Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
What counts as corruption when a neoliberal state comes up against a giving city?
Understandings of corruption are closely connected to normative imaginations of what governance ought to be. Corruption, then, does not merely point to transgressions of the law but also to ethical transgressions. When Indonesia embarked on a drawn-out process of state reformation (reformasi) after former authoritarian president Suharto’s resigned from power in 1998, visions of “good governance,” an amalgam of liberal democratic political and neoliberal economic ideologies of which anti-corruption form a prominent part, influenced the administrative trajectory reformation would take. Yet, two decades later, proponents of good governance appear disappointed by the lack of political and economic progress Indonesia has made, blaming corruption for this failure. In this paper, rather than viewing corruption as symptomatic of a failure to achieve a particular governmental good, I engage corruption as suggesting an alternative imaginary of what counts as “good” governance. Drawing on legally ambiguous examples of civil service corruption in eastern Indonesia in the aftermath of good governance-inspired anti-corruption efforts, I claim that corruption needs to be understood as part of a wider ethos of care and exchange that informs local sociality but also extends unevenly across geographical boundaries and governmental hierarchies. By tracing these examples, the contours of a governmental good that appears is not tied to a vertically encompassed state that stands over and against society but, instead, to something more akin to a “pluricentered assemblage of multiple conflicting, overlapping, and competing sovereignties” (Gupta 2012).