Julia Kleinewiese, Peter Graeff
Scrutinizing the “code of silence” in a situation of corruption: Testing a team mechanism of deviant behavior

IV ISA Forum of Sociology, (virtual conference), 23. bis 28. Februar 2021

A core feature of corruption that has been pinpointed in previous studies is the favoritism of particularistic over universalistic norms (Merton 1940, Graeff & Kleinewiese 2019). In our study, we test if (external) threats to a workgroup, such as organizational restructuring, lead to an increase in social cohesion (e.g. team spirit) and, ultimately, result in a higher probability of deviant (e.g. corrupt) behavior. For scrutinizing this mechanism, we refer to studies such as those by Boyt et al. (2005), Waytz et al. (2013) and Dungan et al. (2014). These studies are related to the “code of silence” as a major driver of consenting to (and, therefore, indirectly supporting) deviant (e.g. corrupt) behavior of other team members.

In order to test this neglected aspect in the explanation of group- and organization-oriented deviant (e.g. corrupt) behavior, we apply a vignette-based factorial survey to a sample of firefighters in Germany. By taking the multilevel nature of the data into account, it can be shown that external threats to the team reduce the likelihood of reporting a corrupt act, suggesting that particularistic norms are preferred over universalistic norms.

Boyt, T., Lusch, R., & Mejza, M. (2005). Theoretical models of the antecedents and consequences of organizational, workgroup, and professional esprit de corps. European Management Journal, 23(6), 682-701.

Dungan, J., Waytz, A., & Young, L. (2014). Corruption in the context of moral trade-offs. Journal of Interdisciplinary Economics, 26(1&2), 97-118.

Graeff, P., & Kleinewiese, J. (2019). Esprit de corps as a source of deviant behavior in organizations. Applying an old concept with a new livery. In M. Pohlmann, G. Dannecker, & E. Valarini (Eds.), Bribery, Fraud, Manipulation – How to Explain And to Avoid Organizational Wrongdoing? (pp. 219-245). Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

Merton, R. K. (1940). Bureaucratic Structure and Personality. Social Forces, 18(4), 560-568.

Waytz, A., Dungan, J., & Young, L. (2013). The wistleblower´s dilemma and the fairness-loyalty tradeoff. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49(6), 1027-1033.