Does Authoritarianism Breed Corruption? Reconsidering the Relationship Between Authoritarian Governance and Corrupt Exchanges in Bureaucracies


  • Marina Zaloznaya

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    • Marina Zaloznaya is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Iowa ( She thanks John Hagan, Charles Camic, William Reisinger, James Mahoney, Bruce Carruthers, and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions on the earlier drafts of this article. The research presented in this article was supported by National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant in Sociology (Award # 1003489).


This article advocates for ethnographic and historical study of the political roots of corruption. Focusing on informal economies of Belarusian universities, it reexamines two theoretical propositions about corruption in autocracies. The first proposition is that authoritarianism breeds bureaucratic corruption; the second is that autocrats grant disloyal subjects corruption opportunities in exchange for political compliance. Using qualitative data, the author finds that autocracies can generate favorable as well as unfavorable preconditions for bureaucratic corruption. The author argues that lenient autocratic governance, characterized by organizational decoupling, creates favorable conditions for bureaucratic corruption. In contrast, consolidated autocracy, defined by rigid organizational controls, is unfavorable to such corruption. The author also concludes that in autocracies, disloyal populations may be cut off from rather than granted opportunities for bureaucratic corruption. These findings suggest that the relationship between autocratic governance and corruption is more complex than current studies are able to reveal due to their methodological limitations.