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Corruption as Freedom: The Different Ways that Petty Economic Crime Undermines Autocracy: Marina Zaloznaya

Event Type
Department of Sociology
3057 Lincoln Hall
Sep 7, 2022   12:00 pm  
Originating Calendar
Department of Sociology

Abstract: In the Global North, corruption is considered incompatible with civic health – scholars argue that it decreases social trust, atomizes communities, and discourages active citizenship. By contrast, my research in authoritarian regimes reveals that, for ordinary citizens, engagement in public sector corruption is linked to more active participation in the political life. In this talk, I will explore the mechanisms whereby extorted and voluntary bribery exchanges are connected to civic activism, drawing on national representative surveys from Russia (2015 and 2018) and China (2018). Besides the negative impact of undesirable, extorted bribery on citizens’ satisfaction with the regime, which leads to political mobilization, I show that even bribery exchanges that citizens consider desirable are linked to heightened civic engagement. Using egocentric network data, I argue that when political freedoms are severely limited, social networks that foster corruption activity also sustain an alternative, informal space for civic connectivity and free political expression. My analyses show that ordinary citizens who participate in public sector corruption (1) are embedded in outward-oriented and mobilizable personal networks, supportive of civic connectivity; and (2) are significantly more likely than law-abiding citizens to mobilize others when pushing back against the state. Counterintuitively, then, in non-democracies, corruption in the public sector may be symbiotic with rather than antithetical to civic culture.

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