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Institutions of Corruption



[BSc], GED, ID, PSc

Admission requirements

  • Classes of 2013-2016: similarly-tagged 200/300-level courses. Also recommended is Introduction to Comparative Politics.

Course description

Over the past two decades political corruption has emerged as one of the most important topics on the agenda of both political scientists and policy makers. Corruption has been empirically linked to a decrease in the overall quality of domestic governance as well as to a host of negative political and economic outcomes. At the same time, many international organizations such as the United Nations or the European Union have diverted important resources to the promotion of anti-corruption institutions.

This course provides students with a broad overview of the field of corruption studies, as well as with a narrow focus on the relationship between corruption and political institutions. During the first weeks of the course, students will be exposed to fundamental scholarly debates centered on the different ways to define or measure corruption. In the process, they will also engage with material that discusses the informal institutions or types of organizations that surround illegal behavior more generally. Readings and assignments will also provide students with a thorough knowledge of the manner in which corruption varies worldwide in terms of countries that are most or least corrupt as well as in terms of the different forms of corruption and of how these vary across democratic versus non-democratic systems.

The remainder of the course focuses on the relationship between various elements of constitutional design (such as electoral rules or the type of government) and a country’s level of political corruption. Finally, the course will explore institutional mechanisms conducive to successful anti-corruption efforts.

Learning objectives

Upon completion of the course, students will be expected to successfully:

  • Identify the major debates surrounding the question of how to define corruption

  • Discuss the construction as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the major empirical measures of political corruption (for example, the one generated by Transparency International)

  • Be aware of how corruption varies cross-nationally

  • Understand the connection between a country’s political institutional setup and the incentives to engage in corrupt behavior. Be able to analyze complex instances of political corruption based on this acquired knowledge

  • Identify and critically assess different institutional designs to fight corruption

  • Apply all of the above in specific cases or their own work

Compulsory textbook

Heidenheimer, A.J., & Johnston, M. (Eds.). (2009). Political Corruption: Concepts and Contexts (Third Edition). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.