What is organised crime?

Published in: Organised Crime: Critical Concepts in Criminology ( London , Routledge, 2010) vol I, 11 – 33 .

What are we to understand by organized crime (henceforth OC)? This is the  question that an introduction to a four-volume collection of papers and book chapters on the subject must attempt to answer. The concept has a chequered history: over the past hundred years, it has been used to refer to diverse phenomena often with overtly political and partisan intentions, leaving readers unsure as to what it means. New constructs have emerged vying for attention, stealing some of its attributes and indirectly suggesting that the old one is obsolete. Thus, OC has fallen into disrepute among a number of scholars. American criminologist Dwight C. Smith as early as 1971 suggested that it is ‘a concept so overburdened with stereotyped imagery that it cannot meet the basic requirements of a definition – it does not include all the phenomena that are relevant; it does not exclude all the phenomena that are not relevant’.2  The aspiration of these remarks is to outline the evolution of the concept over the past century and sketch a viable definition of OC that does not overlap with other constructs such as ‘illegal (or illicit) enterprise’ and ‘criminal network’, and that is capable of generating hypotheses and empirical predictions.

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