The meaning of corruption: testing the coherence and adequacy of corruption definitions




Journal Title

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


Taylor and Francis



Peer reviewed



Corruption is one of the most important issues facing the world today, yet despite its importance there remains significant confusion about exactly what corruption is. A multitude of definitions have been advanced, but there remains an inability to offer an authoritative definition. While this could be merely a reflection of trivial variations on the same theme, it is possible that it reflects substantive disagreements that may suggest that the current understanding of the conceptual nature of corruption is inadequate for the purposes to which it is put. This article critically reviews a variety of different approaches to defining and conceptualising corruption, suggesting potential areas of weakness in our definitions. The article then applies these definitions against a series of scenarios of putatively corrupt behaviour in an attempt to map the scope of the definitions. This analysis finds limited agreement between definitions about which behaviours ought to be classified as corrupt, which in turn reveals a limited ability to apply the concept of corruption definitively. Given the substantive importance of corruption, and the political importance of corruption evaluations, it appears that current understandings of corruption are not adequate.


The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.


Corruption, Integrity, Politics


Rose, J. The meaning of corruption: testing the coherence and adequacy of corruption definitions. Public Integrity, 20 (3), pp. 220-233


Research Institute

Local Governance Research Centre (LGRC)