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Conference Report: American Sociological Association (ASA) Conference 2012

As the runner-up of the 2011 ACRN Research Paper contest David Jancsics was awarded a scholarship to attend a research conference of his choice. David chose to attend the 2012 American Sociological Conference. In this blog post he draws our attention to some interesting papers and panels that dealt with corruption and related topics.

Please note that views expressed in this blog post are those of the authors and do not represent the position of The Anti-Corruption Research Network, Transparency International, or any of its affiliates. To comment on this post please log into ACRN. 


Sociology on Corruption: ASA 2012

By David Jancsics*

In August I had the opportunity to attend one of the most important events in American sociology, the annual conference of the American Sociological Association (ASA), held in Denver this year. Despite the lack of specific corruption panels at the ASA meeting some papers addressed corruption and there were also interesting presentations dealing with related topics, such as financial fraud, rule breaking and informal practices. Since sociology has a long tradition studying formal organisations it was not surprising that some authors used an organisational framework to analyse corruption or other related illicit behavior.

I found Harland Prechel and Lu Zheng’s paper on “Organizational Characteristics and Financial Fraud in Financial, Insurance and Real Estate” especially interesting. The study examined the effects of corporate features that emerged in the 1990s in the FIRE (i.e., financial, insurance, and real estate) sector on financial fraud. Analysing a longitudinal data set, the authors identified organisational characteristics of corporations that are associated with their likelihood of committing financial fraud. The findings suggest that firms with more complex organisational structure, larger size, lower dividend payment, and higher executive compensation in the form of salary and bonus are more prone to financial fraud.

Andrew W. Martin, Steven H. Lopez, Vincent J. Roscigno and Randy Hodson presented a paper with the title, “Against the Rules: Synthesizing Types and Processes of Bureaucratic Rule breaking.” The main premise of this theoretical paper was that rule breaking has become a “normal” feature in organisational life. The authors identified two fundamental dimensions of bureaucratic rule breaking. First, rule breaking may be permitted or opposed by those charged with rule enforcement, and second, the hierarchical structure of bureaucracy is mirrored by an organisational hierarchy of rule breaking.  Breaking rules can be undertaken by individuals acting alone or be coordinated by work groups. It can be also organised by top management as a matter of unofficial policy.

Among the few papers dealing primarily with corruption I found Clayton D. Peoples’ article, titled “Quasi-Legal Markets in D.C.: Contributions, Corruption, and their Effects on the Global Financial Crisis” particularly interesting. This study focused on corruption at the top of the social hierarchy. Clayton, using quantitative data analysis, examined political campaign contributors in the US influencing voting in Congress, an activity that is technically illegal under the Federal Bribery Statute. The study’s main conclusion is that campaign contributors significantly influenced voting on two particular bills, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act (CFMA) of 2000 that deregulated banks and allowed for the un-monitored sale of risky derivatives. Such financial activities finally lead to the financial crisis and, subsequently, the largest global economic downturn since the Great Depression. The main conclusion here is that country level corruption might have unforeseeable negative global consequences.

On the whole I was little bit disappointed about how corruption was underrepresented at the major conference of American sociology. The fact that I could not find any panel or round table-session with a primary focus on corruption suggests that corruption is not among the main concerns of contemporary American sociology. A possible explanation of this “stepchild status” within the discipline might be that the phenomenon is not regarded as a crucial social problem in the U.S. Everybody guesses that there are illegal deals at the top of the social hierarchy, at a distant sphere where the highest corporate interests meet with the political decision-making. However, corruption does not affect peoples’ everyday life, especially not in the way that we can see in Central and Eastern Europe, Africa, or in some Asian or Latin American countries. Despite some really interesting studies, it seems that the complex social and organisational relationships and power dynamics in corrupt transactions, the motives, rationales and attitudes and experiences of the very people who participate in corruption have yet to be examined or theorised by contemporary sociology.


The full program of the 2012 ASA conference can be found at: 

* Author Bio

David Jancsics is a PhD candidate in sociology at the City University of New York, Graduate Center. His dissertation examines how people from different social and organizational backgrounds view and deal with corruption in post-communist Hungary. David’s article “Corrupt Governmental Networks” co-authored by Istvan Javor was recently published in the International Public Management Journal. David was the runner-up to the 2011 ACRN research paper contest. You can read more about his submission to the contest here

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22 Nov 2012

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