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Organized Crime: Less Than Meets the Eye
Crime and Justice  (IF4.474),  Pub Date : 2020-07-01, DOI: 10.1086/709447
Peter Reuter, Michael Tonry

“Less here than meets the eye,” a Venusian documentary maker calling home might say. Books, films, and mass media portray organized crime as larger than life, a fearsome monster among us, an awesome moneymaking machine. Reality is different. Organized crime organizations are life-size, understandable outgrowths of local cultures, political systems, and markets. In some times and places, they control markets and peoples’ lives, just as state institutions do in other times and places, but that too is understandable and can be explained. Organized crime organizations are not enormously profitable. Frightening,malevolent, and lethal, sometimes yes. Practically useful to ordinary law-abiding people, sometimes also yes. Economically important in any larger scheme of things, almost never. Novelists, filmmakers, journalists, law enforcement officials, and policy makers have long paid attention to organized crime; scholars not so much. Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather and Francis Ford Coppola’s follow-up films on the AmericanCosaNostra exemplify long lines of popular novels and films in many languages and countries. Organized crime is a regular topic on the front pages of newspapers and a recurring subject of in-depth investigative reporting, exemplified by Roberto Saviano’sGomorrah on the Campanian Camorra and its eponymous film version. Organized crime is blamed for many modern ills, ranging from contraband cigarettes in Britain, high condominium prices in Miami, and the impossibility of conducting business honestly in Albania, to human smuggling, drug epidemics, and destabilization of communities and countries. Organized crime has not, however, been a longtime, mainstream subject of research by social scientists. Part of the explanation is intellectual fashion. Criminologists traditionally focused on understanding crimes by