Audit failure and corporate corruption

Why Mediterranean patron-client relations are relevant for understanding the work of international accountancy firms

in Focaal
Author: Cris Shore 1
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  • 1 Goldsmiths University of London, UK c.shore@gold.ac.uk

Patron-clientelism and corruption were traditionally viewed as problems endemic to underdeveloped marginal countries with weak states, powerful self-serving elites, and widespread civic disengagement. However, recent decades have seen a dramatic increase in corruption scandals in the Global North, particularly its more developed banking and financial sectors. Paradoxically, this has occurred despite a massive expansion in auditing by international accountancy firms (KPMG, PwC, Deloitte, EY) who often portray themselves as warriors of integrity, transparency, and ethical conduct. How are these trends connected? Drawing on anthropological studies of Mediterranean patron-clientelism, I illustrate how collusive relations between accountancy firms and their clients create ideal conditions for corruption to flourish. Finally, I ask how can these accountancy scandals help us rethink patron-clientelism in an age of “audit culture”?

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Focaal

Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology

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