Sutherland-Tappan Debate

MOST ASTUTE STUDENTS of criminology, particularly those interested in the topic of white-collar crime, are quite familiar with Edwin Sutherland's famous definition of the term: “a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation.” In focusing on white-collar crime as an area of research, Sutherland's main interest was in critiquing existing criminological theories. At this time, the main theories, such as social disorganization theory, sought to explain crime as a result of various structural factors, including poverty and inequality.

As Sutherland correctly argued, existing theories could easily explain violent, or common crimes committed by unemployed, street criminals. However, factors such as poverty could not accurately explain the criminal activities of educated, higher status individuals working in legitimate ...

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