On ‘Organized Crime’ in the illicit antiquities trade: moving beyond the definitional debate

Published: November 2013

The extent to which ‘organized crime’ is involved in illicit antiquities trafficking is unknown and frequently debated. This paper explores the significance and scale of the illicit antiquities trade as a unique transnational criminal phenomenon that is often said to be perpetrated by and exhibit traits of so-called ‘organized crime.’ The definitional debate behind the term ‘organized crime’ is considered as a potential problem impeding our understanding of its existence or extent in illicit antiquities trafficking, and a basic progression-based model is then suggested as a new tool to move beyond the definitional debate for future research that may help to elucidate the actors, processes and criminal dynamics taking place within the illicit antiquities trade from source to market. The paper concludes that researchers should focus not on the question of whether organized criminals- particularly in a traditionally conceived, mafia-type stereotypical sense- are involved in the illicit antiquities trade, but instead on the structure and progression of antiquities trafficking itself that embody both organized and criminal dynamics.

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