Organized Crime: Forming of the Definition


Organized crime is defined as the “systematically unlawful activity for profit on a city-wide, interstate, and even international scale”. It is believed that criminal organizations are trying to maintain their illegal activities as a secret. Gangs, youth groups that are usually connected with juvenile activities are sometimes considered as forms of organized crimes.

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Meanwhile, a criminal organization is dependent on the support from the society in which it exists. That is why it is but practical and convenient to compromise some of society’s members — especially people in the judiciary, police forces, and legislature — through bribery, blackmail, and the cultivation of mutually dependent relationships with legitimate businesses. Thus a racket is included into lawful society, secured by corrupted law officers and politicians — and legal counsel. Their proceeds come from narcotics trafficking, extortion, gambling and prostitution, among others.

This varied and complex concept of organized crime makes it interesting and worthwhile to explore and understand. Organized crime’s very history and other related concepts could provide greater understanding of the extent and the depth of the impacts of such crimes. More so, the factors affecting the continuous organized crime-related activities will be dwelled upon that may provide enough information and thereby benefiting the socially and politically connected individuals into creating rules and by laws that may help prevent organized crimes.

Organized Crime as a Concept that Originated from the Chicago Crime Commission

The term “organized crime” was first coined by the members of the Chicago Crime Commission. This Chicago Crime Commission was a civic organization created in 1919 by businessmen, bankers and lawyers. Their initial purpose in establishing such group was to promote changes in the criminal justice system in order manages the then crime problem (Chamberlin 1932).

However, when the Chicago Crime Commission finally announced its established group to the public, organized crime was being referred not to criminal organizations but in a much broader sense of the orderly fashion in which the so-called “criminal class” of an estimated “10000 professional criminals” in Chicago allegedly could pursue “crime as a business”. The said discussion centered on the conditions of the allowed criminals who then seemed to have gained a steady income from crime. Such crimes where they gained considerably god sum of money include property crimes, under virtual immunity from the law (Chamberlin 1932).

During that time Crime Commission strongly argued that it was the city government who should be blamed for the continued increase in crime rates. They said that the city government officials were incompetent, inefficient and corrupt. The public were also part of the Crime Commission’s blames. They were saying that the public also needed deeper criticisms because of their implied indifference and even open sympathy towards criminals (Chamberlin 1932).

With this, it is evident that the characterization of organized crime as an integral part of society reflected the perspective of the old established protestant middle class on Chicago as a city that, after years of rapid growth and cultural change, was sinking in crime, corruption and moral decay (Chamberlin 1932).

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The Depression Era – Organized Crime’s ‘Second Stage’

Beginning in the mid 1920s, especially during the Depression Era, people’s concept and understanding of organized crime gradually changed. There were series of changes that the public and the media witnessed. First of the changes was the ‘widening’ of areas who used the term organized crime – that even the states outside Chicago used the said term. But it was only for a short period of time that it did function as a generic term in the criminal-policy debate because during the mid 1930s the terms “racketeering” almost completely replaced it (Allsop, 1968).

It was during n the late 1920s and early 1930s when the term ‘organized crime’ was no longer referred to as an unstructured “criminal class” but to “gangsters and racketeers” who were organized in “gangs,” “syndicates” and “criminal organizations” and followed “big master criminals” who functioned as “powerful leaders of organized crime” (Lashly, 1930).

Moreover, as this picture of the members of the criminal class changed and became more differentiated, the understanding of the relation between organized crime and society took a crucial turn. Instead of social and political reform, the emphasis now was on vigorous law enforcement (Landesco, 1929).

Reconsideration of the Concept of Organized Crime

Despite the Mafia’s its tremendous impact on public perception during the 1950’s to 1960’s, it soon proved unsuitable for devising valid law-enforcement strategies for the entire United States (Cressey, 1969).

After the rejection of the proposal to outlaw membership in the Cosa Nostra, Congress passed the RICO statute in 1970 with an extremely broad underlying concept of organized crime (Atkinson, 1978).

Likewise many state commissions on organized crime, which were established in response to the national debate at best, “paid lip service to the concept of Cosa Nostra” as an all-encompassing criminal organization. Instead, they defined organized crime in much broader terms to include less structured gangs and illicit enterprises (Atkinson, 1978).

A similar anxiety with the Mafia paradigm was evident among law-enforcement officials on the state and local levels and even among members of the federal Organized Crime Strike Forces that had been established in a number of cities since 1967. While some defined organized crime to include only Cosa Nostra members others included any group of two or more persons formed to commit a criminal act (U.S. Comptroller General, 1977).

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The Non-Traditional and International Organized Crime – 1980s and 1990s

Consequently, the notion that there was more to organized crime than the Cosa Nostra did not lead to an intense revision of the concept of organized crime. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the concept of non-traditional organized crime emerged which merely transferred the Mafia model to other ethnically defined criminal organizations allegedly similar to Cosa Nostra, such as East-Asian, Latin-American and Russian groups, outlaw-motorcycle gangs and so-called prison gangs (President’s Commission on Organized Crime, 1983).

In recent years, outlaw-motorcycle gangs and prison gangs were dropped and became out of sight while groups of criminals from Asia and Europe, especially criminals from the former Soviet Union, received more attention (U.S. Department of Justice, 1983).

The Coming of the 20th Century

Midway of the 20th century, Mafia influence crested in the United States. The outbreak of FBI investigations during the 1970s and 1980s dulled the Mafia’s power. The term “mafia” has been generalized to label any sizable group involved in racketeering, such as the Russian Mafia or the Japanese Yakuza. When formally applied, however, “Mafia” refers to the traditional Sicilian/American crime families.

Today, the concept of organized crime is applied to domestic crime groups like the Cosa Nostra and to what is now referred to as “international organized crime,” that is criminal organizations alleged to be operating on a global scale, including Chinese Triads and the so-called “Russian Mafia”. Seemingly, the extent of the Cosa Nostra is believed to lose ground and organized crime is turning into an issue of international politics rather than to remain an issue of immediate relevance the American public has lost much of its prior interest in the subject (Heitmann, 1962).

Personality Theories related to Organized Crime

There are a number of personality theories that can be identified and related to why organized crimes now exist. These theories are worth highlighting first so that we can very well assimilate that organized crime is indeed based on various sociological concepts innate to us, humans. There of the most dominating personality theories are those that are from Sigmund Freud, Emile Durkheim and Robert Merton.

Sigmund Freud’s theories of personality are the best known of all psychological theories and the most controversial as well. It was Freud who asserted that “reason does not rule behavior”. It was his supposition that unconscious psychological forces were a strong force affecting individual thought and behavior. He stated that these forces originate in the emotions of childhood and continue to affect an individual throughout their lifetime. In his view, man was driven by primal instincts of the unconsciousness, and it was these instincts that lead to our greatest achievements, as well as to our worst side, like poverty, war, crime and mental illness. Freud postulated three levels of mind: the conscious mind, the preconscious mind, and the unconscious mind. He felt that our conscious mind only accounted for a small portion of the totality of the self, and the vast unconscious mind accounted for the rest (Bethel, 2004).

Freud believed that much of the unconscious content that affects humans is made up of inherited primal fantasies based on phylogenic experiences, that is fantasies that are species based, not individual based. Freud’s main interests lay in understanding how personal experience shaped and formed the unconscious mind. It was his assertion that this formative pressure occurred through a process known as repression. Freud’s “hedonic hypothesis” stipulated that people seek pleasure and avoid pain. It was also Freud who initiated the concepts of the id, ego, and the super-ego (Bethel, 2004).

Meanwhile, functionalism, the oldest and considered as the most dominant theoretical perspective of sociology, is initiated mostly by Emile Durkheim. This theory is built upon the emphasis of applying the scientific method to the objective social world and using an analogy between the individual organism and society. Functionalism is usually focused on the individual with the intention of showing how broader social forces mold individual behavior. Functionalists talk about individual actors as decision-makers; however, functionalists have the tendency to be less concerned with the ways in which individuals can control their own destiny than with the ways in which the limits suggested by society make individual behavior scientifically conventional (Functionalism, 2006).

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Connected with Durkheim’s functionalist’s perspective are his theories on crime. Durkheim stated that a crime is just a normal phenomenon for the human beings. This is the very reason why there are many forms of crimes existing around the world. So why does Durkheim consider crimes as normal phenomena? According to him, crime is just a normal flow of event because it is extremely impossible for any society to continue its day to day function without any crime-related activities going on from time to time. Human beings have the innate desire to do things which are sometimes deviant in the others perceptions. In the same manner, people do things which others may not approve of. The intensity of desire to make such things happen coupled with the intensity of the other side to prevent such action from continuing will and is always expected to create friction. Such friction in turn will result to crime at some point in time.

Lastly, an American sociologist named Robert Merton developed Strain Theory as an offshoot of Durkheim’s concept of anomie. The difference between the two however, is the fact that Merton believed on the idea that deviance occurs because the social structure creates identical goals to all its members without giving each and everyone equal means to attain them. Hence, making the lack of integration between what the culture calls for versus what the structure permits as the primary cause of deviant behavior in the society. On the other hand, Durkheim considers sudden social change as primary cause of deviance (Bethel, 2004).

Merton identified five different ways on how people adapt to strain caused by the limited access to socially approved means and goals. Nonetheless, Merton noted that not everyone who was denied by the society’s goal became deviant. The most common way of how people adapt is thru conformity wherein the individual accept both the goals and the recommended way on how to achieve them. Innovation on the other hand, is a practice by those who have less legal means to accomplish those goals and therefore creating their own means to get ahead. The third adaptation that Merton identified is a process in which human beings abandon the goals they once believed they can reach to concentrate on their existing lifestyle. Those people who give up both the goals and the means and recoil on the world of alcoholism and drug addiction practice retreatism. Finally, individuals who chose to reject the cultural goals and the legitimate means to achieve it adapt rebellion (Bethel, 2004).

In direct relation to Merton’s theory is the Labeling theory which questions the process of how and why some individuals are labeled as criminal or deviant. Labeling theorist see criminals as human beings with criminal status because the criminal justice system and the community labeled them as such and not as evil persons who engage in wrong doings. Hence, for these theorists, criminal acts are not important to study but rather the reaction of society towards them (Bethel, 2004).

Hence, it can be perceived that from the sociologists’ point of view, people may do certain actions that are against the norms set by the society. For example the deviant acts such as crimes, people who are involved into committing such deviant behaviors are in a collective thought to sway against the norms. They may feel or have a strong desire to do deviant actions to express their inner most feelings and to achieve a certain level of highness once the act is fulfilled.

Such concept is also much related to Karl Marx idea in his infamous Communist Manifesto. It should be noted that the human being lies at the heart of Marxism. Somewhere along the many intertwined and complex concepts of Karl Marx on the different fields of the social sciences like history, economy, sociology, politics, and many others; the individual is relegated to having the most importance. In fact, the whole of Marxism revolves around the hardships of people in a capitalist society vis-à-vis his theories on alienation and the social classes involved in a vicious stratification of society, and how to liberate these people, both proletariat and the bourgeoisie by making them seek a society of both prosperity and equality.

Alienation, according to Marx, may be described as a situation wherein people are dominated by forces that they themselves have created but ironically control them. People are then said to be alienated from their own worlds. From a Marxist point of view, all the major institutional spheres in capitalist society- such as the state, religion, media, political economy, education, family, and others are marked by a condition of alienation. With these interconnected institutions that impinge on man, it is then implied that man faces alienation from everywhere, from each and every area of the world he is enmeshed. Since man is Homo Faber or Man the Maker, the individual must actually be free to create, and regenerate himself without the dictation of other people, and with the happiness that is accounted for the act of working.

With these thoughts from Marx alongside the concepts by different sociologist, it is then safe to assume that organized crime was developed and/or came in being because man have the innate desire to ‘alienate’ himself and create a certain world where he/she can express him/herself in a manner where only a few could understand. Organized crimes are joined by only few people who have the same desire to do things which are uncommon to the set norms of the society. People who are members of any organized crime have then subjected themselves into creating a world which can provide them the ultimate happiness which they think is not available in a ‘normal’ society.

The crimes they committed and will continue to initiate (such as killings, bank robberies, etc.) are just form of expression for the members of the said organized crimes. They need the feeling of importance and alienation. They only feel important if they are with their gang and they feel extremely alien or different from the rest of the world if they can things which ordinary people would not do, hence the crimes.


It is very evident that the concept of ‘organized crime’ has come a long way. Governments and justice systems of various countries adopted the term that was first coined by the Chicago Crime Commission, but they also altered some parts or terms of the concept making their own definitions. These definitions were based on their country and populace’s needs. Moreover, the reactions and acceptance of each country’s populations mattered greatly hence there had been continued alterations and amendments in the conceptualization of the adopted ‘organized crime’ concept.

However, behind all these, it is also very clear that organized crime is a product of collective thoughts of the people who think they can go against the norms. This idea is clearly laid down by the different personality theories presented in this paper. There is a reason why people would opt to create a group or join a group that is known to be dangerous or normal people would be scared of. And this reason can be fitted into tow whole and interrelated concepts – individuality and self- alienation.


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