corruption. Vol. 1. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2006.

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    This comprehensive handbook provides specially commissioned essays, and theoretical and empirical analyses on institutional structures to fight corruption. Also concentrates on particular sectors such as education, tax administration, and customs services. This excellent handbook should serve as a firsthand reference for students and scholars seeking a particular up-to-date source in corruption in general.

  • Rothstein, Bo. The Quality of Government: Corruption, Social Trust, and Inequality in International Perspective. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226729589.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Provides a theoretical foundation for empirical analysis on the quality of government and defines the basic characteristic of quality government as impartiality in the exercise of power. Rothstein examines the impact of quality of government on economic growth and development through cross-sectional analyses, experimental studies, and in-depth historical investigations.

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