Section outline

    • In many of the countries most affected by high levels of corruption it is often the case that formal laws and structures of governance found in developed countries exist but with little of their function. In contrast, other rules and practices (that are mostly unwritten and rarely openly articulated) are widely adhered to and the social penalties for breaking them can be severe.

      Corruption often takes place according to these informal, unwritten rules. Whether it involves giving or soliciting a bribe, exchanging favours, or persecuting one's opponents through selective application of the law, informality dictates how power is exercised and who gains access to public resources. 

      Adopting the informality lens helps us transcend some assumptions that have not proven helpful in advancing our understanding of the conditions and motivations that fuel corruption. An example is the presumption about the existence of a clear distinction between the public and the private spheres that influences the manner in which individuals behave in different contexts.

      The picture emerging from the research challenges conventional wisdoms and invites us to move away from stereotypes such as those of the abusive public official and the citizens as helpless victims.