FRAL - Franco-allemand en sciences humaines et sociales

Political corruption: immoral money and political influence in France and Germany, 19th and 20th centuries – POCK2

Submission summary

We ask for the extension of a research project, already funded by ANR and DFG, concerning the history of political corruption in France and Germany in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (POC / K). In light of recent historical research in Europe, the corruption does not refer to specific practices of some governments, that could be defined by simple criteria (eg venality of exchanges). It refers to critical perceptions of power or charges against the governments. Existing networks of patronage and practices of favors, hitherto customary, are no longer socially acceptable. On the contrary, they are condemned in the name of new cultural and political norms. Some new terms, as the word "favoritism" appeared in French between 1815 and 1830, enlighten this evolution. So does the ancient word "corruption", which meanings change. Wonder about the increase or decrease of corruption for several centuries is nonsense: Corruption is a cursor that marks the limits from which certain practices of favors, collusion and patronage are condemned in a society at a certain time. Determined forms of influence, interest or management by holders of public office, are considered as corrupted, or contrary to civic moral values which are debated. As far as the specific national configurations, these debates are a key to understanding practices and standards. This new project is built with Franco-German comparative surveys in three directions of research or workpackages:
1. Private interests, public interest, national interest (1870-1939). Money and war profiteurs. This direction of investigation focuses on allegations of corruption leveled against companies that have achieved high profits in times of war or immediately thereafter.
2. Favors in the village and in the neighborhood. Corruption at the local level (1900 - 1980). Local scale analysis of corruption cases, linked to small networks of influence, is a key to a better comparison between French and German societies.
3. Networks of "white knights." The history of corruption critics (1900 - 1980). This survey focuses on the actors who have assumed the role of specialized critics of corruption and political influence.
These three directions of investigations combine two different approaches. They allow an analysis characterized by « jeux d’échelle », i.e. between national level (macro), localized studies (meso), and a micro perspective focused on single actors. They also provide a pathway to very specific social and political situations, such as exceptional situations of war, filled with dense historical events, or political activities at the local level, in societies constrained by the logics of proximity, and, eventually, role of modern media and their stakeholders in the organization of public debates. As a result, we expect that social tolerance towards deviant behavior, or transgressions of standards is particularly low in the case of the war economy, but much higher in the case of local policies. This would mean that a certain historical continuity characterizes the practices, as far as local elites are concerned. This is not to be found in the case of the arms industry, much more exposed to public watch and political pressure. Regarding whistleblowers, or "white knights", we assume that their own information networks and influence were particularly hidden from public view. The existence of these networks, kept in the shade, probably influenced the way these actors denounced transgressions in the name of the fight against corruption. If these assumptions are to be confirmed, we should not talk of normative conflicts, but rather of a practical casuistry : tolerance levels vary.

Project coordination

Frédéric MONIER (Université d'Avignon - CNE-HEMOC UMR 8562) –

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


CNE-HEMOC Université d'Avignon - CNE-HEMOC UMR 8562
IRICE UMR 8138 Université Paris-Sorbonne IRICE UMR 8138
CNRS DR12_LAMES Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique Délégation Provence et Corse_Laboratoire méditerranéen de sociologie
TU Darmstadt Institut für Geschichte Technische Universität Darmstadt
Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main Historisches Seminar Goethe Universität

Help of the ANR 166,244 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: August 2014 - 36 Months

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