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Transnational organized crime (TOC or transnational crime) is organized crime coordinated across national borders.

Transnational organized crime is widely opposed on the basis of a number of negative effects. It can undermine democracy, disrupt free markets, drain national assets, and inhibit the development of stable societies. In doing so, it has been argued, national and international criminal groups threaten the security of all nations.

According to Louise I. Shelley, Director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at American Universitymarker,
"Transnational crime will be a defining issue of the 21st century for policymakers - as defining as the Cold War was for the 20th century and colonialism was for the 19th. Terrorists and transnational crime groups will proliferate because these crime groups are major beneficiaries of globalization. They take advantage of increased travel, trade, rapid money movements, telecommunications and computer links, and are well positioned for growth."[314170](This article incorporates text from the U.S.marker Department of Statemarker that is believed to be in the public domain.)

The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime has already been adopted fight against transnational organized crime, with the recognition of UN Member States that this is a serious and growing problem that can only be solved through close international cooperation since November 2000. The Ad Hoc Committee established by the United Nations General Assembly is to deal with this problem by taking a series of measures against transnational organized crime. These include the creation of domestic criminal offences to combat the problem, and the adoption of new, sweeping frameworks for mutual legal assistance, extradition, law-enforcement cooperation and technical assistance and training.

Transnational Organized Crime is one of "The Ten Threats" warned by the High Level Threat Panel of the United Nations.

Critical Perspectives

Critical perspectives on transnational organize crime begin by arguing that the officially agreed definitions of the problem are both vague and limiting. Critical perspectives foreground the analysis of language used to describe transnational organized crime (TOC) and, by so doing, deconstruct the institutional basis that is its surface of emergence.

Deconstructing TOC Talk

From very early on TOC was influentially defined is by reference to a continuum: “at one end of the spectrum are those who see organized crime in terms of large hierarchical organizations that are structured rather like transnational corporations. At the other end are those who contend that for the most part organized crime groups tend to be loosely structured, flexible and highly adaptable”(Williams & Savona, 1996, p. 4) This definition appears quite objective. However, the conventional language of TOC establishes an us-versus-them mentality. It sees TOC in terms of a separate ‘criminal class’ that threatens the well-being of ‘legitimate citizens’. Supposedly objective and authoritative definitions of TOC tend to picture transnational organized crime as an outside threat and do not consider the role played by states, corporations, and other powerful actors in the global system in the manufacture of transnational organized crime phenomena.

Critical perspectives on TOC begin by noting that the terminology surrounding it emerged at the end of the Cold War during which time a febrile and tentative ‘new world order’ gave rise to a new security discourse largely predicated on combating TOC. According to James Sheptycki, Professor of Criminology at York University, Toronto Canada, the “seemingly technical language [about transnational organized crime] is infused with a rich set of connotative meanings”(Sheptycki, 2007, p. 5). [314171]He maintains that “these connotative meanings are encapsulated in the reports of international policing and security agencies, which give pride of place to an exotic collection of ethnically based criminal organizations: Jamaican Yardies, Chinese Triads, Japanese Yakuza, the Russian Mafiya, Albanians, Iranians, Nigerians, Syrians, and Colombians.” (ibid. p. 5). “Such stereotypes” he suggests, “represent the globally criminalized ‘other’ that threatens a just and true world order” (ibid. p. 5). Thus TOC is, he argues, “a one-dimensional caricature based on a set of stereotypical folk devils and the mainstream media – as part of the ‘deviance-defining elite’ – [have] largely colluded” in its propagation (ibid. p. 4).

As officially defined, the array of ‘usual suspects’ (Gill 2000) were largely restricted to drug runners, human smugglers, online pedophiles, and terrorists. Conspicuously absent from mainstream discourses about transnational crime were crimes like gun-running (Edwards and Sheptycki, 2009)crimes against the environment (Beirne and South, 2007),corporate crime, white-collar crime, corruption and other systemic crimes of the powerful endemic in the global system (Beare, 2003; Green and Ward, 2004; Sheptycki and Wardak 2004) . Standard forms of TOC discourse preclude an understanding of these phenomena as pathological symptoms of a world-system dominated by ‘seigneurial states’ (Goldsmith and Sheptycki, 2007).Critical perspectives on TOC argue that, since conventional TOC-talk is deficient, the policy responses are ineffective or detrimental (Edwards and Gill, 2003).



  1. Williams, P. & Savona, E.U. (1996). The United Nations and Transnational Organized Crime. Abington, Oxon.: Frank Cass Publishers.
  2. Sheptycki, J. (2007) ‘Transnational Crime and Transnational Policing’, Sociology Compass 1 (2007): 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2007.00022.x
  3. Gill, P. (2000) Rounding Up the Usual Suspects? Developments in contemporary law enforcement intelligence, Aldershot, Hants.: Ashgate
  4. Edwards, A. and Sheptycki, J. (eds.) (2009) Guns, Crime and Social Order; A Special Issue of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Vol. 9 No. 3
  5. Bierne, P. and South, N. (2007) Issues in Green Criminology: Confronting Harms against Environments, Humanity, and Other Animals. Devon: Willan Publishing
  6. Beare, M. (2003) Critical Reflections on Transnational Organized Crime, Money Laundering and Corruption. Toronto: Toronto University Press 2003, pp 120-14.
  7. Green, Penny & Ward, Tony. (2004) State Crime: Governments, Violence and Corruption. London: Pluto Press
  8. Sheptycki, J. and Wardak, A. (2004) Transnational and Comparative Criminology, London: Taylor and Francis
  9. Goldsmith, A. and Sheptycki, J. (2007) Crafting Transnational Policing. Oxford Hart Publishing
  10. Edwards, A. and Gill, P. (2003) Transnational Organized Crime; perspectives on global security London: Routledge

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