Anthony Grasso

Ph.D. Student in American Politics

Dissertation Title: Punishment and Privilege: The Politics of Class, Crime, and Corporations in America, 1870-1965

Committee: Marie Gottschalk (Chair), Rogers Smith, Adolph Reed

Summary: My dissertation is motivated by two questions. First, why does the U.S. criminal justice system lock up people for street crimes at extraordinary rates? Second, what explains the state’s limited capacity to prosecute corporate crime? My research juxtaposes these phenomena and shows how the carceral state’s divergent treatments of street crime and corporate crime share common and self-reinforcing ideological and institutional origins.

By examining the politics of street crime and corporate crime during the Gilded Age, Progressive Era, New Deal, and post-war period, I demonstrate how the punitive character and class biases of contemporary crime policy developed over time. Contrasting political constructions of street criminals and corporate criminals have historically been rooted in common ideas about what causes and constitutes crime. Policymakers have consistently relied on prevailing intellectual and ideological discourses about crime to depict street offenders as pathological deviants deserving punishment and corporate offenders as sympathetic figures warranting gentler interventions. These developments embedded class inequalities into the criminal justice institutions that facilitated the carceral state’s rise while the regulatory state has become the government’s primary means of controlling corporate crime, serving to channel anti-business political impulses away from the criminal justice system. 

University of Pennsylvania
The Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics
133 S. 36th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6215
Phone: (215) 898-7641

Nicholas Sambanis Chair
Alex Weisiger Graduate Chair
Daniel Hopkins Undergraduate Chair