Geis, Sutherland, and White-collar Crime

Part 1 of 2

By Robert F. Meier, Ph.D

The following article and foreword are excerpted from the new book "Contemporary Issues in Crime & Criminal Justice: Essays in Honor of Gilbert Geis," edited by Henry N. Pontell and David Shichor. This collection, published by Prentice Hall, was assembled in honor of Dr. Geis on his 75th birthday. Dr. Geis is the longtime president of the Association. See the end of the article for book ordering information. - ed. 

Edwin Sutherland and Gilbert Geis share a strong mutual interest in white-collar crime. Each of these criminologists had made important contributions to the theory and research of white-collar crime at different times. My purpose here is to compare the contributions of these scholars to our understanding of white-collar crime. In so doing, I hope to elucidate the important contributions made by Gilbert Geis to this topic.

The thesis of this article can be stated simply: the promise in the pioneering work of Edwin Sutherland on white-collar crime has been fulfilled more in the works of Geis than in the works of any other scholar. That promise was vast, and there was much work to be done at the time of Sutherland's death in 1950 in spite of his vigorous labor.
While Sutherland's mark was strong (he coined the term "white-collar crime"), one could argue that he left the study of white-collar crime in disarray, without a definitional rudder and sufficient empirical work to power the field beyond his initial foray. While Sutherland staked the initial claim, Geis exploited it to the point where it became a major area of study and public policy.

We will see that early ventures into the study of white-collar crime immediately after Sutherland's death were tentative and not especially helpful in refining and building the concept. It would be nearly two decades after Sutherland's death that the area of white-collar crime would come into its own, and the principal reason for that is the ongoing contributions of Gilbert Geis.

This article examines both biography and intellectual approaches to discern the unique contributions of Sutherland and Geis in understanding white-collar crime.

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