Accepted Paper:

Accounting for corporate corruption: lessons from Mediterraneanist anthropology  


Cris Shore (Goldsmiths)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on Mediterraneanist anthropology and debates about clientelism and corruption, this paper explores the curious relationship between the rise of corporate fraud scandals and the expansion of the Big Four accountancy firms.

Paper long abstract:

Anthropological studies of Mediterranean patronage-clientelism and corruption highlighted two key points: first the moral quality of these exploitative yet deeply personal relationships; second their systemic nature and the structural positions (middlemen, brokers, supplicants etc.) of those located within these networks. These features provoked major debates about the limits of empiricism and the class nature of patronage-clientelism. Drawing on these themes, I ask how useful is the legacy of Mediterraneanist patronage-clientelism studies for understanding contemporary forms of clientelism and corruption beyond the Mediterranean?

Patronage-clientelism and corruption were traditionally seen as problems endemic to under-developed marginal countries characterised by weak states, powerful self-serving elites, civic disengagement and a pervasive ethos of 'amoral familism'. Yet recent decades have seen an explosion of fraud and corruption scandals in the Global North, particularly in its more developed commercial, banking and financial sectors. Paradoxically, this has occurred at the same time as the massive expansion of company auditing by international accountancy firms (KPMG, PwC, EY, Deloitte) - whose oft-proclaimed mission is to ensure transparency, combat fraud, and promote ethical conduct. How are these trends connected? Why have these financial watchdogs so often failed to detect fraud? I suggest that the close links between accountancy firms and their clients create conflicts of interest and collusion that provide ideal conditions for corruption to flourish. Finally, I ask; how might these examples of regulatory failure and accountancy fraud help us to rethink clientelism and corruption in an age of audit culture?

Panel P010
Patronage-clientelism 2.0: the legacy of Mediterraneanist anthropology in contemporary corruption/anti-corruption studies [MedNet]