The sum of all corruption
: a grounded theory of corruption perceptions

  • Peter Stiernstedt

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Of all the issues faced by society, corruption is one of the most difficult to properlyaddress. Corruption is also a phenomenon that most people have an intuitive idea and a subjective opinion about. Whether or not that opinion is commonly shared is anothe rquestion. This research asks: how can perceptions of corruption inform our understanding of the behaviour associated with corruption and how does this translate into effective anticorruption strategies? By presenting a grounded theory that underpins human behaviour classified as ‘corrupt’, the research strives to increase our understanding of corruption. Corrupt behaviour is conditioned by an understanding of an action as being deviant, i.e. illegal orimmoral. Consequently, increasing the understanding of corruption makes it easier to combat. Reflecting the ambition to reach a high level of abstraction, the method used is Grounded Theory, modified with a unique system for treating literature. The method is applied within anontologically relativistic and epistemologically constructivist paradigm.
The scientific contribution of this research is a unique methodology providing an original contribution to knowledge in the form of the self-interest utility maximisation theory, a creative contribution via the ’at-least-level’ assumption and an innovative contribution through the application of the findings to a situational crime prevention matrix. The self-interest utility maximisation theory is based on the premise that motivation is latent, and that corruption is the product of a degenerated decision-making process. Given that an opportunity is perceived as advantageous and that it can be rationalised or neutralised, corruption may be a rational choice. With opportunity identified as a central driver for corruption, the source of motivationis hypothetically explained by gaining an advantage ’at least-level’, i.e. the action causing the smallest cognitive dissonance which can be rationalised and neutralised while at the same time providing the largest advantage. Situational crime prevention, which in its simplest form can beseen as synonymous with opportunity reduction, is presented as a framework for anticorruption measures. It is recognised that an application of the self-interest utility maximisation theory through situational crime prevention for anti-corruption purposes requires further empirical research and real world testing.
The findings indicate that, given the latent nature of motivation and its susceptibility to rationalisation by neutralisation, the next element necessary for deviant behaviour in the form of corruption is opportunity. Regardless of motivation, and irrespective of ability to rationalise and neutralise - an agent must be presented with an opportunity. Corruption is a crime above all where effective prevention is regulated primarily by controlling and reducing opportunity.
Date of AwardMar 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorMark Button (Supervisor)

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