Cultural accounts of illicit markets and criminal activities are the best way to develop a feel for them. Here are my recommendations:


Some of the most insightful sociology is done in economics, so Planet Money is my go to for understanding how the economy shapes our lives. Episodes on illegal markets in avocados, sand, eco-crimes and various other shady stuff, as well as the bigger picture on supply chains, blockchains, and the effects of the financialisation of everything. The show as a whole offers mind shifting insights into why the world fits together in the way it does.

Hot Money: Who Rules Porn? studies the emergence and consolidation of the modern porn industry.

Deep Cover: Mob Land tells of undercover cops and dangerous lives.

The Cryptoqueen is an engaging documentary about a cryptocurrency scam/MLM scheme. It doesn’t skimp on describing the harms caused .

Criminal, a podcast that covers all different stories related to crime and justice, many involving OCGs
Season 9 of Command Line heroes examines the origins of malware in an insightful social-technological history.
Vice’s Cyber covers dark and manipulative goings on from the harms of algorithmic capitalism to the wily tricks of malware operators.
Dr. Death – for those who think white collar crime is harmless. A podcast about a doctor who bamboozled the hospital and healthcare system into committing 33 acts of criminal malpractice on patients, causing lifelong suffering. It also discusses the sociological effects of his scam, including distrust in the Texas hospital system. It is a good study of how some people can become plausible in the eyes of others.
Cartel Land – the drug trade, violence and community resistance on the US/Mexico border.
Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer – how the attention economy may create an incentive to worse behaviour
Narco Cultura – contrasts the glamour of high value criminal operations with the harsh reality of everyday violence
The Making of a Murderer – somewhat off our topic but a good examination of how the criminal justice system ‘produces’ offenders

Leaving the Yakuza – a documentary about redundant members of the Japanese crime syndicate trying to find their way


I’ve selected TV shows that are about the experience of being involved in criminal activity or being victimised:

Breaking Bad – a good contrast to the romanticised vision of organised crime and trafficking often shown by Hollywood
Better Call Saul – another show that’s heavy on moral decline and life in a the neoliberal warzone
The Night of – though not very close to course themes it captures the brutal indifference of the criminal justice system well
The Sopranos – what’s not to love about combining the mafia, domestic drama and therapy
The Wire – the most sociologically informed crime drama, whose writers drew a lot on social science research
Hannibal – famous American TV show that is fictional (and brutal), but shows behaviour analysis, particularly motive and modus operandi, very well)
Top Boy – thanks Abby – conflict and exploitation in the UK drug trade, drawing on County Lines research.
The film Traffic (2000) and the TV series Traffik (1989) are effective studies of the drug trade from the perspective of different participants. You can find Traffik on Channel 4’s catchup service