Accepted paper:

"Help me out, pay a bribe": contested interpretations of the instrumental use of personal relations in Ukrainian anti-corruption courts

Author:

Taras Fedirko (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

Building on court records, my paper investigates in how officials incriminated with corruption in Ukrainian land bureaucracies pragmatically embrace legal and moral ambivalence of personal relations in order to negotiate favourable judicial knowledge about their personal involvement into bribery.

Paper long abstract:

Ethnographers of post-socialist societies often invoke "personal connections" as an explanation for how corruption works. Yet, as Humphrey (2012) has argued, there has been little interest to what these connections actually are, how people understand them, and how exactly they relate to corruption. My paper studies how officials incriminated with corruption in Ukrainian land bureaucracies pragmatically embrace legal and moral ambivalence of personal relations to negotiate favourable judicial knowledge about their involvement into bribery. Interested in how knowledge about bribery and personal relations is constructed and deployed in Ukrainian anti-corruption courts, I study 20 official records from court hearings on bribery in the land sector bureaucracy in 2011. In Ukraine, the task of producing land title certificates to be exchanged for bribes necessitates extensive informal cooperation among officials in different institutions. To get things done, bribed bureaucrats mobilise networks of personal connections. Bribes thus rely on, and engender, a plethora of social relations within bureaucracies, but these relations — whatever their specific content — often lack forms recognisable to bureaucratic gaze. Facing court evidence of participation in corrupt networking, bureaucrats struggle to reinterpret their informal connections in terms of disinterested help, official relationships, or deny them altogether. More specifically, they draw on the ambivalence of different forms of personal relations in order to manipulate official categorisations of their actions. The strategies of legal knowledge negotiation I study illuminate how people make use, and make sense, of different forms of social relations within the bureaucratic domain in Ukraine.

panel P009
The intimacy of corruption as a conundrum of governance: secrecy vs inflated rhetoric