Organized Crime and American Power: A History
Organized crime, understood in a literal sense as systematic illegal activity for money or power, is as old as the first systems of law and government and as international as trade. Piracy, banditry, kidnapping, extortion, forgery, fraud, and trading in stolen or illegal goods and services are all ancient occupations that have often involved the active participation of landowners, merchants, and government officials. Many people today, however, follow the lead of the US government and American commentators and understand organized crime as being virtually synonymous with super-criminal 'Mafia-type' organizations. These are usually seen as separate entities, distinct from legitimate society but possessing almost unlimited regional, national, and even international power. As background to this understanding of organized crime there exists a consensus among most commentators that suggests that the United States has had the most experience and success in dealing with the problem. In Organized Crime and American Power: A History, Michael Woodiwiss argues that organized criminal activity has never been a serious threat to established economic and political power structures in the United States but more often a fluid, variable, and open-ended phenomenon that has, in fact, complemented those structures.
Conventional histories of the problem tend to focus on outlaws in peripheral feudal societies, most commonly Sicily, for their antecedents. Woodiwiss by contrast finds his antecedents in the systematic criminal activity of the powerful and respectable in those ancient and early modern societies that we usually understand to be at the centre of 'civilized' development and continues to emphasize the crimes of the powerful throughout his wide ranging overview. He surveys the organization of crime in the Southern states after the American Civil War; the organized crimes of American business interests; the causes and corrupt consequences of the US campaign to prohibit alcohol and other 'vices'; the elaboration of the Mafia conspiracy interpretation of organized crime and the consequent 'dumbing of discourse' about the problem, not just nationally but internationally.
Emphasizing the importance of collaboration, as much as confrontation, between government and criminals, Woodiwiss illustrates how crime control policies based on the Mafia paradigm have not only failed to address much organized criminal behaviour, but have, in many ways, proved counterproductive and damaging to individual rights and social stability.
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In Corruption and Organised Crime in Europe, Gounev and Ruggiero present a discussion of the relation between organized criminals and corruption in the EU’s 27 Member States. The book draws on research and scholarly work the editors carried out, respectively, within the Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD) in Bulgaria, and within academic institutions, as well as on behalf of the European Commission and the United Nations. Combining empirical data and theoretical debates, the book focuses on three main areas of the relationship between corruption and organised crime: public bodies, the private sector and criminal markets. It presents the findings of a recent research project carried out by the CSD on behalf of the European Commission, providing an analysis of the specific national contexts in which corruption and organized crime thrive. The essays also address institutional responses and policies, focusing particularly on how EU Member States attempt to sever the links between the official economy, the political sphere and organized crime. The second part of the book presents case studies, written by some of the foremost international experts on the subject matter, analysing corrupt exchange and criminal organisations, concentrating on specific European countries – Bulgaria, France, Greece, Italy, Russia, Spain and the UK. As the first comprehensive study of corruption and organised crime in the countries of the European Union, the book will be a valuable resource for students and scholars of criminology, sociology, law and international politics, as well policy makers and law-enforcement agencies.
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