The Problem With Enron: Criminological Narratives and Cultural Scripts

James W. Williams, York University

The much publicized bankruptcy of Enron Corp. and its roots in financial and political scandal deserves a serious and immediate response from the criminological community. However, in formulating this response, it is imperative that we resist the temptation to merely round up the "usual suspects"--i.e. weak regulatory and enforcement systems; political corruption; professional conflict-of-interest; and the criminogenic properties of the profit motive. While faithful to the proximate causes of the scandal, this etiological frame of reference overlooks a far more interesting, and yet potentially problematic question: what is it that is unique about the response to the Enron scandal, and what does this response tell us with respect to the nature, legitimacy, and "legality" of the current economic order? In attempting to re-frame the terms of the inquiry in this way, this paper will seek to analyze the societal reaction to Enron--including popular media accounts and professional publications--as a unique cultural script whose significance follows from its reproduction of a belief in the possibility of trust, transparency, and legality as features of the existing market economy--this despite its more practical reliance on secrecy, risk, and insecurity in the generation of wealth.

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Updated 05/20/2006