Friday, 25 January 2013

Organized Crime and the illicit Antiquities Trade

The 'Trafficking Culture' folk are making much of the recent publication of one of the project team:
Dietzler, J. (2013) ‘On ‘Organized Crime’ in the illicit antiquities trade: moving beyond the definitional debate’, Trends in Organized Crime DOI 10.1007/s12117-012-9182-0
This takes a criminological approach to the problem and probably gives a foretaste of the work of the Glasgow project, so is worth examining.
"The question of whether organized crime [...] is involved in the illicit antiquities trade still remains".

Ms Dietzler seems to consider that there is little evidence that criminal organizations are involved in the illicit antiquity trade, she says its "stereotypical thinking" and assumptions. For this she wins dealer Wayne Sayles' friendship and gratitude as a "A rational voice in a sea of hyperbole". Unfortunately she offers no evidence in support of the opposite position, that a market such as this can function without the involvement of organized groups involved in getting the stuff from illegal source A to profitable market B.

She says we need to "get beyond the definitional debate" but it is unclear to me whether this means she thinks we do need a definition of what we understand by organized crime, or we do not (do we need a years-long debate on the definition of "rhino poacher" and "gun" before dealing with the slaughter of rhinos?).

Instead, Ms Dietzler says, we need to look at the mechanisms of the trade (duh). Then offers a singularly simplistic four stage model of the antiquities trade (just one 'transit country' ms Dietzler? Is that not, in fact often the crux of the problem under investigation in this paper?). In this model, we learn that "hotels" are in some way facilitators of the antiquities trade alongside archaeologists and museum curators (as "motivated offenders") and a few other enigmatic and otherwise unexplained characters, and the "Internet" is in four categories of the model at once. Apparently it is a product of "Routine Action Theory" RAT, but then is there really a "routine" way in which antiquities enter the global market? Frankly, I do not see how this helps, even if you give it a fancy title. While from one point of view it may be helpful to look at a process in short fragments, does that not risk losing sight of the whole and the connections between phenomena and facts? It is a shame Ms Dietzler did not test the usefulness of this model as an investigative tool by applying it to some real-life test cases - like the comparatively well-documented trade in Bulgarian (and other Balkan) dugups to western Europe, central Europe and the US, or the several recent Egyptian ones. Perhaps that will be a future project.

The text suffers from a surfeit of repetition of the same phrases throughout, and the literature Ms Dietzler cites is almost all in English, and a lot of it is produced by fellow project members.   

Vignette: Routine action or a network theory?

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