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Contribution to Book
The Sociology of Financial Fraud
The Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of Finance (2012)
  • Elisabeth Brooke Harrington, Copenhagen Business School

If there is an Urtext for the sociology of fraud, it is surely Herman Melville’s 1857 novel "The Confidence Man . This “parable of the market economy” (Mihm 2007:4) follows the title character over the course of a day (April Fool’s Day, of course) as he plies his trade on a steamboat cruising down the Mississippi River—his trade being the extraction of money from his fellow passengers on pretexts ranging from donations to loans. The confidence man succeeds, Melville writes, not just because of his skill, but because the boat (much like the market as conceived in economic theory) is “always full of strangers, [and] she continually, in some degree, adds to, or replaces them with strangers still more strange” (Melville 1857 [2010]: 8). Amidst this continual turnover of actors, the swindler alone remains a steady presence, and fraud is the sole constant. No wonder then that one sociologist recently called for a reevaluation of “the major significance of the con man in the establishment of society” ( Ogino 2007: 96).

Publication Date
Karin Knorr-Cetina and Alex Preda
Oxford University Press
Citation Information
Harrington, Brooke. 2012. "The Sociology of Financial Fraud." Pp. 393-410 in Karin Knorr-Cetina and Alex Preda (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of Finance. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Available at: