Category Archives: Political theory

Academic themes and issue in politics and international relations. I will keep updating with relevant material and important online resources for international relations and political science that may be useful to students studying politics.

Corruption and fundamentalist movements-Discussions from Africa

Published at Pakistan Policy Group

Lets start off by looking at the logic of corruption in society. This ‘logic’ come outs of experiences of systemic corruption, and is not just visible in Africa.

1.    Corruption is wide ranging, affecting many types of transaction;
2.    Corruption has become the norm;
3.    Everybody hates corruption; Nobody will denounce the corrupt;
4.    Corruption corrupts, and once the rot sets in little can be done to stop it;
5.    All political systems are prone to corruption (democracy offers no easy cure);
6.    Corruption is considered “fair” by its perpetrators, but not by its victims.

We have taken this description of corruption from a paper titled, “A moral economy of corruption in Africa” (De Sardan, 1999). The general conclusion drawn by the author  is that the most likely outcome of conscious and generalized corruption is a fundamentalist revolution. The description of corrupt practices, and our discussion to follow, is very relevant to the case of Pakistan.

Pakistans Corruption Rankings, Transparency International

Corruption is diverse in practice and is not marginal or sectoral  and ranges from petty corruption to major (state elite corruption). It is generalized and banalised, and a central part of civil discourse. However, everybody knows who is corrupt, but it would be unthinkable to denounce a relative or acquaintance to the police. Similarly, “Important individuals” are all compromised and dare not denounce each other, giving rise to a loose network of solidarity. Corruption is expanding, and seems to be irreversible due to its pervasiveness and “normalisation”. In the case of Africa this inability to regress comes from state failure, massive unemployment, unproductive civil servants, an irresponsible ruling elite and underpaid civil servants. Additionally development aid and income from illegal drugs trade and demands has caused clientelism favorable to corruption.

Single institution/sector perceived to be most affected by corruption, overall results. Source: Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer 2009. Percentages are weighted.

Such a situation offers dismal prospects for political solutions. De Sardan writes that, “There is no obvious correlation between the extent of corruption, on the one hand, and the types of political regime, their degree of despotism and their economic effectiveness, on the other.” Thus the type of government may affect the type of corruption in vogue, but not its scale. Secondly, corrupt practices are consider legitimate by perpetuators, it may sometimes only be exclusion from the gains of corruption that causes criticism and awareness- “A minister may think it fair to use government resources to build a villa, because he is far from being properly recompensed for his services.” Predatory authorities may even consider these gains a right of office- a mindset modeled on colonial relationships. Corruption is also necessary for social acceptance and the logic of solidarity requires linkages from school or family or middlemen, and bargaining patters or gift giving between them, to get things done.

What facilitates the acceptance and fuels the banality or ‘everyday-ness’ of corruption? Within traditional cultures there exists a practice of over-monetarisation. By over-monetarisation De Sadan means the social pressure to give gifts, especially in cash (e.g. marriage gifts, birth announcements, religious holiday gifts etc.) These social relations can form an “excuse”, or a vehicle, for corruption practices like bribery, concessions etc. Shame or guilt of not helping and acquaintance with the manipulation of the system is also a reason for acceptance of corruption and a legitimization of ones own actions. A study of civil servant corruption from Malawi says that three sets of rules intertwined- official rules, kinship rules and the unofficial code of conduct, are what encourage corrupt behavior (Anders, 2002).

Coming to the issue of a “fundamentalist revolution”, a major proposition in anthropological studies of corruption say that it is not realistic to combat corrupt practices as long as the people who take part in them view them as acceptable, thus systemic reform will be difficult. For success an almost utopian change at the administrative level will be needed. As long as political elites are unwilling to give up some of their privileges and to reform, changing the general public’s attitudes may ultimately take the form of ‘puritanical’ or ‘fundamentalist’ movements based in the ‘grassroots’ (Fjeldstad, Kolstad and Lange, 2003).

Anders, G, “Like Chameleons: Civil servants and corruption in Malawi”, 2002, La gouvernance au quitidien en Afrique, 23-24.
De Sardan, J P Olivier,  “A moral economy of corruption in Africa?, Journal of Modern African Studies”, 37, 1, 1999, pp 25 – 52
Fjeldstad, O, Ivar Kolstad and Siri Lange, “Autonomy incentives and patronage: A study of corruption in the Tanzania and Uganda revenue authority”, 2003, CMI: Norway.

The ‘F’ Word

Published today at Pak Tea House. Ruffled a lot of feathers. 

You tell a male that this day forth he must not go out to work, he must marry to support himself, he must take permission from his wife or parents before he goes out, that he doesn’t need education… he would find such restrictions ridiculous. When a female has the same sentiments, she is thought to be ridiculous.

The sentiments of the sexes can be the same, because as humans we are similar and equal. This notion of gender equality is what has been riling up conservatives, stirring up traditions and changing cultures for centuries.

The strongest counter argument against feminism is based on physical traits. That men are physically stronger and so must go forth and earn. Women are weak and must go forth and be a tool of biological production.  Thus men and women have some pre-assigned roles, and this physical design is cemented into culture, religion and politics. This whole she-bang is part of traditional conservatism, and the doctrine is ancient (demise in the late 1800s). Many conservatives in the west do not even subscribe to this gender-separation view at all. This is of course not true for many other societies like ours.

Feminism is not an ideology based on female superiority. Just like racial justice or religious tolerance are not doctrines that advocate racial or religious supremacy. Formally it arose in the late 1700s as a rights-based liberal reaction to conservative political philosophy and a revision of liberal thought. The grand-daddy of liberalism, a man called John Locke in the 17th century premised the role of the state on the provision and prevention of natural rights of humans. Humans are free and self-governing because they are naturally rational and able to make decisions.

This was a radical challenge to dominant conservative thought; like the divine right of kings, feudal aristocratic supremacy, political representation for only the moneyed, educated and pedigreed, and an unquestioning faith in the clergy. Versions of which exist here and now. A hundred years later, a lady (called Mary Wollstonecraft, mother to Mary Shelly of ‘Frankenstein’ fame) put up her hand and added to the liberal shift saying: “Hey Locke talked of natural rights of humans. Is only the male a human being? Are women not as rational, intelligent or mentally capable? Should we also not work, be allowed to own land, vote, and contribute to society and economy.” How radical/unacceptable/scandalous/wrong!

So it was ironic to read this extreme conservative viewpoint by a girl called Paras Abbasi who has the opportunity to study at one of Karachi’s best institutes and has the opportunity to voice her concerns publicly. Let me quote from this article that represents the prevalent feminophobic position:

“What favor are you doing to the woman (specifically) and a human in general by brain washing her to work rather than letting her take care of her house and bring up her children?… And coming back to those who think women need the very same rights as men… How about dragging all the daughters to the borders to fight for the country if any war breaks out, just like we do to the sons of our nation? The reality is we cannot afford it…respect what importance both of us have been given naturally.” 

Feminism does not blame the male solely, it’s the female as well that perpetuates her own role in the patriarchal drama. As Nabiha Meher puts it: “Mothers collect dowries and makes sure their daughters are always presentable, always ready to impress any eligible… when these young women do want to work they are held back by their… If sisterhood did exist, wouldn’t their mothers fight for them?”

I hear you Paras Abassi. I hear you everyday. Telling me that its okay to say that I want to marry rich, that I deserve to live off a male, that I must have children to be a successful and complete human being, that I can’t serve my country as a soldier, that I cant travel without amahrem, that my career comes second to the happiness of my husband, that my children will be wasted if am a working mother.

It is not okay. If my rights and life is based on the fact that I am physically different from a male, the logic of the anti-feminist argument is no different from that that of a racist or of a creationist.

Must the female be boxed up in such spaces or can we allow for her to have the potential to be much more? It is not a debate for me. Political and social equality is my right, regardless of my sex.

*The title is borrowed from my colleague Qursum Qasim who wrote a similar themed article back in 2007.

A walled world keeping 86% of us out

Today in class we got talking about the Hobbsian state creating and how it creates deterrence politics… that the purpose of the state is to constrain violence, and thus the state becomes a legitimate wielder of power to cause violence. And this of course is the classical definition of the state, that the state is a legitimate monopoly over violence (Max Weber).

Thus territorial lines are drawn to keep violence out and we chest thump our sovereignty and applaud our militaries. And this is not just an extreme right position. Liberals and on left and right create and support policies and practice propose security to discipline and order the state and thus laws are used as instruments for the government and not the people. In fact this is Michel Foucault’s view of the French Physiocrats of the 18th century who laid the foundation for economic change and discontent right before the French Revolution… a time when International Relations was still a toddler. Today, it is an impulsive youth whose most publicized arguments keep giving us slap-on-the-face reasons for why the world is the way it is.

Development and progress thus are not going to happen without security, and  thus those best at this race, keep ‘us’ out. And well they have the sovereignty (common to liberals and realists)/rights (common to liberalism)/capability (neo-realists especially) to do so.

Got this image from

The Political Spectrum

Theories of international relations, simplified for my students.

for dummies

Love Venn diagrams

(Don’t steal my drawings plz)

British school international political economy (BS IPE?)

The British school of international political economy is where I have been “trained”. Why does this matter? Well I didn’t think it when I applied for my course, it seemed like a good degree to do after studying economics. Here’s my two cents for those of you asking what is wrong with me.

There are some things missing at the “British School” style of IPE education, that I realize now that my formal education is kinda over.

A) The acute focus on theory; theory that is itself “Brit-school”. This includes a lot of focus on epistemology and ontology, liberal trade theory as it applied to Europe, “Marxist” theory of the critical branch coming from Robert Cox from Canada and people like Rosenberg and Linklater in UK.

B) There is a lack of focus on methods, including statistics and economics. Thus data analysis takes a back seat.

C) Teaching isn’t as rigorous as I wanted it to be. What they called teaching, I called guidance to the right book in the library.

On the plus side, usually British teachers (in the politics field at least) are very open, and responsive.

British school IPE though good as a social science subject is probably good for politics, a little bit of media, and maybe even something like working for the European Commission or the UN (if you are white or extremely lucky). If you don’t want to cause a socialist revolution, want to do formal research, be able to rigorously handle numbers and get a good job in the underdeveloped country with massive figures of poverty get thyself to the US. Or just stick with the economists.

Look here if you’re interested:

Brit vs American IPE:

Old and New IPE-Keohane: