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Project Blog: Informal Governance and Corruption - Transcending the Principal Agent and Collective Action Paradigms

January 2017 update: Informal Governance and Corruption

Basel Institute on Governance

Dr Claudia Baez Camargo

Emerging findings from our project reveal multiple examples of informal practices of co-optation, control and camouflage at both the leadership and the grassroots levels.

At the macro level, we find that use of informal practises intensifies around elections in competitive authoritarian regimes such as Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Those practices work to secure political support and to finance campaign costs, resulting in acts of corruption such as vote buying, embezzlement of public funds, as well as non-transparent electoral contributions from business interests in exchange for extra-legal privileges.

Informal practices at the grassroots levels are associated with informal social networks that facilitate access to services and resources. Such networks take different forms - from highly structured lineage associations in Kyrgyzstan to more fluid groups in Uganda and Tanzania - but what makes them relevant to our study is that they generate a sense of obligation towards the group that supersedes the legitimacy of the formal legal order and contributes to the social acceptability of corruption.

As the fieldwork continues, we will be shifting our focus to assessing the policy implications of our findings with a view to developing actionable tools for anti-corruption practitioners.

This project is one of eight British Academy-funded anti-corruption research projects, and you can see the main project page with full details of all awards and award holders here.

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September 2016 update: Informal Governance and Corruption 

Laying the groundwork

Our research project takes an unconventional approach to anti-corruption. Shifting the focus away from the shortcomings in the implementation of formal legal frameworks, regulations, and policies we concentrate on those informal actions and practices that are effective in performing key functions for political and business elites as well as for ordinary citizens. Our goal is to map the manner in which informality is associated with the resilience of corruption across the following seven countries:  Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. We aim at detecting common patterns, but also particular modalities, and exploring how informality comes into play (or not) in cases where anti-corruption has been more successful. 

During the first six months of the project, our initial activities were entirely devoted to laying the methodological and conceptual foundations required to undertake the task ahead. This preparatory work culminated in a meeting, hosted by University College London, where all the lead investigators, regional experts and dedicated local researchers, who are in charge of conducting the fieldwork, met. The meeting was attended by Prof Paul Heywood, ACE Programme leader, who shared thoughts and recommendations to help us keep in mind the objectives of the ACE Programme during our discussions. As a result, the research team reached an agreement on the methods, concepts, and country-specific research agendas, thereby laying the groundwork for our field research that commenced thereafter and has continued since.

Methodology and Conceptual Approach

On the methodology aspect, we have developed an interdisciplinary approach based on qualitative research methods that capitalises on the varied backgrounds of the members of our research team, which include experts in political science, legal studies, ethnography, and management studies.

On the conceptual approach, we have refined an analytical framework that helps us to identify and categorise those informal practices that perform important governance functions but may fall under the radar of conventional assessments. The detailed conceptual framework on informality is described at length in a journal article co-written by the project’s PI and one of the Co-Is (Baez Camargo and Ledeneva) which is currently undergoing peer review in a leading journal.

Based on informal networks as our unit of analysis, we have identified three broad patterns of informal governance practices, which we refer to as the three Cs: Co-optation, Control and Camouflage. Co-optation is about redistribution of resources based on unwritten rules among members of the informal network, Control is about ensuring discipline and adherence to the unwritten rules, while Camouflage practices protect the informal network and legitimize co-optation and control vis-à-vis outsiders. The three Cs are highly interdependent and can be applied in a top-down, horizontal and bottom up fashion, as indicated in the matrix below.

Co-optation: Recruitment and resource (re) distribution

Control: Discipline

Camouflage: Protection

Top-down

Example: high level appointments made to nourish supporters and defuse opponents

Top-down

Example: use of anti-corruption legislation as a tool to punish dissenters and political opponents

Top-down

Example: commitment to anti-corruption and democratic accountability

Horizontal

Example: mutual co-optation between political and business elites where business activities support political goals and state functions are captured for the benefit of particular business interests

Horizontal

Example: peer pressure control within the network

Horizontal

Example: collusive behaviours to obscure corrupt dealings of members of the network

Bottom-up

Example: community groups expect preferential access to public goods and resources from public officers of the same group (where group identification may be based on kinship, ethnic origin or partisan affiliation)

Bottom-up

Example: shaming and social marginalization of leaders viewed as not complying with obligations vis-à-vis the group

Bottom-up

Example: masking bribery under the guise of gift-giving and other social norms

 

Fieldwork

The field researchers will categorize the identified informal practices in their respective countries following the matrix described above, thereby enabling us to ensure comparability across the cases.

Rather than deciding on one single entry point for the research across all countries, we defined the research agendas around topics in which the salience of informal practices concerning control of corruption is most evident. Thus, Georgia and Rwanda lend themselves as “natural” comparison countries for which the research is focusing on their respective anti-corruption policies and the role (or lack thereof) that informal practices have played in enabling gains to be made.

In Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, the focus is on informal practices aimed at influencing the electoral process (e.g. diverting public resources to finance electoral campaigns).

In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan due attention is given to informal networks construed on the basis of kinship and clan-based identities and the practices through which they interact with key state institutions.

Our team of researchers is also attentive of identifying examples of instances where informal practices have been used to advance anti-corruption goals. We keep in mind that there is often not a clear-cut line that distinguishes the formal from the informal. Rather, informal practices and informal networks penetrate and are deeply enmeshed with the formal structures. Gaining insights from the field on how the formal and informal interact with each other (e.g. how changes to the formal rules might be driven by informal practices and how informal practices adapt to formal reforms) will be a key contribution from our project.

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Initial thoughts

When I first met Alena Ledeneva, we were working on the ‘The ethnographic study of corruption,’ as part of the FP7 research project on Anticorruption Policies Revisited: Global Trends and European Responses to the Challenge of Corruption (ANTICORRP). When we came to share notes, it was striking how our work was similar, even though I was focusing on Mexico and Tanzania, and her focus was Russia. This was the lightbulb moment where we realised we were onto something.

The DFID/British Academy Anti-Corruption Evidence Programme funded eight projects – we are just one of them. We are very excited to test our findings across a larger number of countries. At the moment, we have eight cases across East Africa, Central Asia and the Caucasus. We are convinced that ties and forces of informality – informal networks, institutions and practices that are most powerful in our regions - are complex, often hidden and are not easy to research – this is why we assembled a multidisciplinary team of researchers with varying capabilities.

Our research team brings together regional experts and local researchers from the target countries with backgrounds in Law, Management Studies, Social Anthropology, Political Science and Development Studies. We are also lucky to have as co-investigator, legal scholar Scott Newton from SOAS, who specialises in the ‘Hidden Constitutions’ of Central Asia.

So far, our project has had an exciting start. We have been able to bounce ideas off our students and colleagues, as well as enthusiastic participants at various events run at University College London. One such event was the launch of the FRINGE Centre Global Atlas of Social and Cultural Complexity.

Our initial activities include creating a ‘shared language’ with our co-researchers across our respective disciplines. We learn to question and redefine concepts and take nothing for granted. The input from our teams of local researchers has so far been invaluable. They have already been able to share their experiences of informality and corruption in their respective countries.

At the moment, we are working on devising the methodology of our project. We are gearing towards a big team meeting in London on 4-7 June, where our colleagues from Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda will be joining us. We are looking forward to exploring the various nuances that informality takes in corruption in these case countries. This will take us forward into the next stage of the project: field research.

 

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