(Note: Sample material is taken from uncorrected proofs. Changes
may be made prior to publication.)
Edward C. Hayes, chair of the department of sociology at the University
of Illinois and editor of sociology books for the publisher J.
B. Lippincott, invited a professor he had recently hired to write
a criminology textbook. At the time, the request may have seemed
a bit odd to the prospective author: He had a Ph.D. in sociology
from the University of Chicago and had taught courses that dealt
with criminology, but his specialization was in political economy,
and he was little known, with no publications in criminology.
Whatever Hayes' motivations, the invitation proved fortuitous:
Edwin H. Sutherland's Criminology (1924), retitled Principles
of Criminology in 1934, was to become the most influential
textbook in the history of criminology.
The first edition of the text was a solid scholarly work but hardly
original in its approach. While researching and writing the book,
Sutherland quickly mastered the existing literature in criminology,
which explained criminal behavior as a product of either "inherited
feeble-mindedness" or "multiple-factors." Sutherland
largely rejected the claim that criminals were simpleminded but
did endorse the latter view, explaining different criminal behaviors
through the relative influence of various geographic, economic,
political, and sociological factors.
edition still endorsed a multiple-factor explanation, although
a number of developments in Sutherland's career and thinking were
beginning to point him toward proposing a groundbreaking general
sociological theory. In 1930, Sutherland accepted a position as
a research professor at the University of Chicago. After Sutherland's
arrival, Beardsley Ruml, dean of the university's Division of
Social Sciences, called a meeting with several faculty members
to discuss what researchers knew about the origins of criminal
behavior. Sutherland was embarrassed to admit that to date, criminologists
had made little progress toward answering this question.
response to Ruml's inquiry, Sutherland's colleague Louis Wirth
published an article in 1931 that attributed criminal behavior
to "culture conflict." Wirth argued that in complex,
heterogeneous societies like that of the United States, the rules
followed by some groups (especially immigrants) clash with the
beliefs of the dominant culture. In this circumstance, behavior
that is considered obedient in one group may be unorthodox and
even criminal in the eyes of society. The important implication
is that criminal behavior may actually conform to some subcultural
the Bureau of Social Hygiene in New York City published the Michael-Adler
Report, a study commissioned to evaluate the desirability of establishing
a national institute to train criminological researchers. Authors
Jerome Michael and Mortimer Adler were highly critical of existing
criminological research; they were especially skeptical of the
multiple-factors approach, claiming that criminologists should
strive to create abstract, general theories that explain all forms
of criminal behavior. Sutherland was stung but still deeply impressed
by these views.
Also in 1932,
Sutherland had the good fortune to meet Broadway Jones, a fast-talking,
boastful, and articulate Chicago-area grifter (confidence man).
Jones regaled Sutherland with stories about his many impressive
criminal exploits, which the two gradually compiled and published
as The Professional Thief (1937) (in which Jones used the
pseudonym "Chic Conwell"). These conversations convinced
Sutherland that professional criminals learn the techniques and
attitudes associated with their work from close relationships
with other professional criminals.
edition of Principles of Criminology featured a paragraph
claiming that crime occurs when behaviors learned within different
cultures and groups come into conflict. Sutherland apparently
did not view this as a potential explanation for criminal behavior
until Henry McKay, a fellow researcher at the University of Chicago,
referred to the passage as "your theory." From that
point onward, Sutherland spent much of the remainder of his career
formulating, revising, and defending his renowned "differential
came to believe that multiple factors like gender, race, and age
cannot in themselves explain criminal behavior. Rather, he theorized
that crime is caused by the different interactions and patterns
of learning that occur in groups (e.g., juvenile gangs) that happen
to be composed primarily of males, minority group members, or
young people. By the time the fourth edition appeared (1947),
Sutherland clearly stated differential association theory in a
set of nine abstract principles listed near the beginning of the
textbook. The principles claimed that behavior is learned through
a process of communication in intimate personal groups. These
groups teach "definitions" (including skills, motivations,
attitudes, and rationalizations) either favorable or unfavorable
to the violation of the law. Criminal behavior results when one
is exposed to an excess of definitions favorable to the violation
of the law over unfavorable definitions.
death in 1950, first Donald R. Cressey and then David F. Luckenbill
kept Principles of Criminology in print as Sutherland's
coauthors (the 11th edition appeared in 1992). Generations of
criminologists and their students learned differential association
theory as an accepted wisdom through this extremely successful
textbook. Numerous empirical studies also supported the key arguments
in the theory. Other influential explanations for criminal behavior
built upon Sutherland's insights, mostly by blending differential
association with related theories. Albert K. Cohen, Richard A.
Cloward, and Lloyd E. Ohlin created important theories of delinquent
gang behavior by combining differential association with Robert
K. Merton's strain theory. C. Ray Jeffery and Ronald L. Akers
formulated modern social learning theories of criminal behavior
by restating differential association in the language of behavioral
psychology. Neutralization theory was inspired by Gresham M. Sykes
and David Matza's attempt to clarify the difference between the
learning of rationalizations (offered as justifications after
criminal behavior occurs) and of "neutralizations,"
or excuses that offenders communicate and learn before they commit
considered differential association to be a general sociological
theory of criminal behavior. He was especially suspicious of theories
that related poverty to crime, believing that police statistics
were biased when they showed that most crimes occurred in lower-class
neighborhoods. To bolster this view, in 1928 he began a study
of law violations among the seventy largest corporations in the
United States, eventually coining the term "white-collar
crime" to refer to the occupational offenses committed by
respectable persons. After 20 years of painstaking research, Sutherland
finally completed a book reporting his findings. Fearing lawsuits,
his publisher, Dryden Press, insisted that he delete the names
of corporations accused but not convicted of crimes. The expurgated
version of White Collar Crime appeared in 1949; a restored
edition was not published until 1983.
examined four types of crime committed by large corporations:
false advertising, restraint of trade, unfair labor practices,
and patent, copyright, and trademark infringement. He uncovered
980 violations of these laws among the 70 businesses that he studied
(an average of 14 per company). Ninety percent of the corporations
were habitual offenders, with four or more violations. Sutherland
relied on differential association theory to explain these crimes,
arguing that young executives learn definitions favorable to the
violation of the law through the routines of business practice.
He considered white-collar crime a greater threat to society than
street crime because the former promotes cynicism and distrust
of basic social institutions.
of white-collar crime and this pioneering research were immensely
important developments. The eminent British criminologist Hermann
Mannheim observed that if there were a Nobel prize in criminology,
Sutherland would have received it for these contributions. Sutherland's
work quickly inspired such notable criminologists as Cressey,
Marshall Clinard, and Frank E. Hartung to conduct studies of embezzlement
and the violation of rationing laws through black-market profiteering
by corporations during World War II. Some more recent influential
examples of research on white-collar crime include studies of
the collective embezzlement practiced by top executives during
the savings and loan scandal of the 1980s, Medicaid fraud and
the performance of unnecessary surgery by physicians, and the
dumping of drugs banned in the United States into third world
countries by the pharmaceutical industry.
Even if Sutherland
never proposed differential association theory nor coined the
term white-collar crime, he still would be recognized as a major
20th-century criminologist. When he abandoned the multiple-factors
approach, Sutherland conducted a relentless academic turf war,
tirelessly defending the idea that criminology was a specialty
within sociology, and not a part of some other discipline. Two
important publications, "Mental Deficiency and Crime"
(1931) and "The Sexual Psychopath Laws" (1950), vigorously
debated psychological explanations for criminal behavior. The
former disputed the notion that "feeble-mindedness,"
as measured through performance on IQ tests, could be a general
explanation for delinquency and crime, given the superior intelligence
of some offenders. The latter criticized state laws that defined
child molesters and rapists as mentally ill, rejecting the claim
that these offenders were sexual psychopaths (or "fiends"
with little control over their impulses).
In the 1940s,
Sutherland successfully defended a behavioral definition of crime,
as supported by social scientists, against a legalistic definition,
preferred by some with training in the criminal law. Paul W. Tappan
proposed the legalistic approach, arguing that criminologists
should study only persons who actually had been convicted of crimes.
This view threatened Sutherland's emerging research on white-collar
criminals, because many corporations that violate the law are
never prosecuted. Sutherland (1945) maintained that conviction
is important in the study of public agency (or justice system)
responses to crime, but it cannot be used in defining the subject
matter of criminology, which must explain all forms of law-violating
behavior. This behavioral definition of crime still prevails in
sharpest attacks, though, were directed toward biological explanations
of criminal behavior. He saw these as a threat to the first principle
of differential association theory ("criminal behavior is
learned"). For Sutherland, learning was entirely a social
product, disconnected from the functional operation of the body
and the mind. In a number of book reviews published from 1934
to 1951, he harshly attacked scholars who attributed criminal
behavior to the physical inferiority of offenders (E. A. Hooton),
to "mesomorphy" (or a strong, muscular body type; William
H. Sheldon), or to a multiple-factors approach that included "constitutional"
(or biological) elements (Sheldon Glueck and Eleanor Glueck).
These book reviews were a crucial part of Sutherland's campaign
to define crime as social behavior.
is better remembered for his conceptual and theoretical contributions
to criminology than for any advances in research measures. This
may be unfair, given his outstanding use of the "life histories"
approach (a qualitative technique that offers biographical accounts
of individuals or groups) in The Professional Thief Clifford
R. Shaw is usually credited with introducing life histories research
into criminology, but Sutherland mastered the technique in his
depiction of the life of Broadway Jones. Apart from skillfully
reporting the language, attitudes, and lifestyles of con artists
in the early 20th century, The Professional Thief is highly
entertaining. Hollywood filmmakers borrowed liberally from the
book in writing the screenplay for The Sting (1973).
Sutherland's legacy extends beyond scholarship to teaching and
professional service. Several of his graduate students became
influential criminologists, including Cressey, Ohlin, Mary Owen
Cameron, Albert K. Cohen, and Karl Schuessler. Besides serving
as chair of the department of sociology at Indiana University
in Bloomington for 15 years, Sutherland was elected president
of several national sociological societies. By the time of his
death in 1950, it had become a colloquialism in sociology to refer
to him as the "Dean of American Criminology."
stature has diminished little since his death. Studies evaluating
the influence of scholars through citations to their work still
rank him as one of the most important figures in contemporary
criminology. Revisionist thinkers, however, have begun to question
some aspects of his legacy. As modern criminology has evolved
into an independent, interdisciplinary field rather than a specialty
within sociology, Sutherland's pugnacious rejection of the contributions
of biology and psychology to the study of criminal behavior seems
misguided. In particular, his insistence that inheritance plays
no role in learning is not supported by late-20th-century research
in biology and psychology. Even worse, speculation has surfaced
that Sutherland misrepresented certain details in The Professional
Thief to suit his theoretical needs. Apparently, Broadway
Jones was heavily addicted to narcotics; Sutherland downplayed
this part of his biography, fearing that readers would interpret
this drug use as an indication of mental illness rather than as
a learned behavior. Sutherland insisted on the highest level of
academic integrity among scholars towards whom he was critical
(the Gluecks, Hooton, and Sheldon); the idea that he may have
violated these same standards suggests a troubling hypocrisy.
observations, Sutherland's impact on criminology was truly revolutionary.
In 1921, when Sutherland was asked to write his textbook, criminology
was heading in multiple directions, with inherited "feeble-mindedness"
as its only general theory. Thirty years later, sociologists firmly
dominated criminology, largely because of Sutherland's efforts.
Edwin H. Sutherland in criminology, like Albert Einstein in physics,
turned accepted wisdom on its head and transformed a discipline.
Nebraska, 13 August 1883; son of a Baptist minister. Educated
at Grand Island College in Nebraska, A.B., 1903; University of
Chicago, Ph.D. in Sociology and Political Economy, 1913. Professor,
William Jewell College in Missouri, 1913-1919; professor, University
of Illinois, 1919-1925; professor, University of Minnesota, 1925-1929;
researcher, Bureau of Social Hygiene in New York City, 1929-1930;
research professor, University of Chicago, 1930-1935; professor
and chair of the department of sociology, Indiana University,
1935-1950. President of American Sociological Society, 1939; president
of the Sociological Research Association, 1940; president of the
Ohio Valley Sociological Society, 1941. Died Bloomington, Indiana,
11 October 1950.
1924; 11th edition, as Principles of Criminology (with
Donald R. Cressey and David F. Luckenbill), 1992
Deficiency and Crime," in Social Attitudes, edited
by Kimball Young (1931)
'White-Collar Crime' Crime?" American Sociological Review
White Collar Crime, 1949
Sexual Psychopath Laws," Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology
On Analyzing Crime, 1973
Collar Crime: The Uncut Version, 1983
and Further Reading
Alfred Lindesmith, and Karl Schuessler, editors, The Sutherland
Papers, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1956
Gaylord, Mark S., and John F. Galliher, The Criminology of
Edwin Sutherland, New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction,
and Colin Goff, "Introduction," in White Collar Crime:
The Uncut Version, by Edwin H. Sutherland, New Haven, Connecticut:
Yale University Press, 1983
"Edwin H. Sutherland and White-Collar Crime," Ph.D.
diss., University of California, Irvine, 1982
H., and Robert J. Sampson, "The Sutherland-Glueck Debate:
On the Sociology of Criminological Knowledge," The American
Journal of Sociology 96, no. 6 (1991)
Karl, "Introduction," in On Analyzing Crime,
by Edwin H. Sutherland, Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
Jon, "The American Criminological Tradition: Portraits of
the Men and Ideology in a Discipline," Ph.D. diss., University
of Pennsylvania, 1972
Jon, "The Criminologist and His Criminal: Edwin H. Sutherland
and Broadway Jones," Issues in Criminology 8, no.
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