Research in Crime & Delinquency

Another theory that has been used to explain white-collar crime is Social Disorganization theory (Sutherland, 1983). Social disorganization can appear in the form of lack of standards or conflict of standards that are accepted by society (Sutherland, 1983). According to Sutherland (1983), social disorganization is a hypothetical explanation of crime from the point of view of the society.

Sutherland (1983) suggests that in order for disorganization to occur in society in the control over business the following two conditions must be present: (1) the behavior must be complex, technical, and not easily observable by inexperienced citizens and (2) the fact that society is changing rapidly in its business relations. When there is a period of rapid change old standards have a tendency to break down (Sutherland, 1983).

a)    Strain Theory Another theory that relates to the motivation to commit white-collar crime is Strain Theory. The best evidence of a strain theory that applies to white-collar crimes is Robert Merton’s version of strain theory and the concept of anomie in American society. Merton’s theory is founded on the idea that the culture in any society defines certain goals as desirable (Vold, Bernard, & Snipes, 1998). The culture provides the approved norms, or institutionalized means that all individuals are expected to follow in pursuing the desired cultural goal. The means are derived from values within the culture.

Often these means will exclude the easiest or most efficient methods of achieving the desired goal. Because not all people can achieve the desired goal of the culture, it is very important that the culture place a high importance on the means and the importance of following those means in the pursuit of the desired goal (Ibid). According to Merton’s theory there are five modes of individual adaptation that occurs in the pursuit of the culturally defined goal (Ibid). The first mode is conformity.

Individuals who practice conformity believe in the cultural goal and also in the institutional means of achieving the desired goal. The second mode is Innovation. This mode involves the acceptance of the cultural goal but does not accept the institutional means of achieving the. Ritualism is the third mode. These individuals do not accept the cultural goal but accept the institutional means of achieving the goal. Retreatism is the next mode of adaptation. Individuals reject both the goal and the institutional means.

The last mode of adaptation is rebellion. Individuals reject the desired cultural goals and the institutional means, but replace them with new goals and means. Strain Theory can also relate to Albrecht, Wernz, & Williams’s (1995) concept of the fraud triangle. One motivation in the fraud triangle is a strong financial pressure (Ibid). If the value of the goal is more important than the means of achieving the goal then individuals will seek out alternative ways of achieving the goal of wealth; these alternative ways include fraud.

b)    Neutralization Theory Sykes & Matza developed the techniques of neutralization theory in 1957. The main idea in neutralization theory is that individuals do not view themselves as criminals (Sykes & Matza, 1957). The offender’s criminal behavior contradicts their self-image and therefore they must develop ways of justifying or neutralizing their criminal behavior (Vold, Bernard, & Snipes, 1998; Sykes & Matza, 1957). There are five techniques of neutralization used to define the offender's behavior.

These techniques include (1) denial of responsibility, (2) denial of injury, (3) denial of victims, (4) condemn the condemners, and (5) appeal to higher loyalties (Vold, Bernard, & Snipes, 1998; Sykes & Matza, 1957) White-collar offenders are often strongly committed to the central normative structure; many of them go through elaborate neutralization processes prior to their offenses (Benson, 1985). Offenders use techniques of neutralization to relieve themselves of the duty to behave according to the norms, laws, and practices.

Many white-collar offenders make a conscious but difficult decision to engage in criminality when they had not done so previously (Wheeler, 1992). These offenders use the techniques of neutralization to define their new criminal behavior as being acceptable, which allows them to commit the illegal act. White-collar crime will be prevalent in our society until we are able to confront and penetrate the rationalizations used by white-collar offenders (Benson, 1985). One of the more prevalent forms of neutralization is the belief that the individual is performing the illegal act for the benefit of the company or organization.

Often these offenders who commit their offenses for the good of the company see themselves as honest criminals. Ettore found that many white-collar offenders who commit their crimes for the good of the company “believe the objectives have overriding importance over legalities and ethics” (1994, p. 14). It can be seen that these employees do not see their offenses as being wrong because it is committed for the benefit of the company; the company will accept their behavior as a smart business move an will not seek any form of discipline.

When this is the motivation for these offenders, they see themselves as helping the company and therefore their actions should not be met with punishment. These individuals neutralize their behavior by taking the blame off of them because they did it for the advancement of the organization as a whole, which in their mind is a positive behavior.


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