Every anthropologist finds himself in possession of facts that he cannot
publish, since to do so would injure the reputation or betray the confidence of
friends and informants with whom he has been working. But the case may well
be more serious. In societies with formal governments and bureaucracies, laws
and regulations are normally stretched, evaded or ignored for personal reasons.
Such evasions are plainly an important part of the social structure. Yet to
discuss them presents a number of difficulties..

In the first place, the words available are all strongly moral; favouritism,
nepotism, malpractice, corruption. When anthropologists took to the study of
belief systems, they abandoned the word superstition on the grounds that it
means no more than (( beliefs which I think false and silly )) and used instead
the neutral word (( beliefs )). But we have no neutral word for evasions of legal
and administrative rules, nor for the normal human practice of making use of
bureaucratic positions to further private interests in ways inconsistent with the
official tasks of the bureaucracy. It is not my purpose or aim to allocate moral
blame, or to grade societies morally. The almost universal moral disapproval of
these practices is clearly one of the relevant facts. Since disapproval is
automatically expressed whichever of the available words one uses, some
people will assume that I am attacking something or someone. I can only protest
that I have no such purpose, and that if anything, my analysis would serve
better the purposes of counsel for the defence than those of the prosecutor.
Indeed, I am exposing myself at one and the same time to the danger of charges
of condoning immorality, and of charges of publishing malevolent calumny.

My topic presents two more practical difficulties. The first is collecting data. I
was lead to attempt this article while I was in the field in south Italy by the
frequency, which I found astonishing (naively, I am told by non-British
friends), of accusations of malpractice. As we know from studies of gossip and
of witchcraft systems (Colson, 1953; Evans-Pritchard, 1931; Gluckman, 195?;
Middleton, 1963, etc.), the prevalence of malicious accusations does not
necessarily establish their truth, or even a prima facie probability. Attempts to
unearth definite evidence very often fail; it is someone else, other people in
general, who are accused, without names and without details. Secondly, if one
does establish certainty or high probability in specific cases, it is impossible to
publish the evidence, and such cases still tell us nothing about the frequency of
such practices in the society. I therefore offer only a discussion in general
terms, without case analysis.

In the last sentence of his study of Spain, Michael Kenny writes of a the


  dilemma of segmentary personal loyalties having to work within and often
against the nationalising impersonality of official systems of authority  (Kenny,
1961, p. 236). He appears to be contrasting the specific personal duties
between kin, neighbours, friends, patrons and clients, fellow townsmen or
fellow tribesmen at the local level, with the duty to achieve the impartial and
thrifty use of public resources through impersonal and efficient administration
in the national interest.

This distinction suggests at once the numerous attempts to characterise the
contrast between primitive and civilised, simple and complex, small scale and
large scale, folk and urban, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, closed and open. In
fact none of these contrasts quite fit the communities of South Italy, yet
Kenny's distinction makes excellent sense.

Traditional southern society can hardly be called small scale, primitive or folk,
though in a sense the adjective “closed” fits fairly well. Even in the hills and
mountains of Calabria and Lucania, most people still live in concentrations
smaller than these, which are usually closely tied socially to larger ones. In the
towns, in which normally at least four fifths of the people were until very
recently actively engaged in agriculture, and the rest lived off it directly or
indirectly, there has always been a property owning class, supplying an
educated minority of local rulers, sharing through their education in the culture
of the cities, and exercising through their unique knowledge of the law and
institutions, and their monopoly of relations with the State, a more or less
absolute control. The majority of the peasants and labourers had little or no
education, and little or no occasion or opportunity to go further afield than the
next similar paese, or perhaps rarely to the nearest city. In their world view, and
their network of social relationships these people might perhaps be called
typically a small scale, or folk society, if these terms mean anything very much

In spite of the links through landowners and the local borghesia to the outside
world, these communities were typically closed. Even today, the priests,
doctors, lawyers and teachers are remarkably often natives of the paese in
which they practice. Thus they, like the rest, live in a society with an intense
network of many-stranded ties. No one is a complete stranger to anyone else,
almost every act towards anyone takes place within an established network of
relations, which controls conduct. Whatever one does is generally known, and
likely to affect one's future social life in the community. Thus duties to others
are not general duties, but duties to specific people in specific relationships.

A schoolmaster received a phone message,—coded to prevent intermediaries


  grasping the import of it,—that the son of his childhood friend and family
doctor was in difficulties with his home-work. He dropped what he was doing
(thus keeping me waiting an hour or so), and shot off at once. On another
similar occasion, an informant, on breaking off a task on which we were
engaged in order to respond to a call for help, explained: Qui o siamo amici o
non siamo amici (Here, either we are friends, or we are not). It took me a few
moments to realise that he intended to say that to refuse a request was to end a

Impersonal bureaucratic impartiality, on the other hand, requires that a person
publicly charged with performing duties, or with distributing benefits of any
kind,—grants, jobs, pensions, compensation for injuries, examination marks,
personal references,—should consciously and deliberately exclude all personal
ties to the recipients of these benefits, and conduct himself solely according to
the formal rules of the system. If a local authority has a house available, then it
must be offered to the next person on the waiting list, and to no other; if a post
is vacant in a public body, then it must go to the most highly qualified applicant;
if a Land Reform Board has plots of land for distribution, then they must go to
those who have rights to them under the law, and only in the order of
precedence established by the law.

These two sets of rules of conduct—for want of a better term, I call the first
“personal morality” — are not mutually exclusive. Both exist in all societies,
and both may operate in a single situation. Most behaviour of most people most
of the time is governed by personal morality. By contrast, situations where
people are expected to show more regard for rules than for private obligations
are rare. Studies of the mechanisms for dealing with disputes in non-literate
societies show clearly that such situations do arise in all societies (cf.
Peristiany, 1947; Gluckman, 1955; Barnes, 1961), but as society becomes
larger and more complex, and above all, as rules come to be written down, the
number of situations in which someone has a recognised duty to exclude certain
social ties from consideration, increases rapidly. The behaviour of bureaucrats,
in formal theory, is based on a large and complex body of such rules.

The creation or sudden expansion by government action of a bureaucracy does
not by any means prevent people from continuing to think and behave in terms
of a personal morality. Office holders may be seen not as servants of a system
of rules but as holders of the power to distribute benefits (or to refrain from
imposing losses and sufferings). As such they are subjected to the full weight
of informal pressures to serve the interest of their kith and kin, their friends,
their clients and patrons. The formal, theoretically impartial rules must be
stretched, interpreted, ignored or broken in order to make this possible. This
state of affairs we call corruption, though whether it is the system established


  by the formal rules of the legislator that has been corrupted, or the character of
the administrator who has allowed personal duties to interfere with his public
duties, I am not clear.

By corruption, of course, we also intend other kinds of dereliction of public
duty. It is not perhaps unduly serious that the head of the local Labour
Exchange should be inclined to find jobs more readily for people to whom he
has strong social ties, nor that the son of an old friend should receive higher
marks than he deserves, nor that houses built by the Comune for the poor
should be used to reward staunch political supporters of the mayor. But it is not
only possible to fulfil obligations already established by the social system; it is
also possible to create new ones. It is, that is, possible to trade official
compliance for favours, support or money. Thus we pass from favouritism to
bribery. But if an official is able without serious consequences to serve the
purposes of others, why not his own also? Finally we arrive at embezzlement,
at outright theft. Although a more or less continuous scale exists from mild
favouritism, — some Oxford colleges prefer the sons of old members to
strangers,—to full scale fraud,—an Italian customs official admitted to pilfering
a milliard (nearly £600,000, or $1,700,000; see any Italian newspaper at the
end of May, 1963), three categories are more or less distinct:—first, favouring
people to whom one is under some obligation, second, trading favours with
strangers for cash or other favours, and third, granting favours to oneself.

The first of these three is the commonest, and in this paper, the one that
concerns me most, since it is part of the system of social relations. All of us,
even men of high probity, are sometimes guilty of this much. The second also
is of interest because it greatly effects the political structure of the society, and
the working of government and political parties. The third, though it poses
interesting and important problems, is relatively rare, and bears less on the
theme of this article.

South Italy is a society in transition, galloping transition. The pre-war social
structure survived in a large measure except for increased poverty and increased
population pressure, until about 1950. Since then the pace of change has been
steadily accelerating. We can perhaps speak of four major changes. First, a vast
amount of new resources have been made available through the Casa per il
Mezzogiorno, and to a less extent through other government agencies, for a
wide variety of purposes, which have in turn stimulated the southern economy
itself to produce more. Secondly, in common with the rest of Italy, the south
has had imposed upon itself the organs of the welfare state; in a most
complicated piecemeal way; there now exist some sixty different enti for social
and health insurance, each with different rules, each serving a different category

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