Neutralising Deviance

Matza’s (1964) notion of “Delinquency and Drift” is particularly useful for the way it looks at “techniques of neutralisation” and while these ideas are still relevant the focus has tended to be on the behaviour of individual, mainly lower class, deviants.

It would, however, be a mistake to think Matza’s ideas can’t be applied to contemporary examples – both individual and, in this particular instance, corporate. HSBC’s response to revelations about their “tax avoidance practices” demonstrate a classic “neutralisation technique” – condemnation of the condemnators: Because “regulatory standards” were lower “in the past” it’s not the fault of HSBC management, per se, but rather the fault of those who drafted and enforced (or not as the case may be) the regulations.

This particular story is also a useful source in relation to corporate and organised crime – in terms of the latter, for example, it suggests ways organised crime is able to launder “illegal profits” through legal institutions (banks) who don’t ask too many questions…

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