Princeton University Library Catalog


Senior thesis
Truex, Rory [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year:
123 pages
Summary note:
A growing body of academic scholarship reinforces the theoretical intuition that democracy reduces corruption. In contrast to pertinent political and economic drivers, however, cultural explanations for corruption have been historically overlooked and understudied. This thesis aims to remediate this gap in the literature through examining corruption norms, or people’s attitudes of acceptance towards different types of corruption. What is the relationship between democracy and corruption norms? What exact mechanism produced by democracy shapes the way in which people deem different types of corruption? To answer this question, this thesis began with an evaluation of today’s corruption norms in Taiwan through a series of twenty-eight personal interviews conducted between December 2015 and January 2016. According to the Corruption Acceptance Survey, a test developed by Truex (2011) isolating attitudinal differences towards corruption, Taiwanese citizens view (1) petty corruption as more acceptable than grand corruption, (2) gift exchange as more acceptable than cash giving, (3) private corruption behaviors as more acceptable than public corruption behaviors, (4) corrupt acts committed to acquire deserved services as more acceptable than those committed to acquire illicit services, (5) favoritism behavior as more acceptable than explicit bribery, and (6) electoral corruption as more acceptable than administrative corruption. In-depth interview evidence collected from my fieldwork highlights the media as a plausible mechanism explaining this corruption norm variation. The stories that the media selectively chooses to broadcast are the types of corruption that are more socially condemned among Taiwanese citizens and thus are perhaps easier to eradicate. On the other hand, the stories that the media pays less attention to are the cases of corruption that tend to be relatively more culturally tolerated and may linger even after sophisticated legal and political anti-corruption reform. These findings suggest that the media plays an essential role in determining the degree to which people accept different types of corruption, and thus predicts the pace at which various types of corruption may fade. Thus, anti-corruption agendas should consider coopting the media as a communication and education tool to highlight cases of corruption that are more embedded in Taiwanese culture. The media’s consumer-driven nature, however, may preclude it from fulfilling this function of publicizing certain types of corruption, since these cases may not attract as much viewership. Further research is needed to verify the causal direction of the relationship between media and corruption. This study’s findings about the media’s power indicate potential for other channels, such as government-directed campaigns or NGOs to prioritize and highlight more widely accepted cases of corruption.