Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
This paper follows ‘corruption talk’ across three uneven imperial locations: Postcolonial Jamaica, Israel/Palestine, and the United States. Grounded primarily in the empirical study of the relationship between local and transnational elites and state institutions, I suggest thinking about discourses concerning corruption in terms of intra-class struggle. Observing a widescale efforts to reform state institutions in Jamaica, I excavate a long history of institutional and moral reformation in the imperial context. I show how ‘corruption talk’ emerges in the course of negotiating and re-aligning local and transnational interests, often in response to the emergence of new elites or the arrival of new and powerful actors to a ‘local’ scene. I argue that reform and anti-corruption efforts—always working on institutions and subjects together—modify multi-scalar relations along axes of race, class, and gender. After developing this framework, I show how it may be mobilized to understand current manifestations of ‘corruption talk’ in both Israel and the US. My main contention is that contemporary corruption discourses broadly reflect struggles between two segments of the global ruling class: The camp of finite resources (energy, land, real estate), grounded in conservative politics, and the ‘national security’ coalition, consisting of military elites, the tech industry, and advocates of liberal imperialism.