Sharing some short and long essay questions from my course on illicit markets and criminal organisations particularly for other teachers but also to help students in how they go about selecting a question to answer.
The short essay is either a guided book review, where the student examines the essay question through a book I have suggested, or an invitation to conduct their own analysis of a creative work. The aim is to get them thinking about how different texts are created in relation to the topic and get them used to evaluating theory, method and findings. I found when discussing them with students that the police crime as organised crime sparked a lot of interest but was a big challenge. To answer the question required the student to assimilate a lot of background from that period of critical criminology and almost come up with their own theory. It was a lot to ask in a short essay. The Rahman reading also generated some interest and provided a more contained take for them to dive into.
  1. Discuss the relationship between masculinity and organised crime’s ‘street habitus’ using Rahman M (2019) Homicide and Organised Crime: Ethnographic Narratives of Serious Violence in the Criminal Underworld. Cham: Springer International Publishing. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-16253-5. See Chapter 5 for the discussion of habitus.
  2. Discuss the implications of framing organised crime as a ‘political economy’ using Wright A (2005) Organised Crime: Concepts, Cases, Controls. Cullompton: Willan Publishing.
  3. Should we consider police crime as organised crime? In what terms? Use Box S (1984) Power, Crime and Mystification. London: Taylor & Francis Group.
  4. Should our research agenda be focused on ‘global crime’ or ‘global harm’? Use Hall T and Scalia V (2019) A Research Agenda for Global Crime. Cheltenham, Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.
  5. What are the benefits and limits of studing transnational crime in terms of global ‘black spots’? Use Brown SS and Hermann MG (2020) Transnational Crime and Black Spots – Rethinking Sovereignty and the Global Economy. Palgrave Macmillan.
  6. How does debt shape people’s involvement in the illicit economy? Use Schuster CE (2015) Social Collateral: Women and Microfinance in Paraguay’s Smuggling Economy. Univ of California Press.
  7. Critically examine the concept of ‘flow’ used in Savona EU, Guerette RT and Aziani A (eds.) (2022) The Evolution of Illicit Flows: Displacement and Convergence among Transnational Crime. Sustainable Development Goals Series. Cham: Springer International Publishing. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-95301-0.
  8. Discuss the problem of ‘concept creep’ in criminological analysis and discourse, using Densley J, McLean R and Brick C (2023) Contesting County Lines: Case Studies in Drug Crime and Deviant Entrepreneurship. Policy Press.
  9. Discuss how organised crime is socially embedded and the uses and limits of the organised crime trope, using Hobbs D (2013) Lush Life: Constructing Organized Crime in the UK. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  10. Using a theme from the course, write a criminological interpretation of a work of fiction or other type of creative work such as a film, game or television series. For an example of how this could be done see: Ruggiero V (2002) Moby Dick and the Crimes of the Economy. British Journal of Criminology 42(1): 96–108 or Daly SE (ed.) (2021) Theories of Crime Through Popular Culture. Cham: Springer International Publishing. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-54434-8.
Long essays are more thematic/research focused, and are intended to encourage a deep dive into a puzzle or problem. There were three broad question types here. First, do we characterise this field in the right way, theoretically? The question on rational actor theory is an example of this. Second, what empirical evidence can we bring to bear on this problem and is in enough? The county lines question invites this approach. Third, here is some data – see what you can do with it. The question on prison markets does that. The intention in each question is to allow students to take risks and also give them some direction or a bit of a safety net.
1. What are the implications and limitations of understanding participants in illicit markets as ‘rational actors’?
2. How has the role of the ‘middleman’ or ‘broker’ evolved and changed within illicit markets and criminal organisations?
  • Kleemans ER, Kruisbergen EW and Kouwenberg RF (2014) Women, brokerage and transnational organized crime. Empirical results from the Dutch Organized Crime Monitor. Trends in Organized Crime 17(1): 16–30. DOI: 10.1007/s12117-013-9203-7.
  • Morselli C (2001) Structuring Mr. Nice: entrepreneurial opportunities and brokerage positioning in the cannabis trade. Crime, Law and Social Change 35(3): 203–244.
  • Pearson G and Hobbs D (2003) King pin? A case study of a middle market drug broker. The howard journal of criminal justice 42(4): 335–347.
3. What is the relationship, if any, between organised crime and cybercrime? What are the benefits and limits of understanding cybercrime in these terms?
4. Does ‘county lines’ represent a new evolution in organised drug crime?
5. How do criminal organizations exercise social control and governance over their members, communities and operational contexts?
6. What are the cultures and politics of technology in digital crime?
7. Using examples, discuss the role of technology in the evolution of illicit markets and/or organised criminal activity
8. How are problems establishing and maintaining trust within illicit markets and organised crime groups resolved?
9. Discuss the benefits and limits of cultural explanations for crime. As part of this, discuss the relationship between organised crime and social taboo.
  • Ferrell J, Hayward K and Young J (2015) Cultural Criminology: An Invitation. Second Edition. 55 City Road, London. DOI: 10.4135/9781473919969.

    Holt TJ (2020) Computer Hacking and the Hacker Subculture. In: Holt TJ and Bossler AM (eds.) The Palgrave Handbook of International Cybercrime and Cyberdeviance. Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 725–742. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-78440-3_31.

  • Collier, B., Clayton, R., Thomas, D., Hutchings, A. (2020), Cybercrime is (often) boring: maintaining the infrastructure of cybercrime economies, Workshop on the Economics of Information Security
10. Discuss the intersection of sociological factors such as gender and race/ethnicity with the lived experience of participants in illicit markets and organised crime.
11. Using examples, critically examine the co-evolution of illicit markets/organisations and crime control
12. Have markets made crime normative?
  • Alalehto T (2010) The wealthy white-collar criminals: corporations as offenders. Journal of Financial Crime 17(3). London, United Kingdom: Emerald Group Publishing Limited: 308–320. DOI: 10.1108/13590791011056273.
  • Farrall S and Karstedt S (2020) Respectable Citizens – Shady Practices: The Economic Morality of the Middle Classes / Stephen Farrall and Susanne Karstedt. Clarendon studies in criminology. Oxford: University Press.
  • Garrett BL (2014) Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations. Harvard University Press. DOI: 10.4159/9780674735712.
  • Wingerde K and Lord N (2019) The Elusiveness of White‐Collar and Corporate Crime in a Globalized Economy. In: Rorie ML (ed.) The Handbook of White‐Collar Crime. 1st ed. Wiley, pp. 469–483. DOI: 10.1002/9781118775004.ch29.
13. Using data we have shared in class write a crime script. As part of this discuss the advantages and limits of crime script analysis and the theory behind it, and the implications of the crime script you have designed.
14. Using data from the American Prison Writing archive, discuss how markets operate in prison. What roles are involved, how do goods and services circulate, and how is the market structured.
  • Crewe B (2006) Prison Drug Dealing and the Ethnographic Lens. The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice 45(4): 347–368. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2311.2006.00428.x.
  • Day MJ (2015) Learning from the Worst: The U.S. Prison System as a University of Destructive Utility. In: Mcelwee G and Smith R (eds.) Contemporary Issues in Entrepreneurship Research. Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 203–226. DOI: 10.1108/S2040-724620150000005015.
    Gundur, R. V. “The changing social organization of prison protection markets: When prisoners choose to organize horizontally rather than vertically.” Trends in Organized Crime (2018): 1-19.
  • Tompkins, Charlotte NE. ““There’s that many people selling it”: Exploring the nature, organisation and maintenance of prison drug markets in England.” Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy 23.2 (2016): 144-153.
15. Using examples, discuss how the cultural representation of organised crime and illicit markets has shaped policing and policy in this area.
  • Hobbs, Dick, and Georgios A. Antonopoulos. “‘Endemic to the species’: ordering the ‘other’via organised crime.” Global Crime 14.1 (2013): 27-51.
  • Rawlinson, Patricia. “Mafia, media and myth: Representations of Russian organised crime.” The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice 37.4 (1998): 346-358.