Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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All the King’s Horses and all the King’s Men: International anti-corruption discourse, political economy analysis and assemblage theory

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posted on 2021-11-13, 21:15 authored by Staveley, Howard

Corruption emerged as a key issue area in international relations and development in the 1990s. However, efforts to control corruption have, to date, been relatively unsuccessful. This has prompted international organisations, like the World Bank, to acknowledge that corruption is a political issue as much as it is an economic one. This shift has led to an increasing use of political economy analysis to inform the anticorruption and governance reform operations of international organisations. This thesis examines political economy analysis as a feature of the expertise housed in the World Bank. It argues that because anti-corruption and governance expertise is essential to the legitimate authority of the organisation, there are risks to that authority if World Bank experts are unable to provide more than highly conventional recommendations for tackling corruption in developing countries. Commentators on development practice have suggested that integrating concepts from complexity science into political economy analysis and adopting an “upside-down” approach to development might be useful to help generate new ideas for controlling corruption. However, this thesis argues that in order to do so, it is necessary to address the philosophical implications of complexity science for mainstream anti-corruption discourse, which is dominated by the positivist assumptions of neo-classical economics. To this end, the thesis argues that Manuel DeLanda’s assemblage theory offers a social ontology in which the relevance of complexity science concepts for social analysis can be developed, and a way of thinking that emphasises how social entities emerge from “the bottom up” without reducing causal explanations to individual human beings and their interests. Social networks, institutional organisations, and cities are examples of social assemblages, real emergent entities with causal power in the world. Mapping social assemblages in political economy analysis, and understanding the relations between social entities and different spatial scales, may reveal new ways of addressing corruption and the intensification of elite domination it enables.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

International Relations

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of International Relations

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Capie, David