Klaus von Lampe
Organized Crime: Begriff und Theorie organisierter Kriminalität in den USA

Frankfurt am Main, GER: Peter Lang, 1999. 391 p. Frankfurter kriminalwissenschaftliche Studien, Vol. 67. Language: German.
ISSN 0170-6918, ISBN 3-631-34721-9


This study and review explores the substantive and heuristical value of the American concept of "organized crime."
In a conceptual-historical examination it investigates the origin of the "organized crime"-concept and the changes of its meaning over time based primarily on a content analysis of the New York Times Index and the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology from 1896 and 1910, respectively, until 1995. The common use of the term "organized crime" has undergone fundamental changes from its coinage by the Chicago Crime Commission in 1919 until the end of the 20th century. "Organized crime" originally referred to diffuse patterns of cooperation among criminals within the context of interwoven legal and illegal structures in big cities like Chicago. Through the late 1960s, however, bureaucratic and massmedial processes of simplification redefined "organized crime" as synonymous with a vast criminal organization of Italian-Americans operating outside the conventional American social structure. In later years the public perception was somewhat modified by extending the term "organized crime" to other, allegedly ethnically homogeneous criminal organizations.

A systematic, historical review of the "organized crime" literature reveals a variety of alternative, definitional approaches, but no comprehensive theory that can reconcile the confusing and at times conflicting understanding of the term "organized crime."

Therefore, a critical examination of the value of the "organized crime"-concept cannot be based on the comparison of elaborate theories and models. It needs to begin more narrowly within a meta-theoretical framework which distinguishes various levels of complexity and accounts for the fact that the issue of "organized crime" has social, economic and political dimensions.

The concept of "organized crime" is broken down into propositions regarding the individual characteristics of "organized criminals," the forms and dynamics of criminal groups, organizations and networks, the overarching power structures within illegal markets and within the underworld, and the relationship between legal and illegal social structures. Each proposition drawn from the public and scientific debate, such as on the structural similarity of legal and illegal organizations and on the dynamics of monopolization of illegal markets, is stated more precisely and tested for plausibility and empirical foundation. General concepts (e.g. from organizational theory and economics), and empirical data provided by research and by published personal accounts from "organized criminals" and investigators serve as a yardstick.

The detailed analysis leads to a refined and more subtly differentiated understanding of the various aspects of the "organized crime"-problem but it does not lead to a coherent picture of "organized crime." To combine the body of knowledge existing on "organized crime" in the U.S., an analytical model is proposed to represent the complex relations between essential concepts in one scheme. The model puts various expressions of criminal cooperation in context with socio-economic conditions, law-enforcement strategies, and media-attention. The proposed model can only serve to exemplify the potentials of model construction since the available data are still fragmentary, often of questionable validity and reliability, in many instances contradictory, and thus clearly incapable of rendering definite statements on causation and interrelation.

The investigation of the American concept of "organized crime" leads to the conclusion that "organized crime" does not exist as an ontological entity, but that the analysis of its pertinent aspects should be incorporated into a single research program.

The following English language papers available on this site further elaborate points made in the book:

The Concept of Organized Crime in Historical Perspective
The Use of Models in the Study of Organized Crime

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