Transnational Crime and Global Criminology: Definitional, Typological, and Contextual Conundrums

Article excerpt


EARLY IN THE 21ST CENTURY, A SPECTER HAUNTS THE FIELD OF CRIMINOLOGY: THE specter of globalization. Throughout most of its history, criminology has been principally preoccupied with crime and its control as a local phenomenon. During the course of the 20th century, criminologists increasingly found it necessary to attend to crime in a national (or federal) context, and the control of such crime as a federal endeavor. In particular, organized crime and white-collar crime (especially in its corporate form) were recognized to transcend local and state borders (e.g., Cressey, 1969; Clinard and Yeager, 1980). In the most recent era, and with spiraling intensity at the outset of the new century, a small but growing number of criminologists have focused upon crime as a transnational or global phenomenon (e.g., Karstedt and Bussmann, 2000; Sheptycki and Wardak, 2003). In conjunction with the recognition of transnational and global dimensions to crime, criminologists increasingly recognize the limitations of traditional criminal justice institutions--local, state, and federal--in addressing such crime (e.g., Reichel, 2005; Sheptycki, 2002). Accordingly, we are now witnessing the emergence of a global criminology.

Who are the criminologists at the forefront of the shift to a global framework for the field of criminology? Disproportionately, they are criminologists whose ideological orientation falls on the progressive side of the spectrum. There are several reasons for this. Progressive (or leftist) criminologists are by definition especially focused upon the crimes of the powerful as opposed to the crimes of the powerless. Transnational crime is disproportionately the crime of relatively powerful organizations and entities, in part because some level of power or resources is necessary to commit crime effectively on a global scale. Second, progressive criminologists are collectively less likely to do the type of work that is dependent upon major grant support, and the principal funding entities are oriented toward funding projects focused upon conventional forms of crime and its control. Third, progressive criminologists are especially likely to be engaged with the large-scale issues of the global political economy that are inevitably entangled with issues of transnational crime and its control.

If specialization of focus is the norm within academe, my own interests are about as far removed from such a focus as possible. The contribution I propose to make here goes to fundamental definitional, conceptual, and typological issues, and the provisional "mapping" of an emerging scholarly terrain. At the outset, it is necessary to provide some perspective on the criminological enterprise itself.

Criminological Parochialism and States of Denial

Early in the 21st century, it remains the case that conventional forms of crime and their control, within a local context, persist as the dominant focus of criminological inquiry. The principal concern with this dominant focus of mainstream criminology is one of proportionality and the relative neglect of alternatives to conventional crime as sources of significant social harm. In a parallel vein, mainstream criminology has studied primarily the traditional criminal justice system in relation to crime, and not alternative institutions of social control. Altogether, an inverse relationship exists between demonstrable levels of harm caused by various activities of individuals and social institutions and the level of criminological attention to the form of harm. These different levels of attention are also reflected in the allocation of research grant funds. If a 21st-century criminology is to transcend such parochialism and attend much more fully to transnational forms of crime and their control, and the global context within which such crime and its control occurs, the specific sources of this parochialism must be identified. They surely include: patterns of personal and professional socialization, and a commitment to traditional disciplinary boundaries; the reward structure within the discipline; the higher probability of "successful" outcomes for conventional research projects, relative to those addressing more complex global issues; and a "state of denial" about the complicity of powerful entities and individuals in criminal conduct. …


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