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Entrepeneurs of the dark side

26 March 2009 Inderscience

The tools used by business and management researchers could be sharpened to help in the fight against organised crime by recognising entrepeneurship and career progression in gangs, according to a report in the International Journal of Innovation and Learning.

Petter Gottschalk and JanTerje Karlsen of the Norwegian School of Management in Oslo, suggest that most of the published research on studies of entrepreneurship engage in a positive enthusiasm about the role of the entrepreneur. However, there are entrepreneurs that exist in the underworld, operating illegal businesses and taking part in less than wholesome and clean ventures.

The team has now prepared the groundwork for research into career development in criminal gangs. There exist theories in business studies of how organised crime operates, but Gottschalk and Karlsen are taking this work a step further to find similarities between the business "skills" of members of criminal gangs.

"To fight organised crime, there is a need to understand criminal organisations in terms of criminal business enterprises," the researchers explain.

Of course, organised crime by criminal entrepreneurs is not a new phenomenon. Other researchers have described historical cases such as piracy, slavery and opium smuggling as representative. However, the biggest problem facing law enforcers in understanding organised crime is not the word "crime" but the word "organised". Study is further confused by the idiosyncratic and often bizarrely romanticised images conjured up by words such as ‘mafia’, ‘mob’, ‘gang’, ‘syndicate’, ‘outfit’, ‘network’, ‘cell’, ‘club’, and ‘cartel’.

Put simply: organised crime is a continuing criminal enterprise that rationally works to profit from illicit activities that are often in great public demand.

The researchers explain how an entrepreneur is usually a person who operates a new enterprise or venture and assumes some accountability for the risk. In the context of the criminal gang, an entrepreneur develops the enterprise, often starting at the level of group of troublemaking friends, through criminal network, to established gang.

Similarly, entrepreneurship is often difficult and tricky, as many new ventures fail, and in the criminal context the risks associated with failure are well documented in police reports and documentary films.

This is just the beginning of an important avenue of research, the team says. The ultimate aim of the research will be to bring the tools of business studies to bear on organised crime, and to focus on organisational analysis. "Organised crime analysis and analysis of criminal organisations need to be carried out both at the individual and organisational level, as individual criminals are sentenced to prison, never criminal organisations," the researchers conclude.

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