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Threaded Discussion: Criminology

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: November 24, 1999
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Downsizing and Corporate Crime
Don't You Have to Violate a Norm to Commit a Crime?

Downsizing and Corporate Crime

Thread initiated by Cliff Parker, Criminology, CSUDH, September 2, 1999

Cliff: "How does corporate America live with itself while laying off /downsizing thousands of people? Disrupting the lives of Americans who have faithfully given service to an organization/company for any number of years. Possibly, forcing some people to the streets.

"This I say is Criminal Behavior practiced by Corporate American Business. Where is the social responsibility and good faith between business and the workforce?  Are there labor laws protecting the citizenry against this very real criminal?

"Habermas, surely has thoughts pertaining to this socially constructed attitude and way of practicing  business while doing in the laborer. Can I, consider this business practice of downsizing as a social business construction of the 1990's?"

Jeanne: "Habermas would remind us that legitimacy requires that the validity claims of every citizen be heard in good faith. You are raising a validity claim, not just of an individual citizen, but of an entire special interest group: the worker for whom there is no work sufficient unto a non-poverty life style. The fact that this validity claim is not being noticeably voiced in the media, and is being little discussed in the midst of profit concerns, would indicate that the corporate policy of downsizing has resulted in some lack of legitimacy. And, yes, I agree with you, Cliff, that borders on crime.

The problem is that crime is usually defined by those with the power to enforce the law. Those for whom you speak do not have such power. Again, a problem for legitimacy. Lyotard would perhaps say that the entire issue of legitimacy involves a metanarrative which no longer holds validity at the approach of the 21st Century. You have attempted to define a "corporate crime." C.M.V.Clarkson, Professor of Law, University of Leicester, has done this in Corporate Culpability. Browse that piece, and we will follow with classroom discussion.

I would also recommend to you David M. Gordon's Fat and Mean: The Corporate Squeeze of Working Americans and the Myth of Managerial "Downsizing", The Free Press, New York, 1996. Gordon was a faculty member, economics, at the New School for Social Research, in New York, until his death in the Summer of 1996. Great loss. I will add material on his book, but it is one we should all read as we attempt to understand the new issues in labor relations."

Don't You Have to Violate a Norm to Commit a Crime?

Thread initiated by Marrischia Davis, Law, CSUDH, November 23, 1999

On November 16, 1999, Marrischia Davis wrote: To my understanding a crime is what society does not accept as a norm. If this is true, I don't see why downsizing would be considered a crime. I'm not saying that I agree with downsizing but those with the power and the money own these large companies and can make the rules. From what I see, if you don't have money, power or numbers then your voice might be heard but no actions will be taken. All the companies care about is more profit. They don't care how they get it, even if it affects other people's lives.
Marrischia Davis
(soc 328, soc 367, & soc 368)

On November 23, jeanne wrote: I see what you're saying about crime. I think this might help you bridge the two perspectives here: When we define crime as a violation of normative expectations we are making the unstated assumption (Minow) that the norms really are consensus norms. That is a conservative approach that takes the point of view of the group in power with the authority to design laws and insist upon enforcement. The critical approach takes a conflict point of view that many of those subjected to these very laws were not included in any consensual activity and obey laws only because those who write and enforce them have greater power: hence dominance. (See Conflict and Consensus Threaded Discusssion

Now, in the very next sentence you recognize that. You say that those who own the companies and have the power to dominate are concerned only with profit. The unstated assumption here is that power may be gathered and used in situations of dominance in the area of employment with no means of the power of workers to be heard in good faith. As I understand it, that is what Cliff is calling a crime. That fits the Habermasian approach to legitimacy: that each individual who is to be governed by the rules should have public discourse input to have his/her validity claims heard in good faith. That requires a leap from "legitimacy of the law and government" to "legitimacy of corporate governance." This seems to indicate that corporations which have assumed a position of dominance in control of the worker must be held to some sort of legitimacy as they exercise that control in the name of profits. The crime then would be a failure to honor the spirit of legitimacy in those parts our lives where corporations are able to dominate government.

Does that help? jeannne