Widespread corruption within the EU – perception or reality?


Funding entity: University of Portsmouth
Type: Full Time programme of research leading to the award of Doctor of Philosophy
Researcher: Peter Stiernstedt
Faculty: Humanities and Social Sciences
Department: Institute of Criminal Justice Studies
First Supervisor: Professor Mark Button
Second Supervisor: Tom Ellis
REC reference number: 14/15:37


Of all the issues faced by society corruption is one of the most difficult to properly address. Corruption is also a phenomenon of which most people will have an intuitive idea and a subjective opinion about. Whether or not that idea and opinion is commonly shared is another question. This research is about corruption and the research question is; how can the perception of corruption inform our understanding of the behaviour associated with corruption and how does this translate into effective anti-corruption? By generating a grounded theory that underpin human behaviour classified as corrupt the research strives to increase our understanding of corruption. Corrupt behaviour is conditioned by the understanding of the actions as being deviant, i.e. illegal or immoral. Consequently, increasing the understanding of corruption would make it easier to combat. Reflecting the ambition to reach a high level of abstraction the method used is GroundedTheory modified with a unique system of treating literature. The method is applied in a ontologically relativistic and epistemologically constructivist paradigm.

The scientific contribution of this research is a unique methodology providing an original contribution to knowledge in the form of the self-interest utility maximisation theory, a creative contribution via the ’at-least-level’ assumption and an innovative contribution through the application of the findings to a situational crime prevention matrix.The self-interest utility maximisation theory is based on the premise that motivation is latent and that corruption is the product of a degenerated decision-making process. Given that an opportunity is perceived as advantageous and that it can be rationalised or neutralised, corruption may be the rational choice. With opportunity identified as a central driver for corruption, the source of motivation is hypothetically explained by gaining an advantage ’at least-level’, i.e. the action causing the smallest cognitive dissonance which can be rationalised and neutralised while at the same time providing the largest advantage. An innovative application through situational crime prevention, which in its simplest form can be seen as synonymous with opportunity reduction, as a theoretical framework for for anti-corruption is provided. It is recognised that an application of the self-interest utility maximisation theory through situational crime prevention for anti-corruption purposes require further empirical research and real world testing.

The findings indicate, given the latent nature of motivation and how it is highly susceptible to rationalisation by neutralisation the next element necessary for deviant behaviour in the form of corruption is opportunity. Regardless of motivation, and irrespective of ability to rationalise and neutralise - an agent must be presented with an opportunity. Corruption is a crime for all, where effective prevention is regulated primarily by controlling and reducing opportunity.

Research media coverage 

Interview in Professional Security Magazine – June 2015

Interview in SEJF – February 2016

Ethics protocol documents

PhD Ethics protocol – Reserach summary

PhD Ethics protocol – Participant information sheet