Cardiff University | Prifysgol Caerdydd ORCA
Online Research @ Cardiff 
WelshClear Cookie - decide language by browser settings

Organised crime in Red City: An ethnographic study of drugs, vice and violence

Berry, Mark 2020. Organised crime in Red City: An ethnographic study of drugs, vice and violence. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
Item availability restricted.

[thumbnail of M Berry (2020) - Organised Crime in Red City - An Ethnographic Study of Drugs Vice  Violence (260220).pdf]
PDF - Accepted Post-Print Version
Download (1MB) | Preview
[thumbnail of Cardiff University Electronic Publication Form] PDF (Cardiff University Electronic Publication Form) - Supplemental Material
Restricted to Repository staff only

Download (110kB)


Illegal drug trafficking and retail drug sales constitute the most common activity of organised crime groups in the UK and draw the largest share of resources from the police and prison services, whilst also generating considerable social costs. There are few contemporary studies in the UK on the supply of drugs, its organisation, culture and risk management practices, and even fewer on active dealers themselves. There remains limited ethnographic research into the drug trade, missing important insights that can be gained from observing distributors in a natural setting. A key absence in criminological literature is the voice of offenders who commit serious crimes and how they perceive and mitigate problems related to their activities. This research aims to fill gaps in the knowledge base by investigating the nature of the drug market, the crime risk management practices of drug dealers, and possible reasons for their involvement and patterns of activity. The study examines the criminal careers of offenders who operate in one of Britain’s largest cities, termed here anonymously as Red City. The participants in this study distribute and manufacture a range of illicit substances, both offline and online. They distribute drugs on local, national and international levels (retail, wholesale, import and export). To complement the fieldwork, interviews were conducted with official actors from the criminal justice system, the private sector and the third sector. The thesis seeks to provide a more nuanced and grounded picture of illicit drug dealing and ‘organised crime’, that provides an account that corrects popular stereotypes. The chapters proceed as follows: Outline of the thesis: Chapter one provides the introduction to the thesis. It identifies the research problem, sets the contexts of the study and explains how the thesis contributes to the field. Chapter two outlines the theoretical framework for the thesis; it combines life course criminology with perspectives taken from research on organised crime. It examines organised crime in terms of markets, networks, and organisations. Chapter three describes the methodological approach employed in this study and considers the ethical and practical challenges of researching illegal activity. Chapter four addresses the ‘start’ of the criminal career when actors first become drug dealers. It follows the lives of the ‘lads’, who make up a core of the participants in the study. Chapter five examines how drug dealing is conducted in the city streets. It draws upon ethnographic data from two parallel drug markets that sit at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of their harms and ‘legitimacy’. Chapter six provides a sociohistorical analysis of organised crime in the nightclub scene to the present day. It draws upon insights from bouncers and drug dealers working in the field. Chapter seven addresses the effects of emergent technology in the drug trade. It examines how offenders employ digital technologies, both offline and online. Chapter eight addresses the desistance phase in the life-course. It discusses the factors that facilitate and inhibit desistance for individuals and groups of offenders. Chapter nine outlines and evaluates the key findings in the thesis. It makes policy recommendations to mitigate problems related to drugs and organised crime in the future. Throughout all chapters of the analysis, comparisons are made between offenders working in different drug markets and settings, to assess the relationship between their activities and the characteristics of the marketplace in question. The study finds that drug markets that are closest to ‘legitimacy’, in terms of their legal status and the public perception of the drugs, can have less risks for distributors. In light of this, they may be sold more openly and accrue lower levels of exploitation in the trade. Overall, this thesis demonstrates how serious offenders operate in rapidly evolving criminal markets, providing a significant contribution to the knowledge base.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Funders: Dawes Trust
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 24 February 2020
Last Modified: 11 Dec 2020 02:28

Actions (repository staff only)

Edit Item Edit Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics