Organizational Crime Studies (OCS)

Das ODS-Team
The OCS-Team

The research program "Organizational Crime Studies" is embedded in an interdisciplinary team that comprises sociologists, criminologists and legal scholars. The team receives the support of medical practitioners, scholars of Chinese Studies, Political Science and Economics. It is headed by Professor Markus Pohlmann.
The Heidelberg research team addresses the central question of how organizations deviate from legal paths and how they get back on track. With a comparative perspective on social spheres and national institutions, it examines whether actors involved in deviant activities within organizational contexts participated for personal gain or other reasons. What is the role of benefits to the organization, or their individual reputation and recognition among peers?

These questions have become increasingly relevant since the 1990s. For example, the accounting scandals in the early 2000s and the global financial crisis since 2007/08 have shown how easily and often corporations, banks and investment funds tend to leave the legal paths when it serves their interests. But also the recurrent theme of manipulation and corruption at the intersection of medical practice and pharmaceutical industry shows that neither the highly regulated business sectors nor public institutions are exempt. The repeat violations of the law on behalf of large German industrial companies - such as Siemens, MAN and ThyssenKrupp - prove that even the vanguards of private sector self-regulation do not sufficiently address the problem, by simply increasing formal sanctions and control. Even the international regulatory boom since the 2000s did not eradicate corruption and manipulation. Apparently, the opposite is the case. The number of penal procedures is on the rise, if we look at Germany, the United States, China, Austria and Switzerland.

The aim of the research program
To explain this paradox, the goal of the research program is to investigate the social causes, institutional constraints as well as the legal consequences of active corruption. The sociological concept of “organizational deviance” is likely to make a fruitful contribution to criminological and penal disputes in the field of international corruption research. It provides us with a new starting point for the explanation of a hitherto underexposed form of crime, which is not only about personal gain, but primarily driven by the pursuit of the objectives of the organization.

Research design
Document analyses of court cases in Germany and abroad will be reviewed and systematically compared. The same design applies to interviews with experts and stakeholders in these court cases, where we use collective mindset analysis (CMA) to reconstruct the dominant patterns of interpretation in the specific organizational context (inter alia via organizational case studies). Based on experimental research methods and the use of vignettes technique in online surveys and telephone surveys, we will further investigate the deviance on the dark side of the organization.
By applying an institutional theory approach at the level of the organization, we develop an interdisciplinary explanatory model for organizational crime that takes cultural, regulatory, and sector specific factors into account, which might mediate the informal legitimacy of criminal activities.

Research Projects

  1. Unter welchen Bedingungen verlassen Organisationen in Brasilien und Argentinien legale Pfade und wie lässt sich dies verhindern?
  2. When deviance becomes the norm … – Studies on corruption in Chinese enterprises
  3. Organisationale Kriminalität und funktionale Devianz - Zur Analyse einer Kriminalitätsform und ihrer Bekämpfung
  4. The fight against manupilation and corruption
  5. Loyalty and crime in organizations – Towards an explanation of bribery and manipulation in industrial companies and transplant centers
  6. Aktive Korruption in Unternehmen - Ursachen und Folgen "brauchbarer Illegalität"
  7. Globalization and Distribution Conflicts
  8. Organizational Crime and Systemic Corruption in Brazil
  9. Evidence based ABC-Compliance: Measuring the effectiveness and sustainability of anti-bribery and corruption compliance measures in companies


2021-2022: Cooperation with lecture series by the National University of Colombia: Colombian Cathedra: Citizenship, Integrity and fight against Corruption (Cátedra colombiana: Ciudadanía, Integridad y Lucha contra la Corrupción)

See German page for past events.

Recent publications in English

Valarini, Elizangela, Markus Pohlmann und Subrata Mitra (2021): Political Corruption and Organizational Crime. The Grey Fringes of Democracy and the Private Economy. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

Valarini, Elizangela und Maria Eugenia Trombini (2021): Populist grammar, politicians and judges: a case study of political corruption in Brazil. In Mendilow, Jonathan and Eric Phelippeau (eds.), Populism and Corruption – The other side of the coin. Elgar Editor.

Pohlmann, Markus, Gerhard Dannecker & Elizangela Valarini (Eds., 2020): Bribery, Fraud, Manipulation – How to Explain And to Avoid Organizational Wrongdoing? Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

Pohlmann, Markus, Jaok Kwon & Jiva Schöttli (2019): Transnational Corporate Elites in Japan: International Career Mobility in East and South Asia, in: International Journal of Japanese Sociology, Vol. 28, No. 1:  132–148.

Valarini, Elizangela und Markus Pohlmann (2019): Organizational crime and corruption in Brazil a case study of the “Operation Carwash” court records. In: International journal of Law, Crime and Justice, Vol. 59, S. 100340

Pohlmann, Markus, Elizangela Valarini, Maria Trombini & Mario Jorge (2019): Systemic Corruption in Brazil: An Autopsy of the Odebrecht Case, In: Journal of Self-Regulation and Regulation, Vol. 5, S. 55-78.

Pohlmann, Markus & Jiva Schöttli (2019): India Inc. and globalization. The rise of neo-liberalism and a transnational managerial elite?, India Review, Vol. 18, No. 1: 8–31.

Pohlmann, Markus, Kristina Bitsch &  Julian Klinkhammer (2016): Personal Gain or Organizational Benefits – How to Explain Active Corruption? In: Peter Graeff, Sebastian Wolf (Hg.), Ethical Challenges of Corrupt Practices: Formal and Informal Conflicts of Norms and Their Moral Ramifications, in: German Law Journal 17(1): S. 73-100.

Valarini, Elizangela, Friederike Elias und Markus Pohlmann (2015): The neoliberal capitalist spirit in Latin America. The role of the finance market orientation in Argentina and Brazilian large companies, Revista PLURAL, V. 22, N. 2, 37-80.

Pohlmann, Markus, Stefan Bär und Elizangela Valarini (2014): The analysis of collective mindsets:Introducing a New Method of Institutional Analysis in Comparative Research, Revista de Sociologica e Politica, V. 22, N. 52, 7-25.