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Setting the norm?

7 December 2023 09:00 - 17:00

Setting the norm? Corruption and anticorruption in the late-colonial and post-independence period: an international perspective on the twentieth century

Corruption is often understood as a form of misuse of public power and resources for private gain. Both past and contemporary issues of corruption have been linked to the history of colonial state formation as well as postcolonial developments. Despite some exploratory studies, the historical impact of colonial and postcolonial dynamics on (changing) understandings of corruption - and their impact upon anticorruption norms - is still understudied.

Corruption is a normative concept and discourses on corruption serve to determine what is considered good and deviating behavior of e.g. bureaucrats, entrepreneurs and citizens. These discourses influence anticorruption norms, as well as more broader processes of political and economic norm-setting. As such, corruption discourses can serve to maintain or challenge existing political and economic power relations within colonial empires or between states. Experiences with empire and colonial rule have had an effect on norm-setting, up until the present day: in some cases national anticorruption laws date from the colonial period. But there also more subtle similarities – as well as differences. Asymmetric relationships between metropole and colony – or center and periphery dynamics – in the era of empire, created dominant and less-dominant understandings of (anti)corruption. In the postcolonial era of supposedly globally accepted anticorruption norms, differences continue to exist in and between countries, as well as within the sphere of internationally active organizations such as the United Nations.

The aim of this conference is to analyze the relationship between corruption and norm-setting in the context of colonial and postcolonial dynamics, by paying attention to different regions and moments of change in the twentieth century. The conference aims to include a variety of contributions, covering different periods, actors and perspectives. Contributions could for example focus on the period of late colonial state-formation and norm-setting debates among the colonizers in the 1920s and 1930s as well as on the period of early independence and the debates on good governance of the anti-colonial nationalists against colonialism in the 1940s and 1950s. Contributions could also focus on the impact of the conditional norms of Western development aid – and responses in the non-Western world – in the 1970s and 1980s as well as on the processes and actors behind the breakthrough of global anticorruption norms in the 1990s. What continuities and changes can be detected in understandings of corruption in this period and in different regions? What was the role of colonial and of postcolonial dynamics? How did discourses of corruption influence anticorruption norms over time? What actors were involved and what was their role – e.g. what was the role of (former) colonizers, anticolonial movements, the Non-Aligned Movement, ‘Third World’ organizations, big powers such as the US or SU, IOs such as the World bank and NGOs such as Transparency International?

It is the aim of the organizers to publish (a selection of) conference contributions afterwards.

About Setting the norm?

Starting date

  • 7 December 2023


  • 09:00 - 17:00

Organised by

  • Research project "Colonial Normativity. Corruption and difference in colonial and postcolonial histories of empires and nations: the history of the Netherlands-Indonesian relationship 1870s-2010s"


  • English