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date: 19 June 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Organized crime researchers have often referred to the mass of small and ephemeral groups that form in illegal markets as opportunistic operators and less (or “dis”) organized forms of criminal operations. Indeed, such groups have at times been excluded from the organized crime category. This essay demonstrates that such opportunistic structures are not independent of the organized crime phenomenon. On the contrary, these small groups are the typical configuration in organized crime—if organized crime is understood as the provision of illegal goods and services as is mostly the case today. The first part of the essay will provide the conceptual outline that details why organized crime cannot be restricted to sophisticated and reputed formal criminal organizations. Once this conceptual clarification is established, the essay moves on to assess past research through a review that will demonstrate that opportunistic criminal groups are the predominant form of organized crime in strong states and developed countries. Then, in turning to past research using network applications in areas related to organized crime, the basic elements for a framework are developed that allows us to capture the structural features of illegal markets that are made up primarily of what many perceive to be disorganized groups of criminal entrepreneurs. The article concludes in arguing that, although weak in recognition, organizational form, and opportunities for impunity, these opportunistic groups are, nevertheless, the most difficult to contain from a law enforcement and policy outlook. Their massive presence in criminal markets, consequently, makes these markets more resilient than if the more stereotypical structures of organized crime prevailed.

Keywords: criminal groups, social network analysis, social organization, illegal markets, organized crime

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