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Corruption scandals have been dismissed as superficial, irrelevant and peripheral aspects of politics (Sass and Crosbie 2013: p.851). Social scientists are, however, beginning to pay attention to the political implications of corruption scandals in western democracies (Johnston 2005), but there is an almost complete silence on the issue of the increasing intensity of scandals and the seemingly more politically significant topic of accumulations of scandals, or scandal clusters. There is an emerging recognition of the need for further scrutiny of the inter-relationship between corruption scandals and democracy, particularly the increasing intensity of scandals, the contextual drivers of this greater intensity, and the consequences for the quality of our political institutions (Johnston 2005: p.61).
Indeed, as Sass and Crosbie (2013: p.860) suggest, “scandal is a crucial means by which democratic institutions are reinforced, eroded and transformed, and the study of scandal is a powerful means to uncover the meaning and structure of democratic politics”. The study of corruption scandals is a way of gaining insight into the quality of our democracy. This involves considering the impact of scandals, and scandal clusters, on the democratic “rules of the game” and, perhaps even more important, on the background of civility upon which democratic systems so heavily depend.
Corruption scandals come in various types, some of which directly hint at the dynamics of power, corruption, and political malfeasance, while others seemingly speak only to the foibles of human character and the shock and intrigue these can generate. What is it that embroiders single events, and crafts them into the shape of a scandal? Such events are usually taken as signifying the erosion of community standards, and as having some sort of political implications, and thus as addressing directly or indirectly the broad subject of corruption.
Barrett, P. and Zirker, D. (2017), Corruption scandals, scandal clusters and contemporary politics in New Zealand. International Social Science Journal, 66: 229-240.