Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, Sociology & Anthropology, Ohio University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2008
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, The New School
When and What is Corruption: A Case Study from Postsocialist Albania

In recent years, an emerging global anti-corruption campaign has defined corruption as a breach of a universal ethic of impersonal transactions. Albania is defined as one of the world's most corrupt countries; development agencies point to bribery and "cultures of gift and favors" as causes for its slow entry into capitalist markets. But what does "corrupt" mean in a society where informal practices have been considered historically as strategies for both circumventing state power and surviving economies of shortage? When and what is corruption in this former socialist country? This project posits an anthropology of corruption by inquiring into assessments of the legitimacy or illegitimacy of two instances of informal transactions: participation in the pyramid schemes of 1992-1997 and the world of gifts, bribes, and favors. The objectives of this research are to explore a) how notions of legitimacy of market transactions are contested by multiple local actors; and b) how gift and commodity forms of exchange are deployed in the context of postsocialist transition. My hypothesis is two-fold. First, both global discourse and policy with respect to corruption assume a universal framework of market rules whereas assessments of the legitimacy of illicit practices by residents, NGOs and media institutions in Albania suggest that corruption is not a universal language but rather subject to changing political economies. Second, local participation in practices considered by this global discourse as corruption needs to be understood in the specific context of postsocialist transition. Given the political economy of the Albanian continuing "transition," I hypothesize that residents deploy gifts and commodities interchangeably as ways of reclaiming agency in economic and political domains of interaction.