Academic journal article Geography

Where the Money Is: The Geographies of Organised Crime

Academic journal article Geography

Where the Money Is: The Geographies of Organised Crime

Article excerpt


This article explores forms of organised crime that account for a significant proportion of global economic activity and yet have been largely overlooked by geographers. It notes the absence of studies of organised crime within geographical literature and considers the case of 'mobbed up' regions, i.e. those with extensive and longstanding problems of organised crime. It discusses a range of possible theoretical approaches to understanding the 'mobbing up' of regions and highlights the potential of network approaches.


Despite engendering a range of powerful cultural associations, 'organised crime' has proved difficult to define (Levi, 2002; Albanese, 2005). Debate has included attempts to identify any common characteristics of organised crime, the actors involved, the nature of criminal organisations and whether to focus on legal, economic, social or political dimensions (for detailed discussions of the definitions of organised crime see Levi, 2002; Albanese, 2005; Gill, 2006). The term, and many definitions of it, flounder conceptually because they imply a false coherence across a very diverse range of activities, and suggest a realm removed from both legitimate society and other forms of crime (Levi, 2002, p. 881, 903). While acknowledging the problematic nature of the term, this article employs Albanese 's definition, based on a distillation of research literature: 'Organised crime is a continuing criminal enterprise that rationally works to profit from illicit activities that are often in great public demand. Its continuing existence is maintained through the use of force, threats, monopoly control, and/or the corruption of public officials' (2005, p. 10).

There is a wide range of activities associated with criminal organisations which are dominated by trafficking of various commodities such as drugs (narcotics), pharmaceuticals, weapons, nuclear materials, people (illegal immigrants, women and children), body parts, metals, precious stones and other natural resources, stolen cars, art, antiques, rare animals and counterfeit goods. To these might be added activities as diverse as provision and control of illicit services, most notably gambling and prostitution, cybercrime, robbery, kidnapping, extortion, corruption and money laundering. Albanese (2005) provides a useful typology of activities associated with criminal organisations (see Table 1).

Geography, organised crime and the global economy

With the exception of some analysis of the geography of illegal drugs (Rengert, 1996) and some emerging work on corruption (Brown and Cloke, 2007), geographers have rarely acknowledged organised crime as an activity worthy of study within their work, and then only in the very briefest terms (McNeill, 2004; Perrons, 2004; Hudson, 2005). In this they mirror a broader lack of interest among social scientists, who cite issues of access and data reliability as reasons (Castells, 1998, p. 171). Where the illicit or illegal is present in geographers' mappings of the global economy it typically remains both under-researched and under-discussed relative to other realms.

The activities of criminal organisations constitute a range of significant economic activities currently excluded from prevailing accounts of the global economy. Glenny (2008a) estimates that organised crime constitutes 20% of global gross domestic product (GDP), and the International Monetary Fund has estimated that money laundering around the world is equivalent to between 2 and 5% of global GDP (Levi, 2002, p. 879), although other estimates put the figure nearer 10% (Nordstrom, 2007, p. 169). Drug trafficking dominates the global criminal economy and is estimated to be equivalent to 8% of total global trade (Moynagh and Worsley, 2008, p. 176; see also Bhattacharyya, 2005, p. 97). In addition, estimates suggest that between 4 and 5 million people are trafficked each year, both willingly and by force, which can generate profits of up to US$9. …

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