Contestation or Complicity: Civil Society as Antidote or Accessory to Political Corruption
Corruption interferes with and distorts the political and implementation processes, often to the disadvantage of the already disadvantaged. Yet our understanding of the factors that might propel a political system from lower to higher levels of probity (or vice versa) remains speculative at best. This article examines the role of one category of actors often touted as an important agent of change: civil society organizations. Considerable theoretical and empirical work exists on the expected and observed benefits of civil society for democracy more generally. Few studies have systematically examined the relationship between the richness of associational life and the quality of governance in a country. Moreover, several parallel theoretical accounts exist regarding the mechanism through which civil society might enhance government performance but few studies examine the relative explanatory merit of these theoretical accounts. This study addresses both of these gaps. The results show that civil society does have some bearing on the extent to which corruption exists in a country, and that the primary mechanism seems to be that civil society engages in contestation and representation of public interests. Two other theoretical accounts – that associations build social capital and therefore reduce corruption, and that welfare services provided by civil society organizations are less susceptible to corruption – receive less robust support in these data.
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