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May 23, 2013 / C H Thompson

White-Collar Crime

Galloway1It will have become clear by now that official statistics do not record the complete picture when it comes to establishing how much crime there actually is (that’s why there’s the British Crime Survey & Self-Report Studies). Edwin Sutherland was the first sociologist to study another ‘dark-area’ of crime now know as white-collar crimes.

White-collar crimes are ‘crimes committed by persons of high social status and respectability in the course of their occupations (Sutherland, 1960). These crimes include professional misconduct (by doctors, solicitors etc), breaking of health and safety regulations and misrepresentations in advertising.

Sutherland’s study of white collar crime was prompted by the view that criminology had incorrectly focused on social determinants of crime, such as family background and level of wealth. What made Sutherland’s view so important was his ‘discovery’ that crime is committed at all levels of society, and by people across all socio-economic backgrounds. In particular, Sutherland argued crime is often committed by persons operating through large and powerful organizations.

Nelken challenged Sutherland’s definition by arguing white-collar crimes can be committed by people of high social status beyond the confines of their occupaption. Indeed crimes such as corporate crime is committed by organisations rather than individuals.

Whatever the exact definition, white-collar crime is extensive. The following link to the Huffington Post identifies several high-profile white-collar crimes while this BBC link identifies MP expenses scandal. which clearly shows the extent to which crime cuts across all socio-economic backgrounds.

However the problem with assessing the extent of white-collar crime remains, particularly as the three traditional methods of recoding crime data remain impotent at recording white-collar crime because:

1. It’s difficult to detect crimes within the workplace, mainly because their are no ‘victims’ ( a school-teacher regularly taking packs of paper home, who will notice the loss)

2. Someone in receipt of a bribe, in order to cancel a parking ticket, won’t report the incident and neither will the proponent as they’re both guilty

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