The Social Life of Corruption in Latin America
Call for Papers
Culture, Theory and Critique
“The Social Life of Corruption in Latin America”
Donna M. Goldstein and Kristen Drybread
The aim of this special issue of Culture, Theory, and Critique is to examine the social meanings and effects of corruption in Latin America. While remaining attentive to the enduring and pronounced forms of corruption in the region, we seek to explore how recent political, financial, and media events signal the emergence of novel forms of white collar crime and corruption, which require us to rethink the operation of state (or state-like) power in Latin America (Aretxaga 2003).
For more than a century, large-scale corruption has flourished throughout the continent in forms including patronage, cronyism, nepotism, and coronelismo. In his now famous travel journal from the 1830s, Charles Darwin commented on the plague of corruption in South America, speaking to its debilitating effects on democratic principles (Darwin 1959[original 1839]). Corruption also features prominently in the Latin American literary canon, and the iconography of upper class corruption that writers such as José Hernandéz, Euclides da Cunha, Mario Vargas Llosa, Carmen Naranjo, and Carlos Fuentes have established continues to be substantiated in contemporary political narratives, which affirm that forms of white-collar corruption are rarely met with punishment.
While recognizing the continued validity of this established notion of corruption in the region, here we suggest that in recent years a new narrative has begun to emerge: In 2014, for example, Brazilian authorities began an investigation of the construction firm Odebrecht; it has brought to light evidence implicating high-level government officials from ten Latin American countries in a complex scheme of bribery and kickbacks that helped the Brazilian firm secure lucrative building contracts across the continent. Thus far, the investigation has led to the arrest of high-level officials in Colombia, Peru, and Brazil; indictments elsewhere are likely to follow. Since 2015, charges of corruption have spurred the resignation of Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, the indictment of Former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff. In December of 2016, Kirchener was indicted on charges of corruption in a case involving funds earmarked for public works; she claims she is being targeted by Argentina’s current president, her political rival, Mauricio Macri. That same month, Dilma Rousseff was impeached in a process that extended from 2015. Depending on who is speaking in Brazil, corruption either explains the downfall of Dilma’s government and her Workers’ Party, or it is the driving force of those who led the “coup” (and within that, either a true interest or an opportunistic use of these cases) and are currently in control of the government—or both. In another 2016 scandal, the Panama Papers case, 11.5 million leaked documents obtained from a Panamanian law firm exposed associations between scores of Latin American politicians, business leaders and members of organized criminal networks, and a shadowy and secretive off-shore industry that is believed to facilitate corruption, money laundering, tax evasion, and other illegal activities on a global scale.
To some, the sudden emergence of so many high profile corruption scandals in Latin America indicates the intractability of dishonesty, thievery, and graft in the continent’s politics. To others, this proliferation of scandal heralds significant shifts in the ways that corruption is perceived, exposed, tolerated, and punished.
Of course, both emergent and embedded forms of corruption produce real effects on local communities. In Latin America, effects have included variations of drug, military, and gang violence that in turn are entangled with state power. Do emergent forms of corruption highlight the fragility of democratic citizenship in the young, and tenuously stable, democracies of Latin America (Drybread 2009)? Has neoliberalism—or the threat of neoliberal collapse—produced new intersections of class and corruption (Goldstein 2012)? We seek papers that will illuminate these intersections.
Starting with the sense that corruption is at once a conceptual category and a set of historically embedded and particular practices that take shape in a “creative” manner at local, national, and global scales, this special issue of Culture, Theory and Critique will ask: In what ways do emergent forms of corruption in Latin America require new ways of understanding relationships between authority, morality, transparency, and (il)legality in putatively democratic regimes or lead us to rethink the relationship between democracy and capitalism more broadly?
Questions of interest include, but are not limited to the following:
- General consensus holds that corruption runs counter to the principles of democracy. Yet, within Latin America’s young democratic states, charges of corruption can be strategically leveled to promote—or to thwart—ideological and social projects that further equality. How do accusations of corruption reveal tensions between the democratic promise of equality and the realities of pervasive social and economic hierarchy in particular Latin American contexts?
- In what ways do millennial and post-millennial forms of capitalism and the culture of neoliberalism (Comaroff and Comaroff 2001) intersect with old and new, left and right, individual and party forms of corruption in the Latin American region?
- How do racial categories and stereotypes configure the multiple facets of “crime” and “corruption” and the ways in which they are framed in particular local and national contexts? In what ways are practices of corruption and its exposure gendered?
- How have recent political events opened a space for new forms of academic activism, or for more politically engaged instantiations of disciplinary praxis? By the same token, how are anthropologists and other scholars of diverse identities and positions working in Latin America constrained in their representations of corruption at local, national, and global levels?
- How is white-collar corruption framed in this newest iteration? Does white-collar crime and corruption in Latin America share characteristics with white-collar crime and corruption in other developing, or developed, democracies?
With humility and sympathy given our own ongoing and current North American instantiations of corruption, we call on scholars of Latin America—from the region and beyond—to contribute to this special issue with ethnographic case studies, theoretical insights, and analyses of the social life of corruption in the region. At this time, the journal is only able to accept papers written in the English language.
Aretxaga, Begoña. 2003. “Maddening States.” Annual Review of Anthropology 32(2003), pp. 393-410.
Comaroff, Jean and John Comaroff, eds. Millenial Capitalism and the Culture of Neoliberalism. Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 1-56.
Darwin, Charles. 1959. The Voyage of the Beagle. Everyman’s Library. London: Dent, original 1839.
Drybread, Kristen. 2009. "Rights‐Bearing Street Kids: Icons of Hope and Despair in Brazil's Burgeoning Neoliberal State." Law & Policy 31(3): 330-350.
Goldstein, Donna M. 2012. How Corruption Kills: Pharmaceutical Crime, Mediated Representations, and Middle Class Anxiety in Argentina. City and Society 24(2): 218-239.
Submit 500-word abstracts to Donna Goldstein (email@example.com) and Kristen Drybread (firstname.lastname@example.org) by June 15, 2017. Special issue editors will make initial acceptance decisions. Once a decision made based on the merits of the abstract, authors will be invited to submit full papers of 8000 words or less by the deadline of November 15, 2017 for publication in the journal Culture, Theory and Critique (CTC) in the late Fall of 2018.
CTC uses the Scholar One website and will be uploaded to that system once accepted for review: ScholarOne http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/rctc. All paper submissions will be subject to the normal double blind peer review processes at Culture, Theory and Critique. Essays should be no more than 8000 words, including notes and bibliography. Style guidelines can be found here: