Book Review: White Collar Crime by Edwin H. Sutherland

White Collar Crime by Edwin H. Sutherland

Sutherland, E.H., 1983. White Collar Crime: The uncut version. Binghamton, N.Y: Vail-Ballou, Press. £15 at amazon.co.uk

In this Book Sutherland presents a long research he undertook for decades about the conduct and the criminal convictions of 70 largest American corporations and 15 Utility companies, the outcome of this long research astonished traditional criminologist. Sutherland was first to study and published what he called ‘white collar crime, ‘which changed the study of crime in many ways’ (Sutherland, 1983) Sutherland’s approach to the concept of corporate crime was different from what was norm at that time. He rejected the traditional concepts of crime which blamed lower social classes, and mentally ill personalities, rather than ‘persons of the upper socio economic class’ (Sutherland, 1983, p.13) He noted that many of those corporate criminals are affluent upper social class individuals. Therefore Sutherland argues that ‘if it can be shown that white collar crimes are frequent, a general theory that crime is due to poverty and its related pathologies is shown to be invalid’. (Sutherland, 1983, p.7) Thus, Sutherland’ revelation of the extent of white collar crime created some serious problems for traditional criminologist theories.

Having noted and analysed the criminal behaviour of these corporates, Sutherland therefore asked why the term “crime “is not applied to the behaviour of corporates? And why have not criminologist included white collar crime within the scope of criminology? (Sutherland, 1983, p.45) Among the various theories of causation of crime, Sutherland’s theory of differential association is unique. The theory, states that ‘criminal behaviour is learned through interaction with others or associations’ (Sutherland, 1983, p.240) this means criminal behaviour is learned through influence rather than inheritance. That is to say a person without first being trained to commit a crime is not capable of inventing criminal behaviour (Sutherland, 1983) this implies that a person cannot become a criminal without being influence by others.

The theory of differential association, one of his main arguments was designed to explain criminal and none criminal behaviours, particularly individual behaviour. This is stark contrast to other theories that explain the criminality of society including his theory of social organization (Sutherland, 1983, p.255). Sutherland continues to tell us the specific technique and business practice that is being learned as result of differential association. Sutherlands noted that such practices are illegal but are used for ‘fraudulent purposes’ (Sutherland, p.250) in chapter 14, Sutherland states that the corporation’s criminal behaviour has affected many, from consumers, employees, investors as well as the state (Sutherland, 1983). Sutherland is provocative on this point he argues that, these criminal behaviours are not isolated they are ‘deliberate and have a relatively consistent unity’ (Sutherland, 1983, p.227) in other words these acts are professional well executed organised crime. Not everyone agrees Sutherland’s white collar crime concept, some argue that ‘the concept derives from a socialist, anti-business viewpoint that defines the term by the class of those it stigmatizes’ (Heritage.org, 2004) they accused him of interfering in the law and thus ‘perverts the justice system’ for political gains (Heritage.org, 2004).

Sutherland made a number of significant observations which I cannot list here due to word limitation. He noted that people of respectable upper socio economic class commit serious illegal acts which could results loss of life and property and therefore should be considered crime. These acts of crime are committed in the work place. White collar crime is not invented, it’s learned through association and influence with others

This is work by Sutherland, is cutting edge academic research, it exposes the greed and the criminal behaviour of corporations and forces traditional criminologist to accept that white collar crime is indeed a crime. It is a useful tool to force the corporations to implement social responsibility and accept accountability.

Bibliography

Heritage.org, 2004. The Sociological Origins of “White-Collar Crime. [Online] Available at: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2004/10/the-sociological-origins-of-white-collar-crime [Accessed 24 October 2011].

Sutherland, E.H., 1983. White Collar Crime: The uncut version. Binghamton, N.Y: Vail-Ballou, Press.

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