Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Political Science

First Advisor

Marie Gottschalk


As the global leader in incarceration, America locks up its own citizens at a rate that dwarfs that of any other developed nation. Yet while racial minorities and the urban poor fill American prisons and jails for street crimes, the state has historically struggled to consistently prosecute corporate crime. Why does the American state lock people up for street crimes at extraordinary rates but demonstrate such a limited capacity to prosecute corporate crime? While most scholarship analyzes these questions separately, juxtaposing these phenomena illuminates how the carceral state’s divergent treatments of street crime and corporate crime share common and self-reinforcing ideological and institutional origins. Analyzing intellectual history, policy debates, and institutional change relating to the politics of street crime and corporate crime from 1870 through today demonstrates how the class biases of contemporary crime policy emerged and took root during multiple junctures in U.S. history, including the Gilded Age, Progressive Era, New Deal, and post-war period. This reveals that political constructions of street criminals as pathological deviants and corporate criminals as honorable people driven to crime by market dynamics have consistently been rooted in common ideas about what causes and constitutes crime. By the 1960s, these developments embedded class inequalities into the criminal justice institutions that facilitated the carceral state’s rise while the regulatory state became the government’s primary means of controlling corporate crime. The historical development of mass incarceration, the corporate criminal law, and regulatory state should not be viewed as autonomous developmental threads, but as processes that have overlapped and intersected in ways that have reinforced politically constructed understandings about what counts as “crime” and who counts as a “criminal.”