What about the box? Some thoughts on corruption prevention and the disciplined and ethical subject

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Corruption is a phenomenon recognised as increasingly widespread among political and business elites. Rather than studying it as a negative—a form of the ‘unlawful’ or ‘illegal’, counterposed to a positive construct that is ‘law’—Foucault’s analysis of ‘illegalism’ in Discipline and Punish (1977) suggests an alternative: that ‘law’ may be the unstable construct, located between different forms of illegalism, which latter define law’s functioning. ‘Illegalisms of property’ by the poor become the primary object of the law from the 19th century, with prison as major juridical penalising device: meanwhile ‘illegalisms of rights’ by the powerful go generally unchallenged. Today forms of elite corruption arguably find their space for operation through exploiting unchallenged aspects of the ‘illegalisms of rights’, now including ploys of ‘hyper-legalism’ which entail a ‘skilful accounting’. Neu et al (2015) propose that this may be counteracted by the interventions of a contemporary form of Foucauldian ‘subject’ defined as a modern ‘ethical and disciplined subject’. However, again following Foucault, it may be that a different ‘subject form’ is also constructed within the ‘truth games’ of today’s ‘double disciplinarity’, sc. where subjects are objects of both disciplinary conduct and disciplinary expertise. Foucault’s argument in The Birth of Biopolitics (2009: 219ff) is that Human Capital theory goes beyond all earlier economic analyses of labour, as undifferentiated ‘labour power’, to analyse the subject as differentiated, and hence as the ‘abilities-machine’ and ‘entrepreneur of one’s self’. This form of the subject, understood as one alternative construction of ‘double disciplinarity’, may also have a relation to itself that enables it to construct itself as a form of ‘ethical and disciplinary subject’, following Foucault’s own four-fold classification of the aspects of the ethical relation to self in ‘On the Genealogy of Ethics’ (Foucault, 1987b). Hence through following Foucault in a first way, the problematic of corruption and its prevention may benefit from being diagnosed from within a frame of ‘illegalism’: and in a second way, the ‘disciplinary and ethical subject’ may be seen as materialising in forms that promote rather than curtail corruption.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-81
Number of pages11
JournalCritical Perspectives on Accounting
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2015


  • Accounting History Foucault