This module is a resource for lecturers   


Core terms and concepts


The term civil society is understood in this Module as the sector of society that includes individual citizens, CSOs and the media, as distinguished from the public and private sectors. It is, however, noted that the definition of civil society is dynamic and evolving, as emphasized by the World Economic Forum in its report  The Future Role of Civil Society (2013):

Definitions are changing as civil society is recognized as encompassing far more than a mere "sector" dominated by the NGO community: civil society today includes an ever wider and more vibrant range of organized and unorganized groups, as new civil society actors blur the boundaries between sectors and experiment with new organizational forms, both online and off.

The terms citizen and citizenship are associated with the status of being a member of a particular country and having rights by virtue of this status, including that of receiving protection from the State. Citizenship is sometimes defined not only as a status but also as a role, which requires taking an active part in the political life of one's country and to participate in the exercise of political power (Marshall, 1950). For present purposes, citizen participation refers to the role of citizens in addressing and fighting (including detecting and reporting) corruption. Such participation can take place on the personal or individual level, on a more organized level through CSOs, and through the media.

CSOs have been defined by the World Bank to include a wide range of non-private, not-for-profit organizations such as "community groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), labor unions, indigenous groups, charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, and foundations" (World Bank, n.d.). CSOs interact in the public sphere, are often autonomous, and are usually driven by interests that are not purely private or economic (see, e.g., Spurk, 2010). Depending on local and other contexts, CSOs can be formal or informal. They have different and sometimes competing objectives and ideologies. CSOs have also been described as organizations that arise from a failure of the State and markets, and are often created by citizens to fill gaps that result from those failures.

The media includes all channels of communication, such as broadcasting, the press and social media. The media is considered in this Module as a means for citizens to exercise scrutiny over the conduct of government and private actors and to keep corruption in check. A further discussion of the definition and forms of media is available in Module 10 of the E4J University Module Series on Integrity and Ethics.

Although not included in conventional definitions of civil society, academia is part of civil society insofar as individual and groups of academics are citizens, community groups, professional associations and so on. Under a more flexible definition of civil society, academia itself could be considered a component of civil society, alongside CSOs and the media. In any event, given the important role of academia in the fight against corruption, the insights and discussions of this Module are applicable to academia.

Social accountability and social empowerment

Active citizens are crucial to the fight against corruption: they call attention to corruption, sensitize the population to the problem and its impact, and act as effective watchdogs of politicians and parties by monitoring and keeping them under permanent scrutiny in terms of accountability and responsiveness. Active citizens help to cultivate anti-corruption behaviour among the ruling elite. This leads to a self-enforcing mechanism, as it binds politicians to behave ethically and deliver clean government, which citizens take as their corresponding rights (Collier 2002; Mungiu-Pippidi 2015). As stated by Adserá, Boix and Payne (2003, p. 445): "how well any government functions hinges on how good citizens are at making their politicians accountable for their actions".

The concept of social accountability refers to the responsiveness of public (and private) institutions to societal concerns, and their readiness to share information and facilitate public scrutiny of their actions. Leaders who are held publicly accountable for their actions are expected to behave better because they can be removed from office if their performance is considered unacceptable (however, see the discussion on "voters' forgiveness" in Module 3 of the E4J University Modules Series on Anti-Corruption). As Holmberg and Rothstein (2015, p. 14) describe it: "Citizens need to have their leaders on a leash - perhaps not a very short leash, but some constitutional/democratic constraints, as well as sharp-edged procedures of accountability are necessary."

To combat corruption effectively, citizen participation must not only enhance social accountability; it must also enhance social empowerment. The concept of social empowerment refers to the process of developing the capacity to produce the wanted changes in society (Mungiu-Pippidi, 2015). The importance of social empowerment cannot be overstated in this context, because of the barriers that may limit the ability of citizens to engage directly in the fight against corruption, including a lack of knowledge, resources (financial and other), information and legal support. The need for States to remove such barriers is addressed by article 13 of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), discussed below. Other barriers to citizen participation in anti-corruption efforts may include government repression of active citizens, either as individuals or organized into CSOs; censorship; or media control by government or powerful economic actors. For a further discussion of these and additional challenges faced by CSOs, see this working paper of the United States Congressional Research Service (Tiersky and Renard, 2016).

Modalities of citizen participation vary remarkably across societies, depending on the local legal and political structures that facilitate or hinder citizen participation. As a result, there are different levels of social accountability and social empowerment in different societies. The idea that public officials (and private actors) should give account of their conduct to society at large presupposes structures that enable a measure of transparency of information and public scrutiny. Thus, conditions that foster social accountability and social empowerment include the existence of a strong, demanding civil society, but also a free press and freedom of information (these are discussed below).

The related concepts of social capital and civic culture are also worth mentioning in the present context. Social capital and civic culture serve as normative constraints that could affect peoples' attitudes towards corruption. According to Mungiu-Pippidi (2013), social capital is "a widespread habit" of citizens to engage in formal or informal collective actions based on common interests, goals or values, while civic culture refers to the active engagement of citizens' social movements and the media. For further discussion, see, for example, Johnston (2011), Mungiu-Pippidi (2013), and Marquette and Peiffer (2015). On collective action against corruption, see Module 5 of the E4J University Module Series on Anti-Corruption.

Public trust, institutions and informal norms

Public institutions ideally need to act in socially accountable and ethical ways to earn and maintain public trust. Conversely, citizens' expectations of public institutions are and ought to be high: not only as a way to hold these institutions to account for unethical behaviour, but also because the very premise of public institutions is to provide public goods and services to the community they serve. The challenge is that citizens' trust in public institutions is hard won and easily lost. A lack of social accountability can adversely influence citizens' trust in public and political institutions. Some scholars consider the lack of citizens' trust as part of the "collective action problem" that leads to corruption (the collective action problem is explained in detail in Module 4 of the E4J University Module Series on Anti-Corruption). They furthermore argue that government performance, including reforms and establishing new institutions, cannot be successful without citizens' trust (Johnston, 2011). Thus, social accountability, public trust and public institutions are interlinked in a complex and fragile relationship.

It should also be noted that, while efficient and accountable institutions are important, many scholars have argued that formal institutions such as the judiciary, anti-corruption agencies and other law enforcement organizations are overrated in terms of their ability to control corruption and are far from sufficient (Charron, Dijkstra, and Lapuente, 2015). Thus, the role of informal institutions and social norms should also be considered when analysing citizen participation in anti-corruption activities. Social norms, values and traditions (including laws and institutions) impact individual's basic understanding of what others do (descriptive norms) and what others think they should do (injunctive norms). Cialdini, Kallgren and Reno (1991) define descriptive norms as "an individual's perceptions of what is commonly done in specific situations, without assigning judgment, while an injunctive norm dictates how an individual should behave". Social norms dictate the extent to which individuals engage and expect others to engage in corruption. Social norms can be formal (written laws and formal institutions) or informal (based on culture and social interactions). Although, the later are more difficult to observe, they play an important role in explaining corruption and require particular consideration (see, e.g., Kubbe and Engelbert, 2018).

Next: The role of citizens in fighting corruption
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