Organizational Deviance Studies

Das ODS-Team
The OCS-Team

The research program “Organizational Deviance 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

Recent Publication

Pohlmann, Markus/ Bitsch, Kristina/ Klinkhammer, Julian (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.