Benesova, Hana (2020) Trust and Corruption in the Czech Republic: A Study with Business Managers. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The possibility that trust plays an important role in corruption has been identified previously in the theoretical literature. A relatively recent body of literature on the trust and corruption relationship (TCR), which builds on the concept of social capital (SC), explores the extent to which and the way in which trust and corruption shape each other. Theoretical gaps, pertaining to justifications of the TCR field and mechanisms of the TCR phenomenon, contextual gaps, related to the (lack of) consideration of context, and methodological gaps exist in this body of literature. There is also some confusion in the TCR literature, pertaining to the TCR phenomenon itself, which stems mostly from a lack of attention paid to its component parts – both conceptually and contextually. Furthermore, there is missing knowledge about the workings of TCR underneath the surface of the phenomenon. Moreover, the possibility of there being not a direct, but instead a mediated, TCR has been highlighted; this challenges the assumptions of TCR in relation to their boundary conditions, i.e. they might work in some contexts (especially laboratory settings) but not in others. The exclusion of the Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries from the empirical studies of TCR is also problematic given the pervasiveness of corruption in the region. Indeed, in the researcher’s previous work on political risk perceptions in the Czech Republic, a CEE country, Czech managers identified corruption in the country as their main concern about doing business.

In order to address the aforementioned issues, the study explores the TCR phenomenon, focusing primarily on the direction from corruption to trust, at its micro level and in the context of the Czech Republic. The study also considers more narrow contexts, mostly in a comparative manner – personal vs business and individual vs organisational. It asks, in addition to making some research propositions for the trust, corruption and TCR phenomena, what commentary respondents give on the link between trust and corruption and whether the relationship might be mediated. In addition, the study inquires about the workings of TCR at the micro level and in the selected contexts. Since this is an in-depth exploratory study, it adopts a realist position and a qualitative research design to analyse the data, obtained via semi-structured interviews conducted with 12 Czech business managers, and contextualises the findings within the TCR literature. The managers were selected on the basis of their relevance to the study. The interviews made use of a protocol and inventories of the respondents’ propensity to trust and sensitivity to corruption were collected. The methods were developed on the basis of the TCR, trust and corruption literatures. The interviews and the recruitment of respondents were organised with the help of a facilitator and the data were collected by the researcher between July and September 2017. The qualitative approach not only enables the research questions to be addressed but it also fills a methodological gap in the TCR field.

The study finds that the commentaries on the TCR link vary between respondents, and that many of them could not see any link initially. It identifies the importance of elements that might mediate the TCR link. The findings highlight the possibility that the low trust stocks in the Czech Republic are caused by factors other than corruption – most likely certain traumatic aspects of the country’s past. However, they also indicate that corruption might reinforce and reemphasise these past issues. The findings lead to a proposal to update TCR language to person and relationship and person and circumstances specificity, in relation to trust and corruption respectively. This questions the sufficiency of SC as the sole theory informing the TCR field. The study offers theoretical propositions for TCR in relation to the micro level and the selected contexts and develops a theoretical model of micro TCR, that highlights the constraining role of context. The conceptual and contextual findings indicate that the proposed justification and the workings of the TCR relationship that are presented in the extant literature might not suffice, at least in the Czech context.

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