What is Corruption? Festival of the Imagination

What is Corruption? was one of the key events at last weekend’s Festival of the Imagination. The event posed the question – what is corruption?

The first answer, in response to the awkwardly-positioned university logo on the title slide, was ‘Warwick.’ (Don’t worry, Sir Nigel, it’s a joke!) After some dark chuckling and slight technical difficulties, star speaker Laurence Cockcroft tackled the question.

Mr Cockcroft is a founding member and former chairmen of Transparency International UK, with extensive experience working in Africa and a lauded anti-corruption book to his name. He began by setting out the 6 so-called ‘types’ of corruption.

These are political financing, particularly in campaigns such as Donald Trump’s, small-scale bribery for example involving police officers, commercial bribery on the part of large-scale and often multi-national corporations, organised crime, offshore centres, and the rather grandly-titled ‘geopolitics,’ or what (usually) Western governments are up to in (usually) developing or politically vulnerable countries.

Most importantly, Mr Cockcroft emphasised that corruption is a spectrum: no country is completely free of it, and no less our own.

I’m going to dodge that question.

This led us nicely onto banking scandals, MP expenses and MI5 covert ops. But Warwick’s Mark Philp brought us back to the title question. After poking holes in the various accepted definitions of the word, he concluded that it is the public’s extreme vilification of the concept which actually impedes our ability to tackle serious corruption appropriately.

History professor Mark Knights then explained the history of the word, with its associations to religious impurity, femininity, disease and the state as a machine.

After the talks, the panel faced some criticism from the audience for its lack of cross-faculty diversity.

Inevitably, perhaps, the discussion came back to Warwick with a question from the floor: “It is true that it is seldom acknowledged where funding comes from,” began Mr Knights. “I’m going to dodge that question.”

“I’m new here,” apologised Mr Philp.

Ultimately, Mr Cockcroft concluded that change must come from within: “And what better place than Warwick to start?”


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