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Swimming upstream: fighting systemic corruption in Sri Lanka

Journal article
Authors Dhammika Herath
Jonas Lindberg
Camilla Orjuela
Published in Contemporary South Asia
Volume 27
Issue 2
Pages 259–272
ISSN 09584935
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Economy and Society, Unit for Human Geography
School of Global Studies, Peace and Development Research
Pages 259–272
Language en
Keywords Corruption, discourse, fighting corruption, governance, Sri Lanka
Subject categories Human Geography, Peace and development research, Peace and conflict research


© 2019, © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Corruption is endemic, pervasive and embedded in the very fabric in social life in some societies, although its degree varies case to case. Previous academic research and anti-corruption watchdogs have examined corruption in Sri Lanka, where corruption is perceived to be pervasive and endemic but, existing studies are inadequate to explain why corruption occurs and anti-corruption continues to fail in Sri Lanka. In our study, we use the contrasting perspectives of ‘collective action problem’ and the ‘principal-agent’ framework to analyse the dynamics that cause and maintain corruption in Sri Lanka as well as the obstacles and possibilities that people fighting corruption are experiencing. We address this aim in a novel way: our observations and fieldwork in Sri Lanka got us in contact with individuals who made concerted efforts to reveal and oppose corruption at different levels; we call them ‘corruption fighters’. We argue, through the insights from corruption fighters, that corruption represents a ‘collective action problem’ and that to understand why corruption fighters still choose to oppose it, they need to be situated within a discourse of corruption and close attention must be paid to personal motivations and the way they construct meaning in the fight against corruption.

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