Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Studying Corporate Crime: Making the Case for Virtual Reality

Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Studying Corporate Crime: Making the Case for Virtual Reality

Article excerpt


Over the past 70 years, more than a few dedicated sociologists and criminologists have devoted considerable time and effort to studying the phenomenon of white-collar crime. Throughout this period, the study of white-collar crime has taken on many different forms and touched myriad areas. The current epoch in criminological scholarship of white-collar crime has focused heavily on the problem of corporate crime and deviance. Lead by many influential scholars, investigations into corporate crime have produced a wealth of knowledge relating to corporate offending, corporate law, and the corporate offender (see: Benson, 1985; Braithwaite, 1982; Geis, 1962; 2007; Mueller, 1957; Simpson, 2002; Sutherland, 1949; Yeager, 1979).

The empirical literature on corporate crime has significantly influenced our exposure to the motivations and rationalizations behind corporate offending. These motivations and rationalizations distinguish "suite" offenders from "street' offenders. Unlike traditional "street crimes," corporate crimes do not present themselves in visible and consistent ways. For example, street crimes typically involve offenders who have close, intimate contact with victims and witnesses. The intimate proximity of street offenders to their victims requires that they attempt to hide their identities in an effort to conceal their involvement in what are usually visible and public acts.

Corporate crimes, however, are not nearly as visible and public as many "street" offenses. This is due to the fact that rather than attempting to hide their identities, corporate offenders use their identities to create a superficial appearance of legitimacy (Benson & Simpson, 2009). The reality that corporate crimes can be technically complex (i.e., manipulation of corporate financial records, large-scale ponzi schemes, and price fixing conspiracies), and that these crimes are diffused over space and time, aids offenders in hiding their misdeeds. This complexity, and the sometimes esoteric nature of the business world, creates issues for researchers attempting to study the details of corporate crimes and corporate offenders.

Traditionally, the study of corporate crime has utilized the same methodologies (selfadministered surveys, collection of official data, ethnographic research) employed in the study of traditional street crimes. These methodologies, while very useful for gathering information about offenders and specific crimes, do not fully capture the processes that underlie decisions to offend in the corporate environment. Capturing the situation and role-specific influences that affect the decision-making process is necessary to advancing our understanding of corporate crime. For example, because one's position, autonomy, industry, and peers affect decision-making within corporations, one will rarely make a decision without input from several different channels. In the business world individuals will receive, and at times solicit, information from other parties that may influence their decision on a particular issue. Gaining an increased understanding of these decisionmaking processes, which underlie corporate crimes, will aid in the detection and prevention of such crimes.

Prevention efforts are hampered by the fact that corporate crimes occur within complex organizations where situational and organizational characteristics affect decisionmaking at the individual level. Ignoring the impact of these characteristics on the opportunity structure for corporate crime ignores the social reality within which organizational offenders exist. This reality is one where the individual is at times indistinguishable from the organization. Acts attributed to the organization are in actuality the result of decisions by an individual or a group of individuals. The complexities of organizational life require studies of corporate crime to encompass individual and groupbased factors that attempt to identify opportunities for unethical and illegal conduct. …

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