A social theory of grand corruption from antiquity to the twenty-first century.
In contemporary policy discourse, the notion of corruption is highly constricted, understood just as the pursuit of private gain while fulfilling a public duty. Its paradigmatic manifestations are bribery and extortion, placing the onus on individuals, typically bureaucrats. Sudhir Chella Rajan argues that this understanding ignores the true depths of corruption, which is properly seen as a foundation of social structures. Not just bribes but also caste, gender relations, and the reproduction of class are forms of corruption.
Using South Asia as a case study, Rajan argues that syndromes of corruption can be identified by paying attention to social orders and the elites they support. From the breakup of the Harappan civilization in the second millennium BCE to the anticolonial movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, elites and their descendants made off with substantial material and symbolic gains for hundreds of years before their schemes unraveled.
Rajan makes clear that this grander form of corruption is not limited to India or the annals of global history. Societal corruption is endemic, as tax cheats and complicit bankers squirrel away public money in offshore accounts, corporate titans buy political influence, and the rich ensure that their children live lavishly no matter how little they contribute. These elites use their privileged access to power to fix the rules of the game—legal structures and social norms—benefiting themselves, even while most ordinary people remain faithful to the rubrics of everyday life.
Offers important clues for comparative analysis, as it addresses the legacy of colonialism while examining the different corruption ‘syndromes’ that characterize developing and developed countries. The description of petty corruption in the former countries is fascinating, as are the observations around the institutionalized privileges in developed ones.
A much-needed breath of fresh air…Breaks with the established and repetitive modes of writing about corruption…Rajan’s book is indeed very ambitious, and a joy to read…Can be recommended to all who seek a more critical perspective on systemic corruption and elite power over the long durée.
This provocative, deeply informed, and beautifully written book brings the sweep of history and transdisciplinary wisdom to bear on corruption, one of the perennial puzzles of human sociality.
A brilliant and wide-ranging reconsideration of the phenomenon of corruption. Rajan does not see corruption merely as individual pathology, but imaginatively links it to the material and intellectual operation of power in societies. He then applies this framework to provide a unique window on the long-term organisation of corruption in India. The book is a wonderful provocation that breaks new ground.
Rajan’s engrossing account of systemic corruption—the grand malady of our times—is audacious in its theoretical and empirical reach. This provocative study moves fluently across disciplines and over millennia to show how injustice is concealed in plain view: coded into common sense, artifacts, rituals, and ruling ideas.
Is corruption equal to the use of public office for private gain, as is commonly argued? Or is it also anchored in the cultural practices of a society? Here is the first systematic argument about how corruption and culture are related. The claim is not that some cultures are incorrigibly corrupt, but that elites use cultural practices, a publicly shared societal resource, for private benefit. A riveting argument!
An innovative contribution to studying longue durée histories of the region through the very specific but also expansive phenomenon of corruption.
- 384 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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