Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Rotten Apples versus Rotten Barrels in White Collar Crime: A Qualitative Analysis of White Collar Offenders in Norway

Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Rotten Apples versus Rotten Barrels in White Collar Crime: A Qualitative Analysis of White Collar Offenders in Norway

Article excerpt


Ashforth et al. (2008) argue that it is comforting to assume that one bad apple or renegade faction within an organization is somewhat responsible for the crime we too often observe. However, organizations are important to our understanding of crime, because they influence the actions of their members. Therefore, both micro and macro views are important to understand crime.

It is certainly an interesting issue whether to view white-collar misconduct and crime as acts of individuals perceived as 'rotten apples' or as an indication of systems failure in the company, the industry or the society as a whole. The perspective of occupational crime is favoring the individualistic model of deviance, which is a human failure model of misconduct and crime. This rotten apple view of white-collar crime is a comfortable perspective to adopt for business organizations as it allows them to look no further than suspect individuals. It is only when other forms of group (O'Connor, 2005) and/or systemic (Punch, 2003) corruption and other kinds of crime erupt upon a business enterprise that a more critical look is taken of white-collar criminality. Furthermore, when serious misconduct occurs and is repeated, there seems to be a tendency to consider crime as a result of bad practice, lack of resources or mismanagement, rather than acts of criminals.

White-collar crime is financial crime committed by white-collar criminals. Sensational white-collar crime cases regularly appear in the international business press and studies in journals of ethics and crime. White-collar crime is financial crime committed by upper class members of society for personal or organizational gain. White-collar criminals are individuals who tend to be wealthy, highly educated, and socially connected, and they are typically employed by, and in, legitimate organizations. Ever since Edwin Sutherland introduced the concept of "white-collar" crime in 1939, researchers have discussed what might be encompassed by this concept and what might be excluded. The discussion is summarized by scholars such as Benson and Simpson (2009), Blickle et al. (2006), Bookman (2008), Brightman (2009), Bucy et al. (2008), Eicher (2009), Garoupa (2007), Hansen (2009), Heath (2008), Kempa (2010), McKay et al. (2010), Pickett and Pickett (2002), Podgot (2007), Robson (2010), and Schnatterly (2003).

Most of these scholars apply anecdotal evidence to suggest what might be included and what might be excluded from the concepts of white-collar crime and white-collar criminals. Examples of anecdotal evidence in the United States are famous white-collar criminals such as Bernard Madoff, Raj Rajaratnam and Jeffrey K. Skilling. While being relevant and interesting case studies, the extent of generalization from such case studies applied by some of the scholars mentioned above is questionable. What seems to be needed is a larger sample of white-collar criminals that can be studied in terms of average values as well as variation in white-collar characteristics.

With a larger sample, we can study white-collar crime convictions using statistical techniques to identify and study groups of white-collar criminals. Therefore, this article is concerned with the following research question: What differences can be found between rotten apples versus participants in rotten barrels among white-collar criminals?

Literature Review

The most economically disadvantaged members of society are not the only ones committing crime. Members of the privileged socioeconomic class are also engaged in criminal behavior (Brightman, 2009). The types of crime may differ from those of the lower classes, such as business executives bribing public officials to achieve contracts, chief accountants manipulating balance sheets to avoid taxes, and procurement managers approving fake invoices for personal gain.

Criminal behavior by members of the privileged socioeconomic class is labeled whitecollar crime (Benson and Simpson, 2009). …

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