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Cultures of Crime: Identity, Protection and the Rule of Law in a Global World


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA International Relations.


In popular culture there is a long-standing fascination with criminals and gangs. In literature, cinema, television series, street art and other forms of mass media, the portraits and bio-graphies of top criminals are often presented as a success story of social emancipation and material improvement. Yet, criminals are by no means invincible; they live in a world of high unpredictability and violence, and make use of different forms of ‘protection’ that in-clude indigenous practices and new forms of spiritual guidance. For instance, one US dollar bills are seen as protective icons and are worshiped by the Russian mafia.
This course looks at the cultural production around the world of criminality in the context of globaliza-tion, including cases from Italy, Russia, Nigeria, Japan, Mexico and the United States, and the way criminal actors attain protection and impunity through culture. How can law-breaking become a ‘licit’ life project? How do ideas of power and protection circulate among criminal gangs in the context of globalization? These questions are relevant to understand the erosion of the rule of law and emancipa-tion in law-breaking among margi-nal sectors in cities. The case studies include theorizations and empir-ical materials from an-thropology, sociology, cultural studies and history.

Course objectives

  • Build knowledge on the study of crime and the cultural expressions and para-digms that emerge from criminality;

  • Develop a comparative lens for the study of cultures of crime in specific urban contexts and across different regions of the world, and grasp the way state and non-state institutions influence them;

  • Conduct bibliographic/documentary research on specific case studies, from a global perspective;

  • Acquisition of academic abilities: writing a research paper


See Timetable

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures

Course load

The course is designed on a series of lectures, debates and individual assign-ments. Students will study ca. 50 pages of relevant literature per week, and will give at least one oral presentation during the course. A final paper will be written based on the course topics.


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.

Assessment method

The final grade will consist of:

  • Oral presentation(s) 10%

  • Assignment 1: research problem (3000 words) 30%

  • Assignment 2: full research paper (5000 words) 60%


In case of an unsatisfactory grade, the papers need to be reworked.

Exam Review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • to post all the necessary information about the course (programme, time tables, announcements, etc.)

  • to post interesting activities (such as Conferences, workshops, expositions, etc.), which are related to the themes analysed during the course

Reading list

  • Blok, Anton 2002 “Mafia and blood symbolism.” In Frank Salter (ed.), Risky Transactions: Trust, Kinship, and Ethnicity. New York & Oxford, Berghahn Books: 109-128.

  • Bakker, Laurens 2016 “Organized violence and the state. Evolving vigilantism in Indonesia.” Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 172: 249–277.

  • Peter T. Leeson & David B. Skarbek
    2010 “Criminal constitutions.” Global Crime 11(3), 279-297.

  • Hazen, Jennifer M., & Dennis Rodgers
    2014 Global gangs: Street violence across the world. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press: 1-26.

  • Higgins, Silke 2014 "Yakuza Past, Present and Future: The Changing Face of Japan's Organized Crime Syndicates." Themis: Research Journal of Justice Studies and Forensic Science 2(1): 190-208.

  • Koivu, Kendra L. 2017 “Illicit Partners and Political Development: How Organized Crime Made the State.” Studies in Comparative International Development: 1-20.

  • Maldonado Aranda, Salvador 2013 “Stories of drug trafficking in rural Mexico: territories, drugs and cartels in Michoacán.” European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 94: 43-66.

  • Matusitz, Jonathan, & Michael Repass 2009 “Gangs in Nigeria: an updated examination.” Crime, law and social change 52(5): 495-511.

  • Morris, Stephen D. 2012 “Corruption, Drug Trafficking, and Violence in Mexico.” The Brown Journal of World Affairs 18,(2): 29-43

  • Ryter, Loren 2014 “Youth Gangs and Otherwise in Indonesia”. In Jennifer M.Hazen & Dennis Rodgers, Global gangs: Street violence across the world, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press: 147-170.

  • Salagaev, Alexander & Rustem Safin 2014 “Capitalizing on Change: Gangs, Ideology, and the Transition to a Liberal Economy in the Russian Federation”. In Jennifer M.Hazen & Dennis Rodgers, Global gangs: Street violence across the world, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press: 65-84.

  • Schneider, Jane & Peter Schneider 2003 Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo. Berkeley/Los Angeles, University of California Press: 22-49, 81-102.

  • Sciarrone, Rocco, & Luca Storti 2014 “The territorial expansion of mafia-type organized crime. The case of the Italian mafia in Germany.” Crime, Law and Social Change 61(1): 37-60.

  • Scott, Rachel M. 2014 “Managing Religion and Renegotiating the Secular: The Muslim Brother-hood and Defining the Religious Sphere.” Politics and Religion 7(1): 51-78.

  • Skarbek, David 2011 “Governance and Prison Gangs”. American Political Science Review 105(4), 702-716.

  • Varese, Federico 2011 “How mafias take advantage of globalization: The Russian mafia in Ita-ly.” The British Journal of Criminology 52(2): 235-253.

  • Vergani, Matteo, & Sean Collins 2015 “Radical Criminals in the Grey Area: A Comparative Study of Mexican Religious Drug Cartels and Australian Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs.” Studies in Con-flict & Terrorism 38(6): 414-432.

  • Weber, Max 1993 The sociology of religion. Boston, Beacon Press, 1-31.


Via uSis


Dhr. Dr. J.C.G.Aguiar