Released on May 07, 2018
This article originally published on Crime, Law & Social Change 38: 1–32, 2002
overview and excerpts of the articles as follows:
corruption: An institutional choice approach
rules provide the mechanisms that allow the linkage to external
and internal worlds. To constructivists, social institutions are
individual rules, or sets of rules, established in consonance
with material realities. Theoretical explanations emerge from
the analysis of the interaction of rules, agents, and material
conditions. Constructivists analyze how these interactions
constitute or cause
behavior by providing agents with direction and incentives for
action, and how these interactions influence changes to
institutions (rules). Onuf’s theory of rules is the foundation
of the constructivist analytic frame. Rules tell people what
they should do, what they must do, and what they have a right to
do. When agents fail to follow rules, other supporting rules
bring consequences. Considering their material circumstances,
agents follow or disregard rules to achieve their goals.
Institutions or regimes are simply patterns of stable rules,
while structure is a stable pattern of rules, institutions, and
their unintended consequences.
institutions, like corruption, consist of a constantly changing
mix of three different types of social rules that perform
distinct functions. First,
inform agents of the institution’s purposes. Instruction rules
tell agents what they should
the instruction-ruled principles, beliefs and norms. Directive
rules support instruction rules by telling agents what they must
In order for directive rules to be effective, they must be
supported by other rules (sanctions)
that stipulate the consequences if an agent does not follow a
particular directive rule. Third, commitment
agents. Commitment rules tell agents what they have a right
duty to do.
Commitment rules give some agents well-defined powers, while
assuring other agents that those powers will not be abused. How
well the three types of rules perform their assigned function
depends upon their formality and strength. A rule’s formality
concerns how well the rule is supported by other rules. A rule’s strength
is determined by how frequently agents follow the rule.
mix of the three different types of rules results in three
distinct forms of rule, or methods that govern society. While
all three types of rules exist in every society, those societies
with a higher proportion of instruction rules are ruled by hegemony.
The concept of hegemony used here closely follows the analysis
of Gramsci who argues that a ruling class must persuade other
classes in society to accept its moral, political, and cultural
values, thus making the phenomena of culture and ideology
central to the ruling system.
refers to the promulgation and manipulation of principles and
instructions by which superordinate powers monopolize meaning
which is then passively absorbed by the subordinate actors.
These activities constitute a stable arrangement of rule because
the ruled are rendered incapable of comprehending their
subordinate role. They cannot formulate alternative programs of
action because they are inculcated with the self-serving
ideology of the rulers who monopolize the production and
dissemination of statements through which meaning is
societies with a higher proportion of commitment rules are ruled
This term is traced to Kant who referred to heteronomy as a
condition of not having autonomy. Heteronomy
defines a condition where rational decision-makers are never
fully autonomous, and whose decisions toward particular ends are
bounded both by societal rules and their material means. Formal
commitment rules stipulate promises
some agents, promises that become the rights (i.e., promises
kept) of other agents. Ruling elite in societies with strong
commitment rules find their autonomy severely restricted.
The emergence of commitment rules is often the unintended
consequences of the strengthening (widespread societal
following) of instruction and directive rules. Using the above
constructivist theory of rules in conjunction with the institutional
choice analytic frame, this paper develops a middle range theory
of the causes of corruption.
Researchers concentrate in the middle, between aggregate
macro- and detailed micro-concepts, looking for sets of grouped
social rules closely associated with the corruption concept. I
construct a set of coordinates of socially constructed phenomena
(sets of rules) that explain the range of corrupt behavior and
the recurrence of consistent patterns of corruption. The
resultant interdisciplinary theory applies across the centuries
and to differing political and economic systems.
central theme of this institutional choice analysis is the
critical need to generate anti-corruption commitment rules.
Without directive rule reform of authoritarian political power
structures, the emergence of stronger anticorruption commitment
rules in most states is unlikely. Moreover, without reforms to
collectivist political cultures, it may be all but impossible to
generate anti-corruption commitment rules. A state’s inability
to generate commitment rules is the principal reason it is so
difficult to arrest endemic corruption. My analysis shows that
there are a variety of socially constructed phenomenon that lead
to commitment rule construction. Among these phenomena, an
empowered civil society playing a vital role in elite
accountability emerges as the foundation to building commitment
(2002). Explaining corruption: An institutional choice approach, Crime,
Law & Social Change 38: 1–32.