Often, I ask what anthropologists can do to eradicate or curb corruption. I seldom encounter an impressive ethnography about corruption. What I usually get hold of is an ethnography that details the after effect or end result of corruption. We need more anthropological studies that show corruption as a sociocultural process. It is easier to come up with a conclusion that corruption causes poverty, but tough to ascertain how corruption takes root socially and culturally. I do think anthropology is the discipline that can naturally tackle the phenomenon that is tough to get rid of.
I see five anthropological methodologies that can effectively dissect the anatomy of corruption using the Philippine experience as my case in point.
Corruption is mostly due to illicit practices of exchange and reciprocity. Bribery, blackmail, extortion, kickback, grease money, sweetheart deal are some examples of corruption where the acts of giving and receiving are complexly practiced. Gifts come in many forms. Politicians give them away during election and take their payments back multiple times when in power by engaging in corruption. Cops don't give traffic tickets when given money.
Alliance or connection plays a big role in corruption. Nepotism protects and enables the corrupt. Blood, ritual, or social brotherhood is the backbone of corruption. Fraternity brothers cover each other's track in government. A judge in the court dismisses graft cases filed against his former classmates. A corrupt mayor let his brother or friend with an arrest warrant escape. These are examples of how relationships bound by social and cultural rituals create a web.
Corruption is a web. Funds pass through a network before and after they are stolen. It is tough to investigate graft cases because they involve numerous actors, actions, facts, things. A social network expert can easily unravel these interconnected elements than a cop who is only interested to arrest someone he can as a show or proof that he does something. Corruption in the military is connected to executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government.
I like to think anthropologists are meticulous in their gathering of data and in analytically connecting them. A blue shard of a ceramic under a coconut tree in the Philippines can easily be connected to the art patronage of a Chinese emperor during the Ming dynasty. I know the example is extreme, but it can be done. Connecting things or actions to people or groups, as a process, is important in check and balance, a potent solution to corruption.
Power is a staple in any field of anthropology. Anthropologists even empower things. I don't think they will find it hard to empower persons. Democratization of power is another set of solutions to corruption. Rights to information, assembly, press, petition, protest are examples of democratized power where any citizen can be a graft buster. If every citizen has the right to information, he can even ask for the tax papers of a corrupt politician.
The question: Are anthropologists ready for the anthropology of corruption?