Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Growth of Corporate Crime as a Subject

I am wary of talking of corporate crime, because I am wary of limiting myself to criminal law and no more, given crime’s shaky meaning (see Crime and Punishment 1) and because I am interested in areas where there is maybe some thing that looks wrong and engages the law, but no crime is committed. But I doubt many scholars study corporate naughtiness.
Corporate crime has become a more widely considered subject. I’m not the only blogger on these sorts of subjects, and others, like and are far more concentrated and detailed than this one.
But why is it demanding more and more interest? Nicola Lacey recognised four reasons when considering why there were steps towards recognition of corporate homicide:

o   Technology – as technology advances, disasters can be more disastrous. So we care more.

o   Communications – and then we let everyone know about these events quickly.

o   Attitude – sociologists have noted we are increasingly interested in pinning responsibility to someone or some thing, including systems/stuctures as well as individuals.

o   Corporate significance – these days there are bigger corporations, playing bigger roles, featuring more highly in social conciousness.

Disagreeing with Nicola Lacey is not high on the to-do list of a criminal law student. She's featured on the rather splendid Philosophy Bites website, for a start. But here, it’s not so much that I disagree is that I’m pretty underwhelmed by these reasons. Of course companies have got bigger, in real, relative terms. They can and do wield more power over larger areas than before. And as they do, they can do worse things.

Technology, communications and attitudes are all relevant but are relevant across the board. Corporations can execute incredibly complicated frauds using means that are difficult to comprehend, never mind regulate. But equally, technology plays roles in other crimes – carjacking becomes less prevalent as car security gets better, but Facebook can help create riots. Communications are equally relevant to international cartels as to creating YouTube videos of vigilante train justice. And as to blame culture, thank God we blame people, not ‘fate, chance [or] the gods’.

I think, simply (it’s easier that way), that bigger corporations doing bigger bad things leads to more interest. And as we criminalise more practices, there’s more to study. It’s not surprising that there is more US scholarship on corporate crime given the fact they are at the forefront of criminal enforcement of, for  example, competition offences. They just got concerned first, and that’s very possibly linked to their brand of capitalism breeding bigger companies quicker.

Further, it is important to remember that numerous academic subjects have grown rapidly. More people are more educated, and when that happens, it’s little wonder they find and fill their own disciplines and niches.

[Lacey's arguments from an article by her extracted in Criminal Law: Cases, Texts and Materials (Herring, OUP)]

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