Guest Post: The Role of Assemblage Theory in Rethinking Anticorruption Reform

Today’s guest post is from Grant Walton, a Fellow at the Development Policy Centre at Australia National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy, and the Chair of ANU’s Transnational Research Institute on Corruption.

For more than twenty years, international donors have advocated and supported anticorruption reform programs in developing countries. While supporters of these efforts can point to some demonstrable successes (see, for example, here and here), many skeptics have questioned the effectiveness of such interventions. Indeed, the harshest critics echo Barney Warf’s assessment that many anticorruption reforms “amount to little more than hollow rhetoric, the punishment of a few sacrificial lambs, and little substantive change.”

In response to these criticisms, some academics have started to reassess the assumptions that have guided donor-supported anticorruption efforts, including how corruption and the responses to it are conceptualized. One of the most innovative strands of this burgeoning literature draws on a framework called “assemblage theory.”

This framework, devised by the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, is complex, but to boil it down, assemblage theory attempts to describe the world by focusing on the fluid non-hierarchical relationships that form between humans, ideas, and objects. Assemblages come together at crucial moments (to design a policy for example) and then disperse. Rather than examining the role of different groups or institutions, assemblage theorists focus on the way people, ideas, and objects are connected across time and space, and how these connections help shape events, ideas, and policies.

An increasing number of scholars now draw on assemblage theory to understand the complex world of policymaking, which is rarely a linear process, and involves humans, ideas and objects that stretch across the globe. And, as I highlight in a recent article, anticorruption scholarship in particular has drawn on assemblage theory to reimagine the effectiveness of anticorruption reforms in two ways:

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