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Corruption, Urbanisation and Land Grabbing: Understanding and Reforming Illicit Real-Property Markets

Project Description


How the urbanisation process unfolds, creating and recreating built environments, transport infrastructure, and communication pathways, has serious consequences for residents, businesses, and the environment. Because of these serious implications, the urbanisation process is governed by intricate administrative procedures and policies that attempt to balance competing interests and agendas. How these governmental mediations shape the urbanisation process will potentially impact upon the life of the millions who rely on built environments to access essential goods and services. They also have major implication for commercial actors speculating on price-shifts in real property markets.

Where material tensions emerge between built environments as a condensed site of use values, and a lucrative target for commercial speculation, corruption becomes a powerful lever which investors can employ to improperly influence urban policy and administration.

Drawing on the exemplary sampling method, and certain investigative techniques and data-modelling tools, this PhD project will conduct a pioneering case study that examines the intersection between policy, public administration and real-property markets that stimulated a black economy in land in the British Overseas Territory, Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). While the corruption observed in TCI echoes the dynamics observed in a wider population of cases, it has notably been the subject of a Commission of Inquiry, systematic criminal prosecutions, civil asset recovery, and a wide ranging reform agenda.


- Understand the political, policy, administrative and economic factors that stimulated wide-spread corruption in TCI real-property markets.
- Trace the commercial and political networks that conspired to manipulate real-property market transactions on TCI.
- Map the transaction chains used to fix market transactions, analysing the role played by intermediaries such as lawyers, accountants and other white-collar professionals.
- Register the impacts that policy, administrative, and political reforms have had on combatting corruption in TCI’s real property markets.


This research will use a series of investigative and analytical techniques association with the Corruption Investigative Framework (CIF) pioneered by Lasslett. CIF synthesises investigative data collection and analysis techniques in an iterative feedback loop. Investigation is conducted using open source intelligence collection, and investigative social research methods. The former draws on a legal, commercial, and administrative databases and search engines, to identify, collate and centralise data-fragments, on the networks, entities and transactions implicated in corrupt schemes. The latter, builds on the intelligence yielded from open sources, through semi-structured interviews, and obtaining access to documentary sources held privately by actors. Analytical tools such as social network mapping and transaction mapping, enters the research process both as a device for coding and interpreting the data, but also as a means for identifying connections between data-fragments, that may enable further investigation to be conducted.

In this study, the focus will be on collating all open source intelligence emerging from the commission of inquiry, prosecutions, and civil asset forfeiture, complimented by information obtained from corporate registries, leak archives, and other similar resources. This will then create the framework for conducting interviews with public officials, politicians, business people, and justice professionals, with direct knowledge of the offending actions, the policy theatre it took place within, or the subsequent reform process. This research will be premised on a rigorous ethical approval process.


This study takes an exemplary case study, that contains dynamics representative of a wide range of regions where the urbanisation process has become corrupted, and enhances this rare data opening through applying techniques that can amplify data richness. Through this innovative combination of sampling method, investigative techniques and data-analytics, the study will yield new and important insights into the criminogenic way policy, administration and markets intersect to produce forms of corruption that shapes the texture of urbanisation; as well as evaluating how effective policy, administrative, and justice interventions have been in confronting this systemic challenge.


Applicants must apply using the online form on the University Alliance website at Full details of the programme, eligibility details and a list of available research projects can be seen at

The final deadline for application is 12 April 2019.

Funding Notes

DTA3/COFUND participants will be employed for 36 months with a minimum salary of (approximately) £20,989 per annum. Tuition fees will waived for DTA3/COFUND participants who will also be able to access an annual DTA elective bursary to enable attendance at DTA training events and interact with colleagues across the Doctoral Training Alliance(s).

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 801604.

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