Elites, Corruption and the ‘Defiance Industry’
On Luxury, Sanctions Busting and Other Evasions
20 May 2022
9:00 – 16:00 CET
Location: Department of History and Cultures (DISCI), University of Bologna, Italy
In-person (for presenters and audience) / hybrid (for presenters only)
While much of the analysis of corruption has been devoted to the misuse of public resources by individual state officials and much of current research on anti-corruption explores the potential of artificial intelligence and big data, few academic studies have focused on the actions of elite networks capable of diverting substantial financial flows and challenging or shaping regulations and auditing procedures across sectors, while treading the fine line between legality and illegality, supported by professional enablers. New layered realms of opacity, secrecy, and luxury emerge, serving the criminal economies that aim to defy legislation, regulation, and technological surveillance. Offshore havens, luxury real estate, private jets, luxury yachts, freeports, and the creative structures of layering, secrecy, opacity, and evasion have been spotlighted by revelations such as Pandora Papers, but the multiple intersections of luxury and corruption remain largely unexplored in both anthropology and criminology (Kuldova 2021). The ongoing war in Ukraine has already resulted in a massive expansion of sanctions regimes and further securitization of anti-corruption. US and its Western partners have targeted sanctions, among others, at Russian corrupt senior officials, oligarchs, and high-ranking elites, and cracked down on notorious luxury real estate enclaves which have been tolerated until now. There is no doubt that this war and the international response to it will result in an intensification, expansion, and transformation of the anti-corruption regimes and their further integration into sanctions regimes, anti-money laundering (AML), anti-bribery, countering the financing of terrorism (CFT), and related measures directed at fighting transnational financial and organized crime. The success of these measures relies heavily on the compliance of the private sector with these regulations and their private suppliers of sanctions and compliance intelligence and tech, as has become visible to all in the current conflict. At the same time, we have seen that over the last two decades, an entire global industry has emerged, catering to the needs of the corrupt and the criminal (Markus 2017). This industry thrives at the border between the legal and illegal and consists of ‘evasion experts’ facilitating tax evasion and money laundering (Zucman 2015), be it through shell companies, art, luxury real estate, or other high-end goods and relying on infrastructures such as freeports. We introduce the concept of the ‘defiance industry’ to capture this apparatus and its logic. The Russian oligarchs, and they are not alone, have shown us also that evasion, often carefully kept invisible and untraceable, paradoxically manifests itself in luxurious defiance vis-à-vis national and transnational systems of regulation, and in visible refusals to ‘self-regulate’ and to submit oneself voluntarily to the global regime of ethics of transparency, openness, accountability, and audit – or else, to comply. This raises also questions of sovereignty and ‘special liberty’, or else, of the sense of entitlement to transgress rules, norms, and regulations in the name of self-interest irrespective of harmful consequences (Hall and Wilson 2014).
For this workshop, we invite qualitative papers from across anthropology, criminology, and other relevant disciplines to explore elite forms of special liberty and the dynamics of compliance and defiance industries. We aim to go beyond the well-established focus on elite distinction and consumption. We are interested in ethnographic as well as theoretical papers that explore:
the nexus of elite power, luxury, and corruption
the role of luxury real estate, art and other high-end luxury goods in sanctions busting, evasion, and defiance
compliance, anti-corruption, AML, sanctions regimes directed at elite players and networks
the nature of the defiance industry and role of intermediaries
sanctions busting, non-compliance, evasion, and other forms of defiance and the limits of the compliance industry
the intersections of elite interest and the defiance industry
the concrete roles of intermediaries and the defiance industry in facilitating luxury consumption and corruption
the criminogenic features of elite consumerism and modes of defiance through luxury consumption and display
elite strategies of legitimization of defiance, transgressions, and evasions
This workshop will provide an opportunity for participants to reflect on the connections between anthropology, criminology, and the humanities when studying elites, corruption and defiance, and anti-corruption measures. At a more general level, we aim to explore the ways in which elites are implicated in both generating and maintaining criminogenic socio-economic structures that serve disproportionately elite interest.
This workshop is part of the project Luxury, Corruption and Global Ethics: Towards a Critical Theory of the Moral Economy of Fraud (LUXCORE), funded by the Research Council of Norway (313004) and we are also using this workshop to invite external contributors to contribute to a forthcoming special issue of the Journal of Extreme Anthropology on the same subject; we also plan an edited volume. When submitting, please indicate if you would like to publish with us.
Please submit the following by March 25, 2022 to the workshop organizers:
Abstract of no more than 300 words
Name, title, and institutional affiliation
Contact details and a bio of no more than 150 words
Contact organizers / send your submissions to:
Davide Casciano firstname.lastname@example.org
Petr Kupka email@example.com
Tereza Østbø Kuldova firstname.lastname@example.org
Jardar Østbø email@example.com
Hall, Steve, and D. Wilson. 2014. New Foundations: Pseudo-pacification and special liberty as potential cornerstones for a multi-level theory of homicide and serial murder, European Journal of Criminology 11 (5): 635-655.
Kuldova, T. Ø. 2021. Luxury and Corruption. In The Oxford Handbook of Luxury Business, edited by Pierre-Yves Donzé, Veronique Pouillard and Joanne Roberts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Markus, Stanislav. 2017. Oligarchs and Corruption in Putin’s Russia: Of Sand Castles and Geopolitical Volunteering. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs 18 (2): 26-32.
Zucman, Gabriel. 2015. The Hidden Wealth of Nations: The Scourge of Tax Havens. Chicago: Chicago University Press.