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 Research Projects at the MPIfG

The Structure of Illegal Markets

Jens Beckert and Renate Mayntz

Research in economic sociology has taken little notice of illegal markets. A similar blind spot is also evident in the field of the sociology of organizations which, for example, ignores groups such as terrorist organizations. Not only do illegal markets play a major role in both the economy and society, they are also highly interesting from a theoretical standpoint: if the production, distribution, consumption, or trading of a given good is illegal, how does that affect its market? The project looks at two issues. One of these concerns the structural principles governing illegal markets. This requires differentiating between production, distribution, and consumption because an illegal market’s structure and impact depend greatly on what part of it is illegal. Moreover, actor configurations within illegal markets determine how they work. Who are the actors, and how do they operate within a market? A second issue concerns the interconnections between legal and illegal economies, e.g. investing profits from illegal businesses into legal companies (money laundering), or the selling of counterfeit products, or the illegal disposal of hazardous waste by an otherwise legally operating company. Where do illegal markets intersect with the legal economy on the one hand, and with criminal organizations such as terrorist groups on the other? Based on an extensive review of the relevant, mostly criminological literature, the project began by developing a conceptual frame of reference for the analysis of illegal markets and their social, economic, and political environment. Against this background, four subprojects have emerged: the market for counterfeit consumer goods; the illegal trade in rhinoceros horns; illegal markets in (post-)conflict societies; and the emergence of illegal markets in acute crisis situations. Project duration: January 2010 to December 2017.
Beckert, Jens, and Matías Dewey. 2017. The Architecture of Illegal Markets: Towards an Economic Sociology of Illegality in the Economy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Beckert, Jens, and Frank Wehinger. 2013: "In the Shadow: Illegal Markets and Economic Sociology." Socio-Economic Review 11 (1): 5-30.
Mayntz, Renate. 2016. "Illegal Markets: Boundaries and Interfaces between Legality and Illegality." MPIfG Discussion Paper 16/4. Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne.
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