Academic research on organized crime: why it is not a marginal topic, but an essential one

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The 18th of May was an important day for mafianeindanke – we managed to discuss the fight against organised crime (OC) also in an academic context. Our regional group for the NRW region, which mainly consists of young students and graduates, organised an event in an auditorium of the University of Cologne where we discussed academic research on organised crime in Germany. The event aroused a lot of interest among the around 80 people in the audience, most of whom were students of the University of Cologne.

Among the guests, Prof. Dr. Theresa Reinold and Prof. Dr. Frank Neubacher were present on site, while Prof. Dr. Klaus von Lampe joined in via zoom from Berlin. Mafianeindanke moderated the discussion, which was mainly about the current state of OC research in Germany as well as the necessary measures to increase the relevance of research in the fight against criminal structures.

First, we tried to better delineate the field of research. Nevertheless, the guests agreed that it is extremely difficult to define the term “organised crime” in a uniform way, since criminal structures differ greatly in practice dependent on the specific organization. The professors also emphasised how important it is to attack the assets of the OC and to siphon them off in the best possible way.

“The mafia in Germany exists! It is not an invention or a fruit of the imagination, but a reality that is far too often underestimated,” the guests repeated several times. Nevertheless, those who dedicate their research to OC have to justify it far too often in front of their own colleagues. The most common questions are: Why are you working on this topic? Why do you need these sources and resources? This makes it particularly complicated to conduct research on OC in the long term: Research projects are usually advertised for delimited topics and last a maximum of three to four years, after which a researcher must immediately apply for the next initiative in order not to become unemployed. Due to the lack of continuity of research, it is likely that at this point there is no active call for another OC project and researchers move on to other topics. In addition to these problems, the guests pointed out that the topic of OC is not explained enough in Germany and that generally accessible, reliable information to educate the population is scarce. The sources available to researchers for developing their research are equally limited: the few crimes that also came to the surface and problems with processing personal data make it difficult to explain the phenomenon of OC. What is not lacking, contrary to popular belief, are financial resources, although the guests mentioned that public funds are often used to steer research projects in the politically desired direction.

So what needs to be done to strengthen research on organised crime and promote its relevance in combating such phenomena?

First of all, it is necessary to create sustainable research structures that provide continuity for the scientific study of the Mafia and other criminal structures. In the German context, it is also particularly important to do more basic research and to look at OC not only from a legal perspective, but above all from an interdisciplinary perspective. Universities should cooperate more with each other and ideally also establish international structures for cooperation. Even if, according to the guests, it will not be possible in the short term to realise a proper chair for OC research, such as exists with the course “Sociology of Organised Crime”, led by Nando Dalla Chiesa, at the University of Milan (Statale di Milano), we have an alternative proposal. Mafianeindanke proposes to follow another Italian example and create a permanent observatory in Germany – i.e. a structure that accepts researchers from all universities and enables them to work on Organized Crime long-term thanks to long-term funding. It is time to bring together the existing information on OC in Germany and the people who want to research and fight the phenomenon.

The success of the event is not limited to these findings: the anti-Mafia movement in Germany is developing. But, as the guests also pointed out: “it is obligatory to create greater awareness on the OC phenomenon in Germany before one can expect a fully comprehensive (research) response on it at the academic level”.

For mafianeindanke, the commitment to stronger and more continuous academic research on OC in Germany has just begun. Together with our growing network in the academic world, we will get involved so that the topic gets the attention it deserves. We will keep you informed! 

This event was organized by mafianeindanke’s regional group for Nordrhine-Vestfalia (NRW). We are a young and highly motivated group with many plans for the future. You are interested in joining us? Here you can find more information about our group. Also, you can always reach out via email in the language you prefer to nrw[AT]