IMCA Research Seminar - Thomas Roulet, Cambridge Judge Business School: How Pirates Became Privateers: The Legitimation of Misbehaving Actors by Social Control Agents


Istituto di marketing e comunicazione aziendale

Data: 22 Febbraio 2024 / 12:30 - 13:30

Aula A-13

How Pirates Became Privateers: The Legitimation of Misbehaving Actors by Social Control Agents


Thomas Roulet is the Professor of Organisational Sociology and Leadership at the University of Cambridge where he holds affiliations3 to the Judge Business School, King's College Cambridge and the Department of Sociology. His work focuses on negative social evaluations (contestation, stigma, scandals) and their origins (misconduct, deviance) and takes an institutional or stakeholder perspective. He has published in the Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review and Organization Science among other. His last book, "The Power of Being Divisive" (Stanford Press, 2020) was the runner up for the George Terry Award of the AOM, and has been regularly covered in the Financial Times and the Economist.


The state usually acts as a control agent punishing misbehaving actors. But some deviant practices may benefit core social control agents, such as governments, making them likely to switch to other attempt to control misconduct. We explore situations in which social control agents may selectively decide to legitimize some deviant actors and create a dual system where both selectively enforce and endorse social actors to minimize the costs of the deviance and maximize its benefits for themselves and the most powerful stakeholders. Specifically, we explore how and why governments as social control agents bring misbehaving actors to their side. Empirically, we take a set-theoretic approach to the legitimation of pirates by governments in the Caribbean during the golden age of piracy, building upon a unique dataset combing hundreds of pages of historical sources. Pirates were then regularly hired and contracted by governments, becoming privateers or corsairs, to discretely do their own bidding. Our analysis reveals configurations of conditions explaining the legitimation of those deviant actors: we found that governments favored peripheral actors that would be less visible, and shared the same identity to ensure loyalty, depending on whether they were themselves dominant actors in the Caribbean. Our mixed method study contributes to the literature on misconduct, by unpacking the benefit-cost analysis that social control agents engage in when they deviate from enforcing norms.