This article engages with the ways in which corruption has taken centre stage in much development policy making and rhetoric. It argues that there is a need to destablilise ‘taken for granted’ assumptions about what corruption is and how it operates. This means generating an understanding of how meanings of corruption vary, and how this variation is determined by the social characteristics of those engaged in corruption talk. It also means examination of how discourses of corruption and anti-corruption are translated from international to national and local stages – from the anti-corruption ‘establishment’ to the realities of bureaucratic encounters in diverse contexts.