This module is a resource for lecturers


The reason people engage in crime is the most fundamental issue in the study of criminology. Many studies have been undertaken to explain and understand the existence of crime. The historical record shows that crime exists in all societies, but levels of crime vary dramatically both within and among nations. Furthermore, levels of crime can and do change over time. This observation has two relevant implications: first, there is room for improvement from any existing situation, and second, there are many examples of crime increases and reductions from around the world to study.

Comparatively to other aspects of organized crime, little attention has been paid to its causes and facilitating factors. The causes are those underlying events, structures and conditions that have existed over a period of time and that are necessary for organized crime to shape up and manifest itself. As for facilitating factors, these are the factors that encourage the expansion of organized criminal activities. For example, literature on Central Asia often cites the existence of tribes and clans, or strong social cohesion, as a facilitating factor to organized crime (UNODC, 2007). These studies maintain that the strong social cohesion would make it easier for people to engage in organized criminal activities. Nonetheless, such facilitating factors are clearly not enough to explain why people engage in organized criminal activities. There is a third group of factors that play an important role in creating and facilitating organized crime: the so-called "mobilizing factors". They predominantly concern the motivations of the key stakeholders and thus are the set of highly personal reasons and causes for which people engage in criminal activities. They are considered transversally throughout this Module.

This Module provides an overview of the different approaches adopted in criminology to the causes and facilitating factors of organized crime, as well as distinguish the strength and weaknesses of the related explanations. Considering the variety of activities carried out by organized criminal groups as well as the existence of different types of them with a very diverse membership base, it is likely that more than one explanation is needed to shed light on the causes and facilitating factors of organized crime.

Topics covered

  • Positivist perspectives in criminology
  • Blocked opportunity
  • Hedonism
  • Routine activity theory
  • State failure
  • Criminogenic asymmetry
  • Ethical explanation of criminal conduct
  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Learning outcomes

  • Understand a typology of different approaches to the causes of organized crime.
  • Assess the application of this typology in different situations.
  • Distinguish the strengths and weaknesses among the different explanations of organized crime in various contexts.

Next: Key issues
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