Corruption is structural: the end stage of a systemic process generated by the capitalist-democracy-society nexus. Now, the structure of a given society, as Pierre Bourdieu states, can be analysed in terms of hierarchical divisions, patterned behaviour of individuals and groups, and production of knowledge. This is ‘objectivism’: an intellectual orientation to the social world seeking to construct objective relations that structure practices and representations. 1
Corruption is symbolic: it is the way in which corruption is perceived by members of society—most intensely by the poor, the alienated and the rejected, in ‘normal’ times, and by increasing numbers of ‘ordinary’ citizens in times of crisis. This is Bourdieu’s ‘subjectivism’: an intellectual orientation to the social world, which seeks to grasp the way the world appears to the individuals situated within it. Thus, as in Blumer’s ‘symbolic interactionism’, objects are ‘social constructs’ formed and defined in the process of interaction among people.
Corruption symbolizes to the alienated and to the crisis-ridden the ‘rottenness’ of politics, or the state, or even society itself. But ‘corruption’ cannot be conceived without its opposite: that is, what it is a corruption of, or what it has deviated from. Corruption denotes the perversion of an original state of purity or perfection (whether it has actually existed or is imagined). The ‘good society’ provides the standard by which the ‘bad’ society is judged. Without normative standards there can be no conception of corruption.
In Victorian Britain, for example, the symbolic appeal of a good society was powerfully projected either in Christian terms (‘moral regeneration’) or in rationalist, Utilitarian terms (‘the greatest good of the greatest number’). Conversely, in the France of the Third Republic, the symbolic appeal of the ‘Republican virtues’ came to be undermined both by the debilitating confrontation with ‘traditional’ values (the military representing the ‘honour’ of the nation, the Catholic Church its