Accepted paper:

The formalization of governmental informality in Hong Kong

Authors:

Alan Smart (University of Calgary)

Paper short abstract:

Rejecting dualism, I examine governmental informality and how its formalization through anti-corruption changed its intersection with societal informality.

Paper long abstract:

The standard dualistic account neglects governmental informality, seeing government as the force which attempts, but often fails, to enforce formal regulations in the economy. Informality is seen as closely associated with corruption so that formalizing government and other procedures reduces the scope for corrupt practices. Yet, formal procedures can reduce the risks involved in profiting from public office, in ways that are often seen by the public as illicit even when formally legal. Precise formalization of what counts as corrupt allows opportunistic rent-seekers to skirt closely to the limits while being safely on the legal side. Sharp boundaries between corrupt and non-corrupt offer great possibilities for gaming the system. I explore these dynamics through archival work on the governance of squatters and street vendors in colonial Hong Kong. The 1974 Independent Commission on Corruption since 1974 emphasized precise delineation of official malfeasance.

panel P009
Emerging economic futures: the intersections of informality and formality [Anthropology of Economy Network]