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Organized Crime: Analyzing Illegal Activities, Criminal Structures, and Extra-legal Governance

By Klaus von Lampe
Los Angeles: Sage. 2016.

The ascend of ‘organised crime’ at the top of law enforcement and policy agendas in the last 20-25 years or so has also given a tremendous impetus to the scholarly study of the phenomenon. Inevitably the literature has grown in differen

directions with works looking into particular manifestations of either areas of activity (e.g. human smuggling and trafficking, the trade of illegal goods such as tobacco etc.) or of the structures or entities that enable these activities, such as the Russian ‘mafiya’, the Chinese Triads and so on. Some works have also taken an interest in particular figures that populate and animate such activities. A significant part of the literature is obviously concerned with questions of enforcement. Whether this fury of activity has amounted to a better understanding of ‘organised crime is a moot point. What is beyond doubt, if only for the sheer volume and diversity of the extant literature, is the dire need for systematic stock-taking, appreciation and future research agenda development.

Klaus von Lampe’s Organised Crime: analysing illegal activities, criminal structures and extra-legal governance is a superb response to this urgent need. The book connects the past and future in ‘organised crime’ research, surveying elegantly, thoroughly and thoughtfully the directions that the literature has taken and the aspects of the phenomenon it has taken to elucidate. Von Lampe, in line with his previous work, is particularly alert to the acute conceptual issues confronting this scholarly field, and thus sets out from a meticulous exploration of the historical development of ‘organised crime’ as an object of study (Part I). The book then continues with a meticulous stock-taking and exploration of the manifestations of organised crime such as illegal markets, organised crime structures and extra-legal governance (Part II, chapters 4-8). Then, Part III (chapters 9-12) interrogates the social context of organised crime considering its relations with legal markets, legitimate business, government structures and transnationalisation. Finally, Part IV (chapters13-14) brings all these themes together and considers questions of enforcement.

The book is also intended as a useful, accessible educational tool. Each chapter –apart from the introduction – includes discussion questions, research projects and further readings. Most chapters include interesting visual material of varying power to capture the reader’s interest and to feed reflection. Of course, at 399 pages (excluding references), Organized Crime is neither a light nor a quick read, but it is immensely rewarding. On a topic that more often than not has become imbued with the imagery of dark and threatening underworld powers, covered by a cloak of mystification, von Lampe has composed a rich, rigorous and seamless account through a judicious weighting of the available evidence.

Von Lampe’s intention of being thorough results in parts of the text that may occasionally feel ‘dry’ to the casual reader; however, the book is never less than compelling to the interested reader. We would even argue that when discussing a topic as emotive and controversial as organised crime, von Lampe’s style is, in fact, a mark of superior skill and scholarship. His voice, one of a seasoned student of organised crime, is also heard throughout the book as he directly and indirectly highlights the normality, banality and social embeddedness of organised crime.

In the preface of the book, von Lampe is very careful to suggest that “a subject as complex as that of organized crime cannot be exhaustively addressed in one book” (p.xvi); however, as readers will immerse themselves into his masterful exposition and analysis of the issues, they may come to question the author’s modesty: this is nothing less than a wide and deep account of the subject that misses virtually nothing in terms of the issues and arguments, and one that generously repays the careful reader. Quite simply, the book establishes von Lampe as a world-class authority on organised crime; it also establishes a benchmark that is unlikely to be surpassed by other textbooks on organised crime anytime soon. Von Lampe’s book is most definitely the ultimate textbook on organized crime.


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