Serious and Organised? A Global History of the Criminal Underworld since 1750

Tutor: Mark Roodhouse

Module type: MA Option

Module code: HIS00101M

Credits: 20

That organised crime poses a global threat is a commonplace for today’s securocrats. The origins of this view lie in 1969. That year saw the publication of two seminal texts: The Theft of a Nation by the criminologist Donald Cressey and The Godfather by the novelist Mario Puzo. For Cressey and Puzo, organised crime was an alien criminal conspiracy aping the structures of corporate enterprise. This view has informed US government policy and the American social imaginary ever since. Together Washington and Hollywood sold this idea globally.

In this module we will look at the genealogy of our ideas about criminal organisation and their impact on law enforcement. This is more than an intellectual and political history. It involves an exploration of the changing nature of criminal activity as well as its representation in the previous two centuries. Drawing on the latest historical research from around the world, students will question an established historical narrative that starts with early modern banditry and ends with transnational organised crime, cherry-picking evidence from the histories of Italian, American, Chinese and Japanese history as it goes. By considering how various crimes were organised across Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia more generally, students will critically evaluate and form their own ideas about the past, present and future of criminal organisation. In doing so, they will gain familiarity with key texts and canonical sources for the history of professional and organised crime.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows: 

    • From brigand to criminal: criminalising the social
    • In the underworld: crime as a profession
    • The visible hand: crime as a business
    • McMafia: crime without frontiers
    • Rise and fall: bringing the state back in
    • Disorganised crime: illegal markets and criminal enterprise
    • Going down the glocal: the geographies of organised crime
    • Reorganising crime: an idea’s past, present and future

Preliminary Reading  

    • Cressey, Donald R. Theft of the Nation: The Structure and Operations of Organized Crime in America. London and New York: Routledge, [1969] 2017
    • Glenny, Misha. McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime. London: Vintage, [2008] 2009
    • Puzo, Mario. The Godfather. London: Arrow Books, [1969] 2009
    • Wright, Alan. Organised Crime. Cullompton: Willan Publishing, 2006


Fore more information, please visit the module catalogue.