Theoretical Perspectives on White-Collar Crime
- Michael LeviMichael LeviSchool of Social Sciences, Cardiff University
White-collar crime has not developed in a linear way as an academic subject. Its definition remains contested, between those who consider that, when deciding on the boundaries of what we can explain, we cannot depart far from the decisions of criminal courts and, at the other extreme, those who substitute “social harm” for “crime” and see the theoretical task as explaining why criminal justice reacts far more severely to the less socially harmful acts. Most scholars are somewhere closer to the legalistic view, except that they substitute convictability for conviction, though convictability may be disputable except where there is a Deferred Prosecution Agreement or an agreed statement by the corporation. Individual, organizational, and cultural explanations of white-collar offenses are considered and are complementary, depending on the research question to be explored. Incomplete or distorted datasets are commonplace, but the increasing number of life course studies of white-collar criminality show that serious white-collar (and organized crime) offending typically has a later onset than other crimes. This may be due to established professionals being recruited as ‘enablers,’ and/or that a certain maturity is necessary to act as a credible borrower or investment intermediary, depending on the crime.
An important dimension of white-collar crime explains the decisions about formal and informal social control as ways of dealing with misconduct. These decisions range from detailed analysis of individual cases and patterns in a financial and/or industrial/service sector to macro explanations such as intentional or neglectful police/prosecutor resource starvation and protection of elites in neo-liberal societies. Some of the strategies are affected by whether regulator/regulatee relationships are repeat players progressing up the regulatory pyramid, or whether they are outsiders or intentional harm-doers, who may be less likely to be deterred or reformed by engagement with the regulators.