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“Democracy is the Cure?”: Evolving Constructions of Corruption in Indonesia 1994–2014

Abstract

Corruption is of central interest to business ethics but its meaning is often assumed to be self-evident and universal. In this paper we seek to re-politicize and unsettle the dominant meaning of corruption by showing how it is culturally specific, relationally derived and varies over time. In particular, we show how corruption’s meaning changes depending on its relationship with Western-style liberal democracy and non-Western local experience with its implementation. We chose this focus because promoting democracy is a central plank of the international anti-corruption and development agenda and yet the relationship between corruption and democracy is rarely specified. Adopting a critical-discursive approach that draws on poststructuralism and postcolonialism, we explore how the meaning of corruption constructed in The Jakarta Post (TJP) changed in relation to Indonesia’s experience in implementing democratic reform, a condition of the international financial aid it received following the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. In the 1990s, corruption was seen as an illness, and democracy the cure; from 2000 to 2011 experience with democracy brought disillusion—democracy had not cured corruption but caused it to spread; while from 2012 to 2014 democracy was constructed as a valued end in its own right, but needed protection from corruption in order to survive. From translating the international development agenda in a relatively straightforward way, TJP moved towards constructions of increasing complexity and ambivalence. This demonstrates how corruption’s meaning is fundamentally contingent and unstable—even dominant meanings have the potential to be contested, showing how they are an effect of power and raising the possibility of alternatives.

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Notes

  1. This quote is from Wolfensohn’s remarks at the International Conference on Democracy, Market Economy and Development in Seoul, February 26, 1999, cited in Wolfensohn (2005). Voice for the World’s Poor: Selected Speeches and Writings of World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn, 1995–2005, World Bank Publications.

  2. Indonesia’s ranking has improved over the years from sitting at number 133 out of 145 countries in 2004 (Transparency International 2004) to number 73 out of 190 countries surveyed in 2018 (World Bank 2019c).

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Pertiwi, K., Ainsworth, S. “Democracy is the Cure?”: Evolving Constructions of Corruption in Indonesia 1994–2014. J Bus Ethics 173, 507–523 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-020-04560-y

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Keywords

  • Corruption
  • Postcolonial
  • Discourse analysis