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Goffman’s Return to Las Vegas: Studying Corruption as Social Interaction

Abstract

In this paper, we argue that corruption research can benefit from studying corrupt transactions as a particular form of social interaction. We showcase the usefulness of a theoretical focus on social interaction by investigating online user reports on the website Frontdesktip.com. Through this focus, we can observe users sharing experiences and tips on the best ways of bribing hotel clerks in Las Vegas for attaining room upgrades and other complimentary extras. We employ a logistic regression analysis to examine what factors influence the “successful” performance of this bribery practice. Our study makes a twofold contribution to existing research on corruption. First, on the theoretical level, we show that the typified and scripted character of social interactions can help explain the occurrence of corrupt transactions. Second, on a methodological level, our study showcases online self-reports as a useful data source to study corrupt transactions in an unobtrusive way.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Michael Etter, Patrick Haack, Merrill Jones Barradale, Hans Krause Hansen, Katja Rost, Andreas G. Scherer, Arne Robert Weiss, Glen Whelan, and Peter Winkler for their fruitful comments and suggestions regarding earlier versions. We owe special gratitude to Roland Stettler for his generous and invaluable assistance with data collection and analysis in the initial stages of this research project. Furthermore, we are grateful for the helpful research support provided by Joyce Costello and Jordan Vincent. Portions of this research were funded by the Research Council of Norway (project “Fair Labor in the Digitized Economy” at BI Business School, Oslo), the Danish Council for Strategic Research (project “Responsible Business in the Blogosphere” at Copenhagen Busines School) as well as the “Governing Responsible Business” (GRB) Research Environment at Copenhagen Business School.

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Correspondence to Dennis Schoeneborn.

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Our focus on Erving Goffman’s sociology of social interactions also has a particular fit to the empirical context of our study, i.e., the Las Vegas hotels and casino business. This is because, in addition to his very prolific academic career, Goffman used to work as a blackjack dealer and later as a pit boss at the Station Plaza Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada (see Fine and Manning 2003, p. 36). Hence, figuratively speaking, our study allows Goffman to “return” to the Las Vegas hotel and casino context that he had also studied in (auto-)ethnographic form (Goffman 1969).

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Schoeneborn, D., Homberg, F. Goffman’s Return to Las Vegas: Studying Corruption as Social Interaction. J Bus Ethics 151, 37–54 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-016-3245-0

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Keywords

  • Business ethics
  • Bribery
  • Codes of conduct
  • Corruption
  • Online media
  • Social interactions