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ECPR Standing Group on the European Union 10th Biennial Conference LUISS, Rome

Janus and the ‘Two Faces’ of Organised Crime and Political Corruption in Fragile Contexts

Comparative Politics
Organised Crime
Third World Politics
Heather Marquette
University of Birmingham
Heather Marquette
University of Birmingham

This paper examines the growing intersection between organized crime and political corruption in fragile and conflict-affected contexts and questions the relevance of existing approaches to fighting corruption in increasingly complex and challenging environments. In Roman mythology, Janus is the god of duality, depicted as having two faces. This isn’t the same thing as the old adage ‘two faces of the same coin’, where you may be excused for not always being able to see what’s on the other side of the coin. Janus is literally two faces on the same side that can’t be hidden from each other and can’t be separated from each other without causing damage. In many fragile environments, organised crime and corruption operate in a ‘Janus’-like space, in more ways than one.

The paper looks at the web of political, business and criminal interests, including both licit and illicit activities, that embed corrupt actors within both formal and informal networks, often creating much needed jobs while simultaneously feeding ongoing instability. It considers cases where a lack of clear public/private and licit/illicit splits mean that effectively fighting both corruption and organised crime could have important negative unintended consequences. While public policy positions on corruption are often - understandably - morally black and white, more recent anti-corruption research tends to be more nuanced and avoids moral judgement, looking at ways to better shift incentives to ease people ‘towards the light’. The paper suggests that better understanding these complex relationships and the ways that licit and illicit markets are connected will help us develop more pragmatic, politically informed ways of tackling these challenges in a way that is more likely to ‘do no harm’.
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