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Politics PhD receives exceptional recognition

Tuesday, 15 August 2017 8:47am

Image of Luca Uberti March2017Luca J. Uberti’s will graduate with a PhD at the next graduation ceremony of the University of Otago. His PhD thesis has been placed on the Dean’s List of Exceptional Theses, a rare honour bestowed only on the very best of PhDs. In his thesis, Italian-born and Albanian-speaking Luca used data from an original enterprise survey to examine the effects of corruption and anti-corruption on firm performance in post-socialist Albania and Kosovo. Existing approaches in both development practice and academia maintain that corruption - the abuse of entrusted authority for private gain - is invariably deleterious for economic growth. Taking a more nuanced political-sociological perspective, Luca argues that corruption can lead to either good or bad outcomes depending on how it is organised - who bribes whom to get what. Both his statistical analysis and the case-study evidence corroborate this perspective, lending credence to theories of corruption that challenge the easy, moralistic condemnation implicit in many academic and policy approaches to corruption. He was supervised by Prof Philip Nel and Dr Jim Headley, both from the Department of Politics.

Asked what he found most fascinating about his study, he said that “when designing, testing and implementing the survey, it was fascinating to discover that what donor agencies typically regard as corruption is actually a socially rooted practice that is regulated by rules and norms, however informally. Since corruption and clientelism are embedded in a ‘public sphere’, parallel to the formal public sphere, respondents were surprisingly forthcoming and open about it.”

Luca studied Political Theory and Physics at the London School of Economics before he joined the Politics Department at Otago. A very gregarious student, Luca said that he was excited to be surrounded by an international community of scholars and to undertake collaborative research with some of his co-PhDs. Luca obviously enjoys exploring extreme latitudes. After leaving Dunedin, he is taking up a post-doc position at the University of Oslo, Norway. The project that he will be working on takes a long-run historical perspective on the role of political institutions in the processes of economic growth. It aims to tease out which particular institutional characteristics are responsible for economic dynamism in both present and historical polities. Judging by his exceptional thesis, and by the number of articles that he has already published in top journals, Luca is clearly set to make a large contribution to academia. Congratulazioni e in bocca al lupo, Luca.