Ahlzén (2019). Understanding corruption through social norms

Understanding corruption through social norms – A field study about corrupt behaviour in local institutions in Lusaka

Research shows that conventional policy interventions aiming to reduce corruption have yielded little success. Shifting the focus from macro level aspects of corruption to focus on micro-level aspects, such as social norms and individual decision-making processes, has recently been suggested as a way to understand underlying reasons why corruption remains persistent in many
societies. The thesis aims to uncover reasons for individual corrupt behaviour in Zambia by studying what social norms exist in relation to corruption in local government institutions in Lusaka.

It furthermore investigates how social norms can explain the persisting corruption within these local institutions. By conducting in-depth interviews with citizens and stakeholders the study reveals social norms that are conducive to corruption and that are affecting citizens behaviour when interacting with local government institutions. A conflict in the relation between descriptive norms and injunctive norms is discovered and explained by the logic of prisoner’s dilemma.

The study concludes that social norms could be seen a part of explaining why corruption remains persistent in Lusaka government institutions, and that both injunctive norms and descriptive norms are affecting individual corrupt behaviour. It shows that descriptive norms can explain how individuals justify corrupt behaviour that they in theory think is wrong. It suggests that Lusaka’s local government could benefit from including a social norms perspective when designing anti-corruption interventions in order to achieve better results.