Snakes and ladders: Upper-middle class male offenders talk about economic crime

S Willott, C Griffin, M Torrance

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Citations (SciVal)


This paper analyses data emerging from an ESRC project I worked on as PI with SW as a named RA during the late 1990s: I supervised SW's PhD on this topic. The paper makes a distinctive contribution to knowledge about an under-researched group from a social-psychological perspective. This is unusual, since most research in this area focuses on working class male offenders and adopts a sociological approach. This study used a distinctive combination of Grounded Theory and Critical Discourse Analysis which I developed with SW, and which has proved influential in qualitative social psychology research. Criminology is a reasonably high impact US journal, and the main international journal in this field. This paper explores the ways in which male offenders in professional-status occupations prior to conviction construct and justify money-related crime. We report a detailed analysis, based in grounded theory and critical social-psychological discourse analysis, of a loosely-structured group interview with four offenders. The men constructed justifications for their offences in terms of 'breadwinning' for their immediate family and economic responsibility toward their extended 'family' of employees and creditors. They represented their post-conviction decline in social status as being 'dragged down' by envious 'boys' in the state apparatus. They positioned themselves on moral high ground, despite having been inappropriately sent to what they viewed as the working class world of prison (which they referred to as "Dante's Inferno"). We contrast these accounts with those of less privileged male offenders.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-466
Number of pages26
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2001


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