Ruth A. Miller has written a book on how corruption is pornography. The subject drew my attention as I find the instances of corruption that emerged and keep emerging in academia equally difficult to understand as the instances of corruption that emerged and keep emerging in politics, economics, law. Somehow Miller’s pornography metaphor helps me to better understand a whole gamut of corruption debates. Important concepts in her analysis are “the bureaucratic public,” “the domestic private,” and “narratives” about “scandals” and “corruption.” Corruption is “not just pornographic,” but also “erotic.” Such narratives sustain understanding “the very essence of corruption, its inherent disorder” in the vulnerable space, where the public and the private overlap, to have become “sexual, and sexually threatening,” in which “the fangs of lawlessness and abuse of power bite dangerously on the vulnerable sector.”
Where “scandals” and their identification as such reinforces the vulnerable sector of the “West” and its perceived equilibrium around the “rule of Law” and the human rights, “corruption” is positioned as characteristic to the non-western vulnerable sectors. Corruption, then, is “usually systemic, and always hidden, seductive, monstrous.”
These non-western vulnerable sectors thus become “exceptional,” that is: “areas that exist outside the law while nonetheless constrained within legal discourse.” Miller traces links to colonial and gender considerations and suggests that public legal attitudes to (colonial) mixed sexual relationships have structural correlations with the pornographic. She adopts from Foucault’s argumentation the proposition that “ … it was precisely the (public) process of defining the intimate that produced and extended disciplinary power networks …” And, perhaps most illuminating, she shows how international aid programs and projects are surfacing in narratives that are (structurally) porn themselves.
I am writing this in the summer of 2015. And although my first reaction to Miller’s reasoning and writing style is rather reserved, I am grateful for her directing my misgivings about a variety of corrupt situations, via the identification of an exceptional fore (where the law is absent, yet the vocabulary of the law is required for communication) to my misgivings about pornography and the pull that it somehow emanates to the public. It clarifies a bit why it is that e.g. IS decapitation videos work as porn and EU boat refugee videos do so too. And why informational free havens like Freenet get clogged up with child porn in stead of free speech.
An important side effect of all this is that the approach to academic research as employed by Miller (let’s say her narrative method) is at least in part useful, even to someone like me, whose natural preferred research method is quite different and whose academic practices have spanned a broad gamut of approaches, from being (as a law student) a legal positivist, via becoming (as a computer programmer and information scientist) a logical positivist, via becoming (as a law PhD student) a critical theorist, via being (as an occasional ICT-project adviser) an inclusive pragmatist to becoming interested in what complexity theory may bring to the legal discipline, which, (as I recently discovered when reading Cilliers 2011), amounts to a post-structuralist approach.
As a matter of fact, all of these six methods and perspectives are useful concurrently. They need not lead one into thickets of contradictory and/or incoherent propositions. We claim that this is the result of acknowledging that all knowledge is local (Geertz) and that all methods are local too.
We will presently discuss this claim in further blogs, not only because locality of knowledge and locality of methods are essential for coherently addressing Complex Problems. Also because (time/space) locality of knowledge and methods may feel counterintuitive to scholars from the sciences.
Cilliers, Paul. 2011. Complexity, Poststructuralism and Organization. The Sage Handbook of Complexity and Management, 142–154.
Geertz, Clifford. 1983. Local Knowledge: Further essays in interpretive anthropology. Basic Books.
Miller, Ruth A. 2008. The Erotics of Corruption: Law, scandal, and political perversion. State University of New York Press.