Other Free Encyclopedias » Law Library - American Law and Legal Information » Crime and Criminal Law » White-Collar Crime: History of an Idea - The Evolution Of White-collar Crime, White-collar Crime From The Enforcement Perspective, Conclusion

White-Collar Crime: History of an Idea - Conclusion

concept social meaning status

As this review suggests, the concept of white-collar crime is in a state of disarray. Its evolution has been marked by changes in meaning that often preserve, rather than reduce, fundamental ambiguities. The term still denotes crimes of high status to some, while to others it refers to either occupational or organizational illegality. Some concentrate on the nature of the offense; others, on its consequences. The offending conduct appears in a different guise when the enforcement perspective is examined, and analysts still cannot agree whether it should be regarded as criminal.

Given this confusion, the logical solution is to abandon the concept of white-collar crime and develop separate, more neatly bounded areas of inquiry. One body of researchers might devote their attention to the relation of social status to criminality and to sentence disparity; another group, to the use of occupation in the commission of crimes. Still other investigators might study the various layers of formal organizations so as to examine how corporate offenses are conducted, and yet others might focus on regulatory agencies and their enforcement activities.

As neat as this solution might seem, it misses a fundamental point. Ambiguous since its outset, the concept of white-collar crime nevertheless appears to have enormous staying power. Why is it still in use, given its frailties? The suggestion is that the concept reflects deeply felt concerns that make psychological and social sense, even if they present logical ambiguities. The overall crime problem is commonly perceived to center on the lower echelons of society. It is the down- and-out, the unemployed, and the victims of stratification and race prejudice who constitute the bulk of those processed by the criminal justice system. White-collar crime, on the other hand, stands for all the wrongs committed by those in more advantaged positions. The source of the advantage may differ, sometimes reflecting individual status, sometimes occupational role, and sometimes organizational position. The animus that nourishes the concept is often an expression of frustration or outrage at the great imbalance of power between large organizations and their victims. Often, however, it reflects a concern for the weakening of the social fabric created when people in privileged positions destroy trust by committing crimes. Their offenses eat into the life of the community just as surely, if not as visibly, as physical assault. It is this combination of evocative features that keeps the concept of white-collar crime alive despite its flawed logical status.

When the original arguments over the meaning of the concept were at their height, the sociologist Vilhelm Aubert cautioned against efforts to decide on the concept's true meaning. White-collar crime struck him as a phenomenon highly reflective of more pervasive features of the social order. Theoretical interest lies precisely in the varying attitudes regarding such conduct held by persons from different stations in life. This view remains relevant and may well help explain the longevity of the concept. Many middle- and upper-class citizens engage in some forms of white-collar illegality while condemning others. Rather than abandoning the concept because of its logical flaws, there is a need to examine its social meaning, as well as the conditions under which the various offenses that are grouped under the "white-collar" rubric are committed, detected, and sanctioned.

White-Collar Crime: History of an Idea - Bibliography [next] [back] White-Collar Crime: History of an Idea - White-collar Crime From The Enforcement Perspective

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or