Former member of the Centre Professor Dick Hobbs returned to Oxford to give the third All Souls Criminology seminar of 2013. Professor Hobbs spoke about his newly published book Lush Life: Constructing Organized Crime in the UK - an absorbing account of organized crime in the East End of London. His talk also reflected upon on his long research career as an ethnographer of the London underworld, who has followed his subjects’ lives sometimes for decades. His latest book is just one in a succession of important works that have contributed to our understanding of the underworld of professional criminals, the workings of police detectives, and of private security. His previous books include: Doing the Business: Entrepreneurship, the Working Class and Detectives in the East End of London (1988); Bad Business: Professional Crime in Modern Britain (1995); and Bouncers: Violence and Governance in the Night time Economy (2003).

Lush Life focuses on the constructed nature of organized crime and the changing history of the term. It also builds on Hobbs’ exploration of themes addressed in his earlier works: not least the operation of illegal markets, criminal entrepreneurship, and the implications of the development of the night-time economy. As his talk to an enthralled audience at All Souls revealed, Hobbs continues to immerse himself in the life of the East London neighbourhoods, in which he was born and grew up, to reveal the many ways in which criminal activity is quite simply an everyday feature of urban existence in this impoverished part of the city.

Hobbs’ talk demonstrated how the historical construction of organized crime has been characterized by a continuing xenophobia toward newly arrived immigrants whose closed communities and alien beliefs, customs and practices seemed to fearful observers to threaten the moral and social order. The very term organized crime has been constructed and reconstructed over time as the structural conditions of its existence change. Exploring the changing patterns, and practices of organized crime, its perpetrators, its beneficiaries, and its victims, Hobbs has come to doubt the utility and meaning of this widely used, yet ill-defined, term. Organized crime is perhaps little more than an umbrella term for any crime committed collaboratively. Instead, he prefers to understand the shady dealings he describes so dispassionately as facets of ‘illegal trading’ and their chief actors as ‘illegal entrepreneurs’. Although economic reward is clearly a central motivating factor, Hobbs’ research also reveals the hedonistic, thrill- and status-seeking aspect to much activity. Particularly illuminating is his analysis of the role of violence, rumour and gossip in managing reputations, constructing myths, and structuring the environment of illegal markets.

Hobb’s inimitable style of ethnographic enquiry results in a densely woven collection of sketches, vignettes, and personal accounts that together vividly illustrate the variety, innovation, and entrepreneurial energy of the criminal actors who are his chief subjects. The book itself explores larger themes including the impact of neo-liberalism, globalisation, the importance of cosmopolitanism, and of post-industrial decline on the activities of organized criminals. In tracing these influences, Hobbs situates contemporary organized crime within the wider political economy of twenty-first century Britain.

Lush Life was recently published in the Clarendon Studies in Criminology by Oxford University Press. The Series aims to provide a forum for outstanding empirical and theoretical work in all aspects of criminology and criminal justice, broadly understood. It is edited under the auspices of the Cambridge Institute of Criminology, the Mannheim Centre for Criminology at the London School of Economics, and the Centre for Criminology at the University of Oxford. Each supplies members of the Editorial Board and, in turn, the General Editor. The Series was inaugurated in 1994, with Roger Hood as its first General Editor. The Editors welcome submissions from established scholars, as well as excellent PhD work.