The phenomenon of illegal markets is pervasive. The circulation of illegal goods and services reaches all social segments, crosses national boundaries, and produces enormous revenues. Scholarship has typically addressed issues of illegal exchanges by focusing on criminal organizations, their members’ activities, internal structures, and businesses while leaving the very notion of illegal markets conceptually underdeveloped. Different from organized crime, the notion of “illegal market” compels us to consider the demand side and to investigate the varied ways it relates to the supply side. Following the path opened up by economic sociology scholarship, this article brings illegal markets to the center of the scene in order to develop them conceptually, observe them in a differentiated way, and investigate their relationships with legal structures. From this perspective, the social organization of markets comes to the fore, highlighting such aspects as the formal and informal institutions sustaining illegal markets; the modes of internal coordination that deal with problems such as value, competition, or trust; moral attitudes toward the production, exchange, or consumption of certain products or services; the cultural elements or cognitive dispositions that promote illegal exchanges; the role of state power in defining what is and is not illegal, and thus how it controls certain exchanges; and the role of the enforcement of the law in the emergence, expansion, or extinction of these markets.
Alistair Fraser and Elke Van Hellemont
It has been a century since Frederic Thrasher researched his pioneering text on youth gangs in Chicago. In it he depicts gangs as a street-based phenomenon that emerged from the combined forces of urbanization, migration, and industrialization—with new migrant groups seeking to find a toehold on the American Dream. Gangs were discrete and highly localized, drawing on names from popular culture and the neighborhood, seeking ways to survive and thrive amid the disorganization of the emerging city. In the 21st century, street gangs have been identified in urban contexts all over the world and have become increasingly viewed as a transnational phenomenon that is qualitatively different from Thrasher’s neighborhood groups. Processes of globalization have created a degree of flow and connectedness to urban life that is unlike any other stage in human history. Yet a close reading of Thrasher shows that some of the key themes in the study of gangs in a global context—urban exclusion, grey economies, human mobility, and cultural flow—were presaged in Thrasher’s work. In a global era, however, these processes have intensified, amplified, and extended in ways that could not have been predicted.
We elaborate the spatial, economic, social, cultural, and technological implications of globalization for gangs across five principle areas: (1) Gangs in the Global City; (2) Gangs, Illicit Markets, and the Global Criminal Economy; (3) Mobility, Crimmigration, and the “Transnational Gang”; (4) Gangs and Glocalization; and (5) The Gang Mediascape. Taken together, these themes seek to offer both a conceptual vocabulary and empirical foundation for new and innovative studies of gangs and globalization. Empirical evidences from Europe, the United States, and beyond, emphasize the uneven impacts of globalization and the ways in which national and cultural dynamics are implicated in the study of gangs in the 21st century.