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Dr. Robert Thomson Sociology Course White Collar Crimes

Photo Credit UAH/Michael Mercier

The Department of Sociology opens their special topics course White Collar Crime in the Spring of 2021. The course is led by Dr. Robert Thomson, Assistant Professor, whose research is focused on crime, religion, and social inequality. 

White Collar Crime will examine topics like embezzlements, fraud, negligence, environmental dumping and even political crimes like voter suppression and fraud from sociological and criminological perspectives. 

The class begins with understanding and defining “White Collar” crime. Dr. Thomson says, 

“It's a bit challenging to define. It's almost easier to say what it is not because back when people were just starting to study [criminological] terminologies they were focused on things like robberies, burglaries, assaults, and homicides. It's the kind of crime you know and read about by police submitted reports of individuals with low status in the system fabric. As you might expect these theories sort of overemphasize the rule of poverty that plays in creating crime. It was not until we started studying crime that came about from high status positions, that we came into the field of white collar crime.” 

White collar crime is defined by the types of jobs held by these individuals including clerics, doctors, lawyers, politicians, and business managers. Dr. Thomson describes white collar as  “the on quote “respectable people” but also the people that learned to manipulate the systems...So today we usually use the term occupational crimes. These are crimes committed by organizations and corporations and by political entities like the government and of course you know politicians themselves.”

The class will explore current events and topics ripped from the headlines. COVID-19 has produced a lot of opportunities for fraud including price gouging, scams about vaccines and cures, and reports of unsafe working conditions. Students will also dive into the Mueller investigation, concerns within the 2020 election, and the on-going possible links between Russia and politicians within the U.S. Students will also take on historical cases including Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker, Enron, and Watergate.

Dr. Thomson describes the importance of studying white collar crime, “It is often more costly to society than street crime both in terms of money obviously, but also lives lost. Corporate negligence and environmental crimes are responsible for far more deaths every year in society than homicide and far more injury than assault.”

The special topics course is open to all students. Sociology and psychology students will be interested in the course because it deals with issues of power and inequality. The examination of political crimes will be of large interest to those studying political science or interest in attending law school.  Lastly, business students will find great interest in uncovering corporate and finance crimes. 

For more information on the course view the short interview with Dr. Robert Thomson on the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Youtube Channel. For questions about the course, please contact soc@uah.edu