This paper presents a systematic review of organised crime data collection and analysis methods. It did this by reviewing all papers published in Trends in Organized Crime and Global Crime between 2004 and 2018 (N = 463). The review identified a number of key weaknesses. First, organised crime research is dominated by secondary data analysis of open-access documents, and documents are seldom subjected to the same principles guiding primary data collection methods. Second, data analysis lacked balance with a distinct lack of inferential statistical analysis. Third, there was a significant absence of victim or offender voices with an overreliance on data from state bodies and the media. The paper concludes that organised crime, as field of research, appears unbalanced by reliance upon a small number of methods and sources. Rebalancing the field requires more organised crime researchers to speak to offenders and victims, employ greater use of statistical analysis and tighten our methodologies.
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Chambliss’s research into organised crime in Seattle was not risk free: he was threatened with law suits and violence (Inderbitzin and Boyd 2010) while his objectors tried unsuccessfully to engineer precarious situations with which to blackmail him (Chambliss 1978). Serious violence against researchers is rare, although the risk of harm, kidnap and extortion is higher in certain regions of the world, and a very small number of researchers have been murdered due to their research into, or stance against, organised crime, including Ken Pryce in Jamaica, Esmond Bradley Martin in Kenya and Dian Fossey in Rwanda. For advice on reducing risk in fieldwork in dangerous places see Felbab-Brown (2014).
While Crime, Law and Social Change has traditionally had a major focus on organised crime, it was felt that the journals focus has drifted away from organised crime in recent years to an extent that it may no longer be considered a specialised journal.
Primary data is here defined as defined as data collected ‘first hand for the specific purpose of addressing the’ research question, as opposed to secondary data which is collected ‘by other peoples or other agencies with other purposes in mind’ (Jupp 2001:33)
Schuurman (2018) used a very similar method for his review of terrorism research, although our data collection phases ran parallel and we had not discussed our methods.
Document here is defined as any written text (Scott 1990) and includes published quantitative data, such as official police data.
See Windle and colleagues (2018) for discussion on the paucity of historical research on organised crime.
For example, while writing the first draft of this article, a murder in one of the author’s home towns was linked to both the ‘Polish mafia’ and ‘Russian mafia’ by some newspapers, even though there was little justification and the notion was quickly rejected by the authorities.
See Densley (2018) for a discussion on the usefulness of investigative journalism in countering organised crime.
For example, Lisa Maher’s (1996) ethnography of Australian drug markets generated quantitative data on price and purity of drugs, while Sudhir Venkatesh was given access to data on a gangs illicit enterprise profits (Levitt and Venkatesh 2000).
Interviews with non-state actors included the public, non-governmental organisations, for profit organisations and academics. Non-governmental organisations were by far the most heavily represented.
We have chosen here to exclude single interviews with other researchers, of which there were eight. If these are included, then the median drops to 41.5.
The 15 chapters in Bernasco (2010) specifically deal with how to improve the validity of data generated by interviews and observations of offenders.
Either interviewer or interviewee may misunderstand technical terminology or unfamiliar and slang terms, cultural norms, jokes and irony. Misunderstandings common also to analysis of secondary sources.
For ease, state here includes intergovernmental organisations, such as UN bodies who are reliant upon data provided to them by member states.
In some respects, this challenges the critique that single case studies are not generalizable: the single case study may provide a foundation for comparison with future qualitative and/or qualitative studies on the same topic with different samples; and the more studies which are undertaken the more we are able to generalise findings.
Felbab-Brown (2014) suggests that interviewing government officials, NGO workers and journalists prior to conducting fieldwork not only creates a contextual foundation which informs interviews with offenders but can also be invaluable for preparing logistical and security arrangements, including knowing which areas to avoid.
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Conflict of interest
James Windle declares that he has no conflict of interest. Andrew Silke declares that he has no conflict of interest.
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Windle, J., Silke, A. Is drawing from the state ‘state of the art’?: a review of organised crime research data collection and analysis, 2004–2018. Trends Organ Crim 22, 394–413 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12117-018-9356-5
- Organised crime
- Research methods
- Data analysis
- Data collection