Triggered by evident political interest and raised public awareness of the problem, regional and culturally specific practices of corruption have increasingly come into the focus of research. In relation to the European Southeast, however, few studies to date have dealt with this phenomenon from a historical perspective. This is surprising given the assumption, upheld almost on the level of a dogma in the societies of Southeast Europe, that the seemingly ubiquitous practice of corruption is a legacy of ‘Turkish rule’. By employing historical semantics, research will initially inquire into when and how favours became the subject of reflection and criticism in the first place. One of the preconditions for this tendency appears to have been society's move to address its normative base – as became tangible in the course of the eighteenth century in line with a Europe-wide trend.

On the basis of legal sources and diplomatic correspondence, as well as by drawing on political, economic and regional literature, research will investigate how the system of favours – embedded in a discourse about ‘good governance’ in jurisprudence and administration – was addressed, evaluated anew or even scandalised (see fig. 1). Exploring corruption – as discourse and practice – thus promises an especially productive approach to capturing the character of the radical change of an epoch in which traditional forms of negotiation and demands for reform existed in tense juxtaposition.