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Criminal Politics: An Integrated Approach to the Study of Organized Crime, Politics, and Violence

  • Nicholas Barnes

Over the last decade, organized criminal violence has reached unprecedented levels and has caused as much violent death globally as direct armed conflict. Nonetheless, the study of organized crime in political science remains limited because these organizations and their violence are not viewed as political. Building on recent innovations in the study of armed conflict, I argue that organized criminal violence should no longer be segregated from related forms of organized violence and incorporated within the political violence literature. While criminal organizations do not seek to replace or break away from the state, they have increasingly engaged in the politics of the state through the accumulation of the means of violence itself. Like other non-state armed groups, they have developed variously collaborative and competitive relationships with the state that have produced heightened levels of violence in many contexts and allowed these organizations to gather significant political authority. I propose a simple conceptual typology for incorporating the study of these organizations into the political violence literature and suggest several areas of future inquiry that will illuminate the relationship between violence and politics more generally.

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