How Might Criminology Help Explain Corporate Crime?

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  • Topic: Criminology, Crime, Rational choice theory
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  • Published : September 29, 2012
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‘How might criminology help explain corporate crime?’

Corporate crime is a wide-ranging term, covering a vast range of offenses with differing types of perpetrators, modes of operation, effects and victims (Hale et al. 2005, p.268-9). Types of corporate crime range from financial crimes including illegal share dealings, merger, takeovers and tax evasion to crimes directly against the consumer, employment relations and crimes against the environment. In the past criminology has put little energy into bringing light to the subject of corporate crime and has focused mainly on the criminology of the individual (Albanese, 1984, p.11). It is only recently that corporate criminology has gained the systematic attention of researchers and policy makers. Unlike an individual, it has been found much more difficult to explain the motives, qualities and characteristics of corporate entities, although it is still possible to employ the same concepts of the study of individual crime to the study of corporate crime (Albanese, 1984, p.11). Edward Sutherland was the first to define and explain corporate crime as “crime in the upper or white-collar class”, white-collar class being those considered ‘respectable’ members of society. In contrast, those in the lower or working class are predicted to have a more likely chance of committing more common crimes such as robbery, murder and assault. Edward Sutherland attempted to explain corporate crime, using differential association. Sutherland stated ‘criminal behaviour is learned in association with those who define such behaviour favourably and in isolation from those who define it unfavourably’. The motivation to commit crime, post hoc rationalisations and the actual techniques of committing crime is, like all behaviour, learned by association with individuals who have unlawful or deviant values, mores and norms (Hale et al. 2005, p.274). Specifically what is learnt is the techniques of committing the crime and the specific direction of motives, drives, rationalisations and attitudes, where the specific direction of motives and drives is learned from the definition of legal codes as favourable or unfavourable (Geis, 2007, p.159). Thus differential association is a person becoming delinquent because of excess of definitions favourable to violation of the law over definitions unfavourable to the violation of law. It has been argued that illicit behaviour learnt is still the misbehaviour of an individual and not corporate criminality, although the difference between the goals of the individual and the goals encouraged and supported by the organisation, must be distinguished (Albanese, 1984 p. 12). Sherman (1978), in his study of police corruption, stated that when the dominant coalition of the organisation condones and expects deviant behaviour of organisational members, the deviance is in fact organisational, thus the organisation is deviant. Therefore the crime, although committed by an individual, is corporate crime, because it was committed in support of the organisation (Albanese, 1984 p. 12). Another concept of differential association that Sutherland (1949) spoke of was that criminal practices are learned by competitors, in the same way they are learned by organisational members. Many theorists have argued that Sutherland’s theory was not a comprehensive explanation of corporate crime, although it is the only theory to have been subsequently retested on numerous occasions. Strain theory, which states that social structure within society may pressure citizens to commit crime, can be used to explain corporate crime. This is apparent as the pressure to succeed exists for business and organisations in terms of maximising profit, growth and efficiency (Hale et al. 2005, p275). Problematic situations within a business could jeopardise the attainment of one’s individual goals, which is largely dependent on the prosperity of the corporation with which he or she works for, leading to...
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