, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 23-38

Organized crime and ethnic reputation manipulation

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Criminologists often use culture andethnicity to explain crime. In thistradition, organized crime is presentedwith an exotic flavor and the list oftransnational criminal organizations readslike an inventory of ethnic minorities andforeign groups. But the relation betweenethnicity and organized crime isproblematic to say the least. In the courseof our research on several groups active inthe Netherlands (Turkish and Kurdish heroindealers, Yugoslav and Russian-speaking mafiosi, Colombian cocaine dealers andNigerian prostitutes), we have learned toreverse the assumed causal relationship.Ethnic reputation manipulation is essentialto committing crime. This article arguesthat criminal groups and individualsexploit and construct ethnicity in variousways as they engage in criminal activities.Either concealing or emphasizing specificethnic reputations, they are able toaddress any number of audiences (insiders,outsiders, the law).