Elite deviance

From Wikispooks
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Concept.png Elite deviance
(Crime,  Corruption)Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
The Power Elite2.png
Graphic from the theory of C. Wright Mills on the The Power Elite.
Criminality done by the rich and powerful.

Elite deviance is a condition known to sociologists that exists in a society when the elite of that society no longer believe that the rules apply to them.

“It is not due primarily to psycho-pathological variables, but to the institutionalization of elite wrongdoing,” according to Professor David R. Simon.[1]


In 1940, Edwin Sutherland established the concept and definition of “white-collar” crime. In his article “Is ‘White-Collar Crime’ Crime?”, Sutherland defined white-collar crime as “crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation” (Sutherland 1945). Shortly thereafter, in 1956, C. Wright Mills published The Power Elite, subsequently coining the term “the power elite” in reference to the military, corporate, and political elite (Mills 1956). Mills discussed the interlocking relationship of the power elite, ultimately enabling their success and rendering the ordinary citizen relatively powerless. Deviance perpetrated by the power elite for purposes of personal gain or power characterize the traditional conception of elite deviance. The notion of “elite deviance” has a longstanding and murky history, with no truly clear definition. Elite deviance entails a variety of criminal/deviant actions, including:

  • healthcare frauds
  • price fixing
  • antitrust violations.

As a result of its broad nature, scholars have often altered or manipulated the definition of elite deviance, but there are certain key elements that remain constant, such as upper-class status. Perhaps, the most inclusive and helpful description comes from David R. Simon in his book Elite Deviance. Simon defines elite deviance as the actions committed by elites and/or the organizations they head that lead to physical, financial, or moral harm; these acts include:

  • economic domination
  • government control,
  • denial of basic human rights in order to experience personal or organizational gain in profits or power

Organizations frequently play a central role in elite deviance due to the arrangement of American institutions. First and foremost, American institutional structure is composed of “people whose positions within organizations have provided them the greatest amount of wealth, power, and often prestige of any such positions in the nation” — in other words, the power elite. As such, the concept of elite deviance centers on individual or organizational offenders acting out of personal interest, organizational goals, or both. Second, because organizations hold a “shield of elitist invisibility,” elites are able to perpetrate deviant acts with relative ease. Consequently, those in power – the power elite – possess the capability to define deviance in their own terms, in ways that benefit their status positions. The power held by the power elite (social, political, and economic) yields the ability to influence ideologies and, subsequently, deviance, itself.

According to Alex Thio, those in positions of power and leaders of organizations are inclined to engage in deviant behavior for three reasons:

  1. their goals are more challenging to legitimately achieve;
  2. there are more opportunities for them to cheat on their taxes or steal from their company;
  3. they experience weaker social controls (Salinger 2005).

Essentially, as a result of structural complexities that render deviance relatively easy and the lenient penalties for elite deviance, individuals in positions of power are more likely to commit these deviant acts. Elite deviance is, at a basic level, the “violation and manipulation” of the standards for trust (Shapiro 1990). Ultimately, individuals and organizations establish their elite role on an imbalanced system of trust.[2]

External links