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The Relevance of Peace to Studies of Drug Market Violence

Published onJun 06, 2020
The Relevance of Peace to Studies of Drug Market Violence

Note: This is the postprint of the following paper; publisher version available here.

Jacques, Scott, and Richard Wright. 2008. The Relevance of Peace to Studies of Drug Market Violence. Criminology 46:221–253.

Abstract: Goldstein's (1985) concept of systemic violence has contributed substantially to criminological thought and research, but its power can be enhanced by connecting it to a broader typology of social life: the resource exchange—social control typology. That typology connects systemic violence logically with two important yet neglected forms of drug market behavior: peaceful resource exchange and peaceful social control. This article, which is based on 50 in‐depth interviews with individuals involved actively or recently in drug selling, describes the various forms of violent and nonviolent resource exchange and social control in illicit drug markets, stating them in quantitative terms that are conceptually distinct and empirically observable. We conclude by discussing 1) the implications of peaceful behavior for a fuller understanding of violence and 2) the relevance of the resource exchange‐social control typology to criminological theory and research.


In an influential article, Goldstein (1985) classified all forms of violence related to the illicit drug trade under a single heading that he labeled “systemic violence.” Under this heading, he provided nine definitions, one conceptual and eight operational. Conceptually, Goldstein defined systemic violence thusly: “Systemic violence refers to traditionally aggressive patterns of interaction within the system of drug distribution and use” (ibid: 497). This definition ropes off drug trade-related violence from other forms of drug-related violence. He then offered eight operationalized examples of the phenomenon: “1. disputes over territory between rival drug dealers. 2. assaults and homicides committed within dealing hierarchies as a means of enforcing normative codes. 3. robberies of drug dealers and the usually violent retaliation by the dealer or his/her bosses. 4. elimination of informers. 5. punishment for selling adulterated or phony drugs. 6. punishment for failing to pay one’s debts. 7. disputes over drug paraphernalia. 8. robbery violence related to the social ecology of copping areas” (ibid: 497; also see Goldstein, 1989: 30).

To be clear, Goldstein’s notion of systemic violence is not a theory, but rather a concept embedded within a typology of violence. A typology is “a purposive, planned selection, abstraction, combination, and (sometimes) accentuation of a set of criteria with empirical referents that serves as a basis for comparison of empirical cases” (McKinney, 1966: 3; also see Lazarsfeld and Barton, 1951). A typology does not explain behavior; rather, the role of a typology is to provide concepts that are distinct, observable, quantifiable, and thus explainable by theory (see Bailey, 1994; Cooney and Phillips, 2002).[i] Goldstein’s typology influenced a generation of researchers, many of whom devoted substantial time and effort to documenting systemic violence (see especially, Brownstein et al., 1992; Goldstein et al., 1989; Goldstein, Brownstein, and Ryan, 1992; Goldstein et al., 1997). Taken as a whole, their research clearly authenticated the idea that violence and drug markets are intimately related.

It has become part of our commonsense wisdom that illicit drug markets and violence go hand-in-hand (Zimring and Hawkins, 1997: 138; also see Jensen, 2000). This belief is easy enough to understand; after all, much criminal violence is concentrated in and around drug markets (Blumstein and Rosenfeld, 1998; Jacobs and Wright, 2006). But like much commonsense wisdom, this is an over-simplification at best and nonsense at worst. Violence is not an invariant or inevitable feature of drug markets; many such markets experience little or no serious violence and even the most violent drug markets are peaceful most of the time (Jacobs, 1999: 80-1; MacCoun and Reuter, 2001: 121; Zimring and Hawkins, 1997: 138-155).[ii] This raises an important question: How might we connect Goldstein’s concept of systemic violence to the peaceful behavior that often characterizes drug market interactions?

The answer is the resource exchange—social control typology, which divides social interactions into two groups: (1) those involving a pure exchange of resources, and (2) those involving the exercise of social control.[iii] The operationalized examples of systemic violence provided by Goldstein clearly fit into this bifurcated classification scheme, as all are concerned with resource exchange (robbery) or social control (retaliation/punishment). While some forms of resource exchange and social control are violent, there also are non-violent forms of resource exchange, including frauds, thefts, gifts, and sales, and non-violent forms of informal social control, such as retaliatory theft, negotiation, avoidance, and toleration. What is more, even formal social control occasionally is exercised, despite the common assumption that drug market disputes are fully beyond the reach of law (see, especially, Jacobs, 2000).

Peace is social interaction absent violent predation or retaliation (see Hobbes, [1651] 1985), and since it is a logical necessity that where there is peace there is not violence (Black, 1976: 107; Black, 1983), to study peaceful behavior alongside aggressive acts may serve to enhance our understanding of systemic violence. In this paper we describe the various forms of violent and non-violent resource exchange and social control in illicit drug markets, stating them in quantitative terms that are conceptually distinct and empirically observable. Our goal is not to provide a theory of drug market behavior, but rather to connect the concept of systemic violence to important aspects of drug market behavior: peaceful trade and peaceful social control. We conclude by discussing the relevance of both peace and the resource exchange—social control typology to criminology.


The data on which this paper is based come from 50 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with unincarcerated individuals actively or recently involved in illicit drug selling (for a theory of active offender research, see Jacques and Wright, in press). Half of the interviews are with 18-23 year old persons from middle-class families[iv] living in Georgia, and the other half are with persons from low-income neighborhoods in St. Louis, Missouri. All interviewees are currently selling drugs or have done so within the past two years.[v]

Respondents in the Georgia sample were initially recruited using a straightforward purposive sampling strategy; we approached and asked for the cooperation of drug sellers who the lead author already knew to be involved in this activity. The first 18 such sellers were recruited in this manner; then, knowing no further drug sellers who met the participation criteria, we turned to snowball sampling, using two prior interviewees to recruit seven more middle-class drug sellers. The first 18 respondents were not compensated for participation, but the other 7 participants were paid $20 each, and were recruited through past participants who were paid $20 for each successful referral. All of the participants were white. Each seller in this sample had graduated from high school, a substantial majority of them were in college at the time of the interview, and many have since earned degrees. Criminal arrests were rare, with criminal convictions being even rarer. Drugs sold by the sellers included marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, LSD, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and other substances; none reported selling crack cocaine or heroin.

Sellers in St. Louis were recruited through the efforts of a specially trained project fieldworker. Trading on his trust, the fieldworker worked through chains of street referrals to gain introductions to drug dealers, and then built on these initial introductions by obtaining further referrals from the dealers themselves. Because recruitment is the most challenging aspect of research involving active offenders, the fieldworker was paid $75 per recruit. To enhance cooperation, street-sellers were paid $50 for an interview. All of the participants were black, and 6 of the 25 were female. None of the St. Louis participants had graduated from college and only 5 had ever attended; excluding those who had attended college, 8 had graduated from high school. The age of the sample clustered around 30 years old. Involvement with police and government prosecutors was the norm for this group, with practically all of them having been arrested in the past. Many of these participants sold crack cocaine and/or heroin, a few sold only marijuana, while some sold more than one type of drug.

The interviews, which lasted between 30 minutes and 2 hours, were semi-structured and conducted in an informal manner. The contours of individual interviews varied, though each ultimately addressed the pre-identified focal topics of the project. Interviews centered on stories and narratives, as compared to general descriptions. The final section of the interview consisted of a self-report questionnaire. It contained a wide range of questions – from age of first drug use to what types of legitimate jobs have been held. Although rare, some follow-up interviews were conducted to obtain information that had been missed during an initial interview.

As with any study based on interviews, ours too raises concerns that some participants may have resorted to lying or distortion. To minimize such concerns, participants were promised confidentially. All potential interviewees were made aware of their rights as a research subject through an informed consent protocol read to them at the beginning of the interview. Comments initially deemed unusual or unfounded were probed further to reveal and, if possible, resolve inconsistencies. Despite these safeguards, it is possible that some of the participants lied or embellished their accounts. It is important to point out that because we are presenting a typology and not a theory, our quotes are used to illustrate the concepts we suggest, not to validate a theory of any sort.

Data were analyzed manually. Transcripts were read and hand-coded, using the resource exchange—social control typology to guide the organizational framework. Since the purpose of the data is to illustrate the various aspects of the resource exchange—social control typology, and not to validate theory, the use of interviewee quotes in the paper was determined by both their empirical detail and their consistency with the concepts contained in the resource exchange—social control typology. As with any research of this sort, it is inevitable that the words of all participants will not be incorporated into the paper; this paper relies on the experiences of 15 sellers, 9 of who are middle-class persons from suburban Atlanta – Jeff, Pete, Mark, Christian, Ron, Robert, Justin, Dave, and William, and the rest of whom are lower-class individuals from the streets of St. Louis – Hoe Pusher, Big Pimp, Hustler, Role Playa’, O-G, and Lil’ Homie.[vi]

Resource Exchange

Survival at all levels of life requires the trading of useful objects, and many species are utterly dependent on resource exchange to maintain their way of life (see Ridley, 1998). Evolutionary biologists and sociobiologists speak of resource exchange in terms of whether actions between social beings enhance or reduce each other’s biological fitness, and whether these acts are mutual or uni-directional (see, e.g., Dawkins, 2006; Wilson, 2000). Anthropologist Marshall Sahlins thought of resource exchange as a system based on the “immediacy of returns, equivalence of returns, and like material and mechanical dimensions of exchange” (1972: 191). Sociologist Alvin Gouldner (1960) drew from the functionalist perspective to argue that resource exchange, specifically reciprocity, serves as a mechanism for starting and continuing social interaction. Psychologists speak of resource exchange in terms of the motivations, emotions, and other cognitive aspects that affect resource exchange (see, e.g., Sober and Wilson, 1998). Economists refer to resource exchange in purely rational terms by calculating the benefits and costs (see, e.g., Robbins, 1952). In short, resource exchange is a fundamental aspect of social life that varies through space and time, and can be viewed from a number of theoretical perspectives. Taken together, the literature on resource exchange suggests there are three general forms: (1) altruism, where one actor gives resources to another actor without receiving or taking any resources in return; (2) reciprocity, where two or more actors engage in a mutual give and take of resources; and (3) predation, where one actor takes the resources of an exchange partner (Cooney and Phillips, 2002).

Economist Avinash Dixit noted that “institutions can be effective deterrents to opportunism, but…in their absence, beneficial economic activity is likely to be hindered by a well-grounded fear of being cheated” (2004: 14). Ethnographer Bruce Jacobs believes that “[t]here are few settings more anomic than the streetcorner drug market. Burns, ripoffs, and violence are everyday occurrences in a world that is systematically organized around predation and mutual exploitation” (1999: 66). While the role of predatory violence in illicit markets appears to be relatively great, it is far from an inevitable outcome of black market trade, nor is it likely the modal category. The following presents five empirically distinguishable forms of resource exchange, only one of which (violent predation) involves violence; the other four (stealth predation, fraudulent predation, sale, and gift) do not. 

Predatory Resource Exchange

The logic of predation is to take resources without giving any in return (Cooney and Phillips, 2002). Any given act of predation can be quantified with four measures: (1) the quantity of resource(s) taken; (2) the magnitude of violence applied to the victim; (3) the extent of misinformation surrounding the trade; and, (4) the degree of contact between the victim and offender during the act. In practice, for example, a predatory act can result in a million dollar gain or nothing, can result in murder or involve no bodily injury, the circumstances surrounding the act can be unknown, mysterious, or comprehensively understood, and the event can occur when the victim and offender are in the same room or in different countries and take place over a matter of seconds or months. The above four measures of predation suggest that it can take one of three broad classes: violent predation; stealth predation; and, fraudulent predation (see table 1).


Violent Predation

“Predatory violence is the use of force in the acquisition of wealth or other resources” (Black, 2004a: 146; also see Cooney, 2006; Cooney and Phillips, 2002; Jacobs, 2000; Jacobs et al., 2000; Wright and Decker, 1997). Violent predation is a quantitative variable measurable along four dimensions: (1) the amount of resource(s) taken; (2) the amount of violence applied to the prey; (3) the amount of deceptive communication proceeding coerced exchange; and, (4) the amount of contact between predator and prey. Resources, for example, could be measured by the number of grams, ounces, or pounds of drugs stolen, or the number of dollars taken. Violence could be measured by the number of shots fired, the number of stab wounds, or anything as long as it is a consistent indicator of violence. Fraud, or misinformation, could be measured by the amount of deceptive communication used in “setting up” a drug seller for a robbery.[vii] The quantity of interaction can be measured by any unit of time, such as seconds, minutes, days, weeks, and so on.

The only form of predatory violence operationalized by Goldstein as systemic violence is robbery (see Jacobs, 2000; Wright and Decker, 1997), and the most serious form of predatory violence involves murder[viii]:

Big Pimp: Well my brother got killed when we got robbed…. Shit, the dude killed my baby brother. Me and my other two brothers were together [selling outside]. Yeah, they pulled up on us [and asked for drugs]. We were like, “You got the wrong guy.”…One of the girls are like, “They’re cool, they’re cool.” So they came and asked if we had weed or whatever. We’re like, “Yeah.”… Shit, dude hit me in my face with a gun and I blacked out… [S]o I woke up and one of my brothers [had] got shot, I didn’t know who [else had] got shot, [and then] I ran beating on people’s door to call the police.

A robbery victim may suffer a physical assault, but a successful transaction of resources is not always the result. A predatory act can score high on the violence measure, but low on the resource acquisition measure. The following two quotes concern the same violent act; the latter quote comes from the predator’s view point and the former comes from the victim’s perspective:

Pete: [I]f you get “jacked” it means you lose what you had…. I got “jumped.” They were trying to jack me but they didn’t get it. 1500 bucks in my pocket…. I was looking for a QP [quarter-pound of marijuana] and most of my regular guys [suppliers] didn’t have it. I got a call from a kid that I thought was my friend and he told me he could get it for me, “I hear you’re looking for some weed and I can get you a QP.” I said, “Yeah”. He was like, “Well come pick me up and we’ll go get it.” So I went and picked him up, met these people…. I got to their car. They said “You got the money?” I said, “Yeah, I got the money.” They were like, “Okay, let me see it and I’ll go get it.” I was like, “I don’t think so. I’ll come with you, or you can go and get it and come back.” So I got out of the car, got hit in the side of the face…. I acted as though I was knocked out and lay on the ground face down. I had the money in my jacket pocket…and I felt somebody drag me and roll me over to try and get the money and when they did that I grabbed them, pulled them down, got up and got in my jeep and drove off.


Mark: [M]e and four other people were camped out with masks on in these woods at a pool, at a neighborhood pool, and the kid [Pete] came up and we were supposed to be hooking him with like $1100 worth of something and we didn’t have it, we were just gonna beat his ass and take his money. It wasn’t really my idea but I got involved and I was there, I was pretty drunk or whatever, but it doesn’t matter. Anyways, the kid pulls up and he had another kid with him but the other kid didn’t really do anything, and the kid [Pete] gets out of the car and me and my buddy, well pretty much just my buddy wooped his ass pretty bad, and I dunno, I had him in a headlock a couple times, but I didn’t really do anything, I was just kinda there, but the kid didn’t give up his money and we didn’t get anything from him, and…we definitely gave this kid a beating, but he took it.

Fraudulent Predation

Fraudulent predation is trade with false premises, where the facts of exchange do not match the communication surrounding the trade, and violence or coercion is absent from the interaction. Fraudulent predation includes “slight of hand, counterfeiting, or crude con games” (Jacobs, 1999: 69). Fraud is unlike violent predation because the act is without violence; fraud is distinguishable from stealth predation because there is contact between the trade partners as the act occurs. Fraud can, in some instances, involve the mutual giving and taking of resources, but fraud is predation and not reciprocity because the true nature of items – their true worth – is obscured from the trade partner (discussed in detail below). Fraud is a quantitative variable measurable by (1) the communicated cost of a transaction relative to the actual cost of the transaction, and (2) the quantity of interaction between persons, in this case defined by the length of time between the first communication about a trade and its completion. The communication-actualization ratio could be measured by comparing what someone says about their behavior and what that person actually does; for instance, if a drug seller says, “Give me $50 for an eighth of marijuana”, with an “eighth” equal to 3.5 grams, receives $50 from the customer, and then provides only 3.0 grams of marijuana in return, the seller’s communication differs from the resulting behavior by .5 grams, resulting in a communication-actualization ratio of 7:6.[ix] The quantity of fraudulent interaction is measurable by any consistent indicator that can capture the length of time between the first solicitation and the final exchange.

 As the drug trade is mostly concerned with the trading of drugs and money,[x] fraudulent trades often involve fake drugs or counterfeit money:

Big Pimp: You got crack heads now that got counterfeit money and shit, passing all kind of shit.

Interviewer: Has anybody ever done that to you?

Big Pimp: Yeah I got a counterfeit one time.

Interviewer: And what did you do?

Big Pimp: I couldn’t do nothing ’cause he drove off so fast before I even realized it was fake. I just threw the money on the ground. I was just mad.           


Christian: I…had 180 bucks or whatever to buy 10 [ecstasy pills]. I remember it was me and my friend and we drove to the house or whatever, and it was two guys and a girl, and I had the money, and I was like “let me see what’s going on here”… I felt like this wasn’t right, and… so I looked at the girl and asked her, “Have you taken this?” and she was like, “Yeah”, and I was like, “Is it good?” and she was like “Yeah, it’s good.” So whatever, and I was like “Alright”… I got the 10 pills and I wanted to find out if it was real because I was so suspicious of it. I just took one of them myself, and it wasn’t real, and I was pissed, it was almost a tranquil pissed, like I was like, “Man, I just got fucked over.”[xi]

Fraud in the drug world is not restricted to cash, and economic exchange is increasingly becoming cashless (Wright and Decker, 1997: 136-9). In a digital drug market, fraudulent predation involves deceptive communication surrounding the exchange of “electronic cash” and drugs. One example of electronic fraud is exchanging food cards for drugs and then canceling the account:

Hustler: They got food stamps. You know you get the food stamps and they cancel the card on your mother-fucking ass…

Interviewer: So is this some person in particular that does this to you?

Hustler: Yeah, a lot of mother-fuckers that have done me with the food stamps, that’s how they get you. They got the card, they purchase it and shit and you get the card and it’s got some amount of money on it, and they get home and cancel the fucker and then they get another card, and they do another motherfucker like that…

Interviewer: So how often does that kind of stuff happen to you? Like how many times has it happened?

Hustler: Oh man, probably ten, fifteen or twenty times man. Lot of times.

Another form of fraud relies on the false premise of being a legitimate drug trader, whereby once the prey has physically exchanged the resource, the offender flees without fully reciprocating:

Ron: I got screwed over one time. I had mushrooms and I was selling those. This kid, like we were meeting at this church, and he pulled in next to me, and he came to the window and I gave him the mushrooms and then he put his hand in the car and started counting out the money and then he just like pulled it out real quick and drove away.


Role Playa’: [P]ut my hand out and motherfucker put the window on my mother-fucking hand… Mother-fucking window hit my hand and I dropped two sacks and he sped off.

Stealth Predation

Stealth predation, or theft, is resource exchange without interaction between the offender and victim, and in which the receiver is responsible for the actual transfer of the resource. This sort of predation is measurable solely by the amount of resources taken from the victim – violence, contact, and misinformation are, by definition, nonexistent. Stealthy acts are measurable by the quantity of any resource taken without interaction between traders. Thus, the value of a theft could involve a few grams taken from a seller’s “stash spot” on the street, to duffle bags full of drugs and cash taken from a dealer’s home.

Two common locations in which stealth predation occurs are dealers’ vehicles and homes. Robert’s car was broken into while he was at his legitimate place of work (see quote on page 32); later his home was burglarized:

Robert: I come home from school and I go to where I had my herb and it was gone, and I just gotten a QP and broken it up into quarters the night before, and I was freaking out, and then I look around the house, and then I go down into the basement and the garage door, one of the windows was busted out…

Interviewer: How much was the herb worth?

Robert: Roughly like 12, 1300 dollars.

Another prominent place where stealth predation occurs is the street, as a common practice among low-class, urban-based drug sellers is to stash their product in various locales in and around the streets that serve as their place of business (Jacobs, 1999: 83-7):

O-G: I hid something in a chip bag right by a fence in the corner by the gangway and I came out and I seen a couple of guys that see me coming by every day and you got to suspect that they know that’s a stash. So the day went on or whatever and I made my little money and I go back to get my stash and I find that it is not there any more…

Interviewer: So how much did you lose?

O-G: About $50 worth ’cause I don’t really like to stash that much. So about $50 worth of crack. 

Non-Predatory Resource Exchange

Not all drug market trade is predatory, however; altruism and reciprocity also play important roles in the behavior of drug trade. Gifts and sales are distinguishable from the three forms of predation because they do not involve the taking of resources, but, rather, pertain to the “giving” of resources or to their mutual exchange. 


“Altruism is the very opposite of the survival of the fittest” (Sober and Wilson, 1999: 19). Different paradigms produce different conceptions of altruism, but they all have a common logic. For instance, sociologist Joseph Michalski defines altruism as “social interactions that entail the unilateral provision of resources” (2003: 344). According to evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, “[a]n entity, such as a baboon, is said to be altruistic if it behaves in such a way as to increase another such entity’s welfare at the expense of its own” (2000: 4). Psychologists focus on the motivation of the trade partner, whether it is ultimately “altruistic” – defined by an entirely unselfish motivation for giving resources, or whether the motivation is truly “egoistic” on some level (see, e.g., Batson, 1991; Sober and Wilson, 1999).

Altruism is here defined as the giving of resource(s) without taking or receiving resource(s) in return (Cooney and Phillips, 2002). The spirit of altruism is found in the notion of the gift, which is a quantitative variable that can vary in three respects: (1) the quantity of resources given away; (2) the degree of contact between the exchange partners and third parties; and, (3) the degree of social awareness about the trade. Resources and the quantity of contact are measurable in the same manner as described above; social awareness is measurable by the quantity of communication and information surrounding a gift. Thus, any given altruistic act can involve, say, one cent or one million dollars, one gram or one hundred pounds of marijuana, could be traded hand-to-hand or through an anonymous letter in the mail, and could be donated in such a way as to inform everyone in the community or to keep the action secret.

The prevalence of gift giving is no small matter: in the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, for instance, 58 percent of respondents reported acquiring marijuana for free (Caulkins and Pacula, 2006). The following three examples of altruistic exchange occurred between family members:

Interviewer: Going back to your brothers, did your younger brother know you dealt?

Dave: Yeah, a little bit, because he smokes a little bit, not much, but whenever he wanted some I’d just give him some, I’d throw him a quarter or something for free.


Jeff: I would just give [my brother] weed because, I mean, it’s my little brother.  I would just give him a nug here and there for free.


Interviewer: Have you ever sold to your brothers and sisters?

O-G: Yeah.

Interviewer: Would you give them the same deals?

O-G: They can get it for free. They’re my blood. They can get the shit for free. 


For any market, the mutual exchange of resources is the raison d’être. Reciprocity is defined here as the non-coercive, non-fraudulent, bilateral giving and taking of resources between actors. The concept of a sale, or deal, encompasses the nature of reciprocal trade. By definition, sales require the absence of misinformation, as this would be fraudulent predation; likewise, gifts require that the exchange be without any condition of reciprocity, no matter how minor, because otherwise it would be a sale. A sale is a quantitative variable measurable in two ways: (1) the price, or rate of exchange; and (2) credit, or the amount of time between completing one side of the trade and the other. The price is measurable by dividing the amount of resources exchanged by one trader by the amount of resources exchanged by the other trader; the price for a drug buyer is defined by the amount of drugs received divided by the number of dollars given to the drug seller. For example, if $100 buys 2 grams of cocaine then each dollar is worth .02 grams of cocaine, but if $100 only buys half a gram of cocaine then the worth of each dollar is .005 grams of cocaine. As well, the length of time between one side of the trade and the other can vary substantially from deal to deal, and this form of contact, as with predation and gifts, can be measured by any consistent indicator of time. Thus, any given sale can differ from others in its rate of exchange, such as how much money it costs to buy an ounce of marijuana, and the items can be exchanged concurrently or after a delay ranging from momentary to almost infinite (see, e.g., Hoffer, 2006; Jacobs, 1999).

While economists have long been interested in how price changes on a relatively aggregate-level, such as the role of police enforcement on drug prices (see, e.g., Caulkins, Reuter, and Taylor, 2006), what has received less attention in the drug literature is the fact that rates of exchange are not always stable from one customer to the next, holding the quantity and quality of drugs, place, time, and seller constant. Drug prices do not always vary, as the first example below demonstrates, but in other cases prices vary widely, as the second example shows:

Interviewer: So do you treat all your customers the same?

Lil’ Homie: I treat them all the same.

Interviewer: Like they would always get the same price, and the same …

Lil’ Homie: Same price, same thing. I ain’t giving them none less and none more. When I set my price I set my price. And I’m not taking any less. If I tell you I’m gonna give you an ounce for say 700, I’m looking for you to come up with that 700. I won’t settle for no $699, you know. No $650 or no 550. I want $700.


Justin: My roommate now, we’ve been friends since fucking ever, but when I was selling he was real good about making me feel like shit for getting money off of him without really being aggressive and calling me a dick or anything like that, and so he’d come over, and I’d be open with him about the prices like I was getting it for, and so he’d be like, “You’re selling me this so you’re making this much money off me,” and I was like, “Fine,” and sell it to him for maybe even 85, 80, [instead of the regular $100].

Given the rate of trade, sales differ in the amount of time between completion of one side of the trade and the other. Credit refers to cases where money, drugs, or other resources are traded unilaterally to a trade partner who agrees to reciprocate the exchange at a later time. Credit is a social behavior that varies in degree, as it can be a common occurrence without imposed time limitations or a rare event with strictly specified responsibilities for repayment.

In sum, gifts are distinguishable from sales because the former involves altruism – giving without receiving, whereas the latter involves reciprocity – mutual give and take, both of which differ from violent, stealth, and fraudulent predatory acts because they involve the use of either force, stealth, and/or misinformation to obtain resources without mutual exchange (see table 2).


Social Control

A central question for social scientists and philosophers has long been: Why act fairly or altruistically when predation results in a bigger payoff? Thomas Hobbes provides a famous State-level answer: citizens enter into a common agreement in which they agree not to prey on each other, and deviance from this agreement is subject to punishment by the government. In Hobbes’ own words:

A punishment, is an Evill inflicted by publique Authority, on him that hath done, or omitted that which is Judged by the same Authority to be a Transgression of the Law; to the end that the will of men may thereby the better be disposed to obedience. (Hobbes, [1651] 1985: 353)

The key to Hobbes’ argument are the concepts of “punishment” and “obedience” – obedience to social norms and punishment for deviance. If resource exchange is “primary behavior”, then rewards and punishments related to resource exchange and other social exchange are “secondary behavior” (Sober and Wilson, 1998: 143). Whether among insects (see Wenseleers and Ratnieks, 2006), non-human primates (see Black, 2000; Flack and de Waal, 2000; de Waal, 1989), archaic tribes (see Boehm, 2000), modern suburbanites (see Baumgartner, 1988), gang members (see Decker and Van Winkle, 1996; Shakur, 1993), or any social group (see generally Black, 1998; Horwitz, 1990), social control manages and administers social order, deterring deviance before it occurs and responding to it when deterrence fails.

Social control as a scientific term is more than a century old (Black, 1998: 3; see Ross, 1901), and the concept is generally defined as “practices and arrangements that contribute to social order and, in particular, that influence people to conform” (Black, 1998: 4), although a more narrow definition is “how people define and respond to…behavior” (ibid; also see Black, 1976). Social control includes an array of behaviors; for example: law (Black, 1976, 1980, 1989); vengeance (see Black, 1983; Cooney, 1998, 2003; Jacobs and Wright, 2006; Kubrin and Weitzer, 2003; Phillips, 2003; Phillips and Cooney, 2005); avoidance (Baumgartner, 1988); negotiation (Gulliver, 1979); therapy (Horwitz, 1982; Tucker, 1999); humiliation (Braithwaite, 1989); gossip (Merry, 1984); kidnapping (Zaitch, 2005: 210-2); apology (Tavuchis, 1991); suicide (Durkheim, [1897] 2002); protest (Useem and Reisig, 1999); and, terrorism (Black, 2004b). 

Law & Violent Retaliation

A review of the drug market literature would lead one to believe there are only two forms of social control: formal mediation and fighting. The common perception of the relationship between violent retaliation and mediatory law is that the absence of the latter makes occurrences of the former practically inevitable. In the words of Jacobs: “Illicit drug markets represent a context in which law is unavailable as a matter of course. The absence of legal redress is a defining characteristic of all underworld enterprise. Those who violate the law cannot be ‘victims’ and as such, lose their privilege of judicial protection” (2000: 111). Boyum and Kleiman assert: “Because selling drugs is illegal, business arrangements among dealers cannot be enforced by law. Thus territorial disputes among dealers, employee discipline (punishment for selling, informing, or not paying debts), and disagreements over the price, quantity, and quality of drugs are all subject to settlement by force” (2004: 335). Fagan and Chin note that “drug selling provides a context that facilitates violence, in which violence is acceptable given the illicit nature of drug selling and the absence of other forms of legal recourse or social control” (1990: 36). The problem with the common conception of drug market social control is that it is not wholly accurate – law is available, at least in principle; it is a matter of degree, not entirety. 


Law is defined as governmental social control (Black, 1976), and mediation, or settlement, refers to any conflict where disputants leave the fate of their case in the hands of a third-party (Black, 1998). Acts of mediation are measurable along four dimensions: (1) formalism, defined by “the tendency [of the mediator] to create and apply explicit rules” (Black, 1998: 145); (2) decisiveness, defined by the degree of compromise between parties; (3) coerciveness, defined by the quantity of force in bringing disputants to mediation; and, (4) punitiveness, defined by the amount of “pain or deprivation” applied as punishment to disputants (Black, 1998: Chapter 8; also see Black, 1976; Cooney, 1998: 39-41). While drug-related disputes are relatively unlikely to involve formal mediation (see Black, 1976: Chapter 6), formal mediation is not – at least in principle – withheld from drug traders victimized in a criminal act (see Venkatesh, 2006: 175).

Although informal agreements about the specifics (e.g., weight, quality, price) of a drug exchange cannot be enforced by civil or criminal law, robberies, burglaries, and assaults are illegal regardless of whether the victim is a drug seller or a law-abiding citizen, and if the victim consents, criminal victimizations will be handled as such by police and prosecutors. Often times, however, criminally involved victims avoid police mediation (see Cooney, 1998; Rosenfeld, Jacobs, and Wright, 2003), and/or the government applies relatively little law to the offender (Black, 1976; see, e.g., Stanko, 1981-2: 236-7), and this has likely led to the misconception that formal mediation is an impossibility in drug trade-related disputes. The case of Ron demonstrates how drug traders often are reluctant to report victimizations to police:

Ron: [H]e had stolen like 3 ounces of weed, like he had stolen a lot of shit and he broke into my friend’s dad’s room – like that was a pretty big deal.

Interviewer: Why didn’t you turn him into the cops?

Ron: You can’t really turn anyone into the cops for a drug related robbery [burglary]. Like his dad is a doctor, and his dad can’t have that, you know what I’m saying? Like he smokes weed, but if he ever got a weed charge it would completely fuck his practice up, it would really hurt him.

While Ron’s case may be more common than the alternative – reporting the victimization and its illicit context, to pretend that drug trade-related victimizations are never handled by the police is unnecessary. A typology that pays attention to the use of mediatory law would be useful, at least more so than writing off all such cases as irrational, irrelevant, or impossible. For instance, recall that when “Big Pimp” awoke after being knocked out by a robber to find his brother near death he “ran beating on people’s door to call the police”; at the time of the interview, Big Pimp had plans to cooperate further with the law:

Big Pimp: Yeah. We’re gonna go talk to some detectives…

Interviewer: So you’re gonna go to the cops and tell them what happened?

Big Pimp: Yeah. They know what happened ’cause of my other brother. He stayed there with my baby brother. So they know what happened…

Interviewer: So you do know who it is then?

Big Pimp: Yeah.

Interviewer: And the police have got him?

Big Pimp: Yeah, and I got to go in and identify the picture.

Consider also the case of Hoe Pusher, who reported a drug related-burglary of his home:

Hoe Pusher: Me and my girlfriend went out to eat. We come back home, our door wide open and everything left open, drawers and everything, but they came in through a window though and I mean they took everything – her money, her jewelry, everything.

Interviewer: Were you dealing drugs then?

Hoe Pusher: Yeah and they took all that, they took everything….

Interviewer: [D]id you call the cops?

Hoe Pusher: Yeah we called the cops. We didn’t tell them about the drugs but we told them about everything else.

Interviewer: And did they suspect anything?

Hoe Pusher: They didn’t suspect about drugs or anything, they were just concerned that someone had broken into the house.

Violent Retaliation

With clarification of the role of formal mediation in drug trade-related disputes, violent retaliation becomes a behavioral option instead of a behavioral necessity. There are two forms of violent retaliation relevant to Goldstein’s conception of systemic violence, which are distinguishable from one another according to whether or not there is resource exchange (see table 3).


A pure fight is defined as a retributive violent act that does not involve resource exchange. Pure fights are measurable by one criterion alone: the amount of physical harm applied to a wrongdoer and/or that actor’s associates. Perhaps the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is the best known instance of a pure fight, where a dispute between gangs over the distribution of prohibited Canadian whiskey resulted in the slaying of multiple victims by shooting them in their backs with machine guns (Kavieff, 2000). More recently, Allen Fields observed that drug sellers in San Francisco “are tough and willing to use force and violence where the need arises, to ‘let niggas know that your place of business ain’t no place to be fucked with’” (1986: 96). The importance of pure fights in drug markets is summed up by Bruce Jacobs: “Violence and, more important, the threat of it through retaliation is instrumental in maintaining order on the streets, where blood cancels all debts” (1999: 80; also see Johnson et al., 1985: 175). Consider the following example of a pure fight:

Lil’ Homie: [H]e was trying to rob me [and…] he opened fire on me so that…led to a shoot out. We fired back. He fired so we fired…. I fired up on him, he fired on me. We had a shoot out, four or five times of shoot offs you know. Thing is, you’re protecting yourself, you’re protecting your set…. I’m not gonna let you come in here and take nothing out of my set. That’s just a fact, you know? Hey, shoot outs, killings, whatever, that’s what it’s about, that’s what the game is about, it’s about killing, making money and whatever. You know, you fuck up, you get killed. And that’s what all this is about.

Interviewer: So what happened to that guy?

Lil’ Homie: Well he came up dead… After all that bullshit that went round with him, couple of days he came up dead.

Violent retaliation is not always “pure,” as it sometimes involves unilateral resource exchange. Robbery can be predatory or retaliatory, depending on whether or not it serves as a social response to the “victim’s” deviance or that of an associate (see Jacobs and Wright, 2006; Topalli et al., 2002). In other words, whether a robbery is retaliatory or predatory depends on whether it is a primary or secondary behavior, defined by whether it is concerned with retribution (moralistic) or the pure redistribution of resources (predatory) (see Sober and Wilson, 1998: 143). Retaliatory robbery, like predatory robbery, is measurable by (1) the quantity of resource(s) taken, and (2) the amount of physical harm applied to the wrongdoer while doing so, (3) the degree of misinformation surrounding the incident, and (4) the extent of interaction devoted to vengeance. 

Both vengeance and law are relevant to the study of drug market behavior, but the same can be said for a number of other social control strategies that receive practically no attention from criminologists (for examples of non-violent, informal social control in drug markets, see Hoffer, 2006; Jacobs, 1998). And when non-violent, informal means of social control do receive such attention, they often are brushed aside as being irrelevant to drug market research. According to Ousey and Lee (2007: fn1), for instance:

In any conflict situation, a variety of conflict management strategies are theoretically available to the parties involved… In the context of street drug markets, however, most of these alternatives are probably unacceptable. For example, on the street, the appearance of ‘being soft’ may increase one’s risk of future victimization. Consequently, it behooves one to not employ conflict management strategies like toleration and avoidance in response to transgressions. Moreover, because market participants may regard one another with great suspicion and little trust, the possibility of frequently resolving conflict through negotiation…seems remote.

Just as Salviati pointed out to Simplicio that Aristotle assumed the thing in question (Galileo, [1632] 1967: 35), it is important that criminology recognizes that to make assumptions about the thing in question – the existence of non-violent social control in the universe of drug market behaviors – is not only unwise philosophically, but is also unhelpful scientifically. Besides law and violence, other methods of social control that do occur among drug-involved persons include retaliatory theft and fraud, negotiation, avoidance, and toleration (see Black, 1998: 74-94).[xii]  

Retaliatory Theft and Fraud

Retaliatory theft or fraud refers to cases where, respectively, stealth or deception is employed in obtaining resources from a deviant actor (also see Black, 1983). Retaliatory fraud and retaliatory stealth are similar to retaliatory robbery in that they involve the acquisition of an offender’s wealth as a method of punishment, but distinct in that they do not involve violence. Retaliatory theft and fraud are quantitative variables measurable by the quantity of resources taken[xiii]:

Dave: There was one time when somebody didn’t pay me back, it was just about $300, and I had trusted the kid for a long time. He wasn’t paying upfront, I was just giving him the bud and he would sell it and give me the money later, and then it took about 3 weeks once, he still hadn’t given it to me, and I was trying to call him and get it from him… [A]nd another week or two passed and I started talking to a lot of people and I was putting some time into it trying to figure out what was going on, and they all said he wasn’t going to pay me, and the way he was talking about it was just really disrespectful… [W]e just went up to his house and knocked on it for a little bit, but the music was so loud they couldn’t here us… I saw that his car was right there, and I opened up his car door and stole his TV that he had actually stolen from somebody else. I needed something that was worth that money.


A less aggressive means of dispute resolution is to “talk something out.” Negotiation refers to a process of communication between disputants in which they make a joint decision regarding the resolution of their conflict (Black, 1998: 83). Negotiation is a quantitative variable measurable by the degree of convergence between disputants’ ideas about future behavior, and the quantity of social commitments therein. “Since the two parties necessarily began with some kind of difference between them …, the process of decision-making therefore involves a convergence. At least one party, but usually both, must move toward the other” (Gulliver quoted in Black, 1998: 83):

William: I had a dispute with one of my suppliers because the guy I got the Valiums from, I had got rid of about 5,000 in two days for him, and the next shipment came in at 10,000 and he gave me 5,000 and somebody else 5,000. I said “He’s gonna take a week and a half to two weeks to do it, so at least give me 2500 out of his.” He was like, “No, he’ll do that 5,000 in about three days.” I was like, “Come on, I need some and the next shipment doesn’t come in for two weeks.” I’m like “I need some now.” And so he went to this guy, call him Johnny. He went to Johnny and asked how many he had left and Johnny had about 3500, and he was like, “Well I want 17.” He said, “17 of them?” He said, “No, 1700.” He said, “Why?” He said “’Cause the other guy’s already sold his 5,000.” … So he gave him the 1,700, and that was what pissed me off was that he wouldn’t get them all.


Disputants are not always able to come to an agreement; nor do they always attempt to reach one. Avoidance is social repulsion, where conflict is managed through the “curtailment of interaction with a person whose behavior is offensive” (Baumgartner, 1988: 11; Hirschman, 1970; Reid, 1980). Avoidance is a quantitative variable measurable in time and pervasiveness (Black, 1998: 79), as it can be everlasting, momentary, or between the two extremes, and can entail only one aspect of social interaction or all parts of life:

Lil’ Homie: Well, what went down is [my business partner] made a deal with some certain peoples that I told him don’t do it with because of the price… They wanted 23.5 and the price I was getting it for was 25. He went and made a deal without me and so it was like, he just took the [extra] money and did what he wanted to do with it and I was kind of like pissed off with him… I didn’t want it like that, I wanted to stick with the peoples that we was dealing with ’cause if you start dealing with outside peoples then the prices would go up. And what happened was he was going through another person and he had to get his cut off of it. It led into a big old argument and stuff to where we started feuding with each other. Eventually I guess he came to his senses and I came to mine and we just divided up all the shit and he went his way and I went my way, you know. And we ain’t spoke since.

As others have noted (see, e.g., Jacobs, 1999, 1996; Rosenfeld, Jacobs, and Wright, 2003), avoidance is the modus operandi when it comes to interaction with (potential) trade-partners suspected of being a police officer or “snitching” to the police. Another example from Lil’ Homie illustrates this:

Lil’ Homie: Well yeah, there’s a certain lot of peoples that I wouldn’t sell to man. You go around every day on the set, listen to the rumors. If the babble say that Joe Blow is snitching, like Joe Blow got real busted last night, but Joe Blow is over there you with you today, trying to cover, but I ain’t doing it, I ain’t selling you nothing man. Shit like that… It’s just that certain people that [one] don’t sell to ’cause when you get the word on the street about babblers, snitching or babblers trying to set you up. I wouldn’t sell this person nothing, ’cause of the way he came up here, the way he walked up here, the way he talks. You can tell a lot about people like that. I’m just looking at it like, okay, that money would have made me fatter, but not all money ain’t good because money like that might be bad. Straight up.


Social control is not an inevitable result of deviance. Toleration is defined by the absence of social control where it might have otherwise existed. “Toleration is the most common response of aggrieved people everywhere” (Black, 1998: 88). “[A]ll animal interactions involve at least some conflict of interest” (Dawkins, 2006: 65), but most conflicts are “stomached,” “allowed,” or “endured” (for examples in the drug market, see Jacobs, 1999: 80-1; Jacobs and Wright, 2006; Topalli, Wright, and Fornango, 2002: 346-8). Toleration is a quantitative variable “measurable by comparing what might otherwise occur under the same circumstances” (Black, 1998: 88).

Robert: My car got robbed while I was at work for $360, and I was gonna go re-up after work.

Interviewer: Did you get robbed by a stranger?

Robert: No, it was Victor, he went to school with me.

Interviewer: How’d you know that person?

Robert: Well, I didn’t know him that well at all, but he knew Brian’s older brothers, and shit like that, so he knew who I was, they thought I had weight, and I had money instead.

Interviewer: Would you tell me this story?

Robert: Well they jimmied it, you know, use the jimmy on the window, and then when I got out there was no money, and I started calling everybody, and Tommy was always good friends with my brother and he’s friends with Victor and he told me that he did it.

Interviewer: What’d you do when you found out who it was?

Robert: Fucking nothing, I mean what am I gonna go do – shoot him?

Relevance to Criminology

The nature of typologies is that they lie within and next to one another, forming a hierarchal and horizontal structure of classification schemes. The stated purpose of this paper was to join Goldstein’s concept of systemic violence with the resource exchange—social control typology. The concept of systemic violence is useful to criminology because it distinguishes drug trade-related violence from other kinds. Systemic violence is sometimes predatory, defined by the use of force in obtaining resources from another actor, and because predatory violence is primarily concerned with the exchange of resources it shares a common logic with fraudulent predation, stealth predation, gifts, and sales. Systemic violence also can be moralistic, defined by the use of force in responding to the deviance of another, and because retaliatory violence is a form of social control it shares a common logic with retaliatory theft and fraud, formal mediation, negotiation, avoidance, and toleration.

The value of typologies can be judged by comparing their power and theoretical relevance (Cooney and Phillips, 2002). “[A] good typology is powerful – it allows the facts to be better explained. The typology itself provides no explanation – it merely orders reality – but it creates categories that may liberate a theory or model to explain a set of empirical findings more fully. The more facts a typology permits to be explained, the more powerful, and the more scientifically valuable, it is” (ibid: 78). The resource exchange—social control typology is more powerful than the concept of systemic violence alone because it provides an abstract bridge that connects the violent acts identified by Goldstein with the peaceful acts that also occur in drug markets. The connection between peaceful and violent behaviors is fundamental to criminology because:

The fundamental analytical act in statistical reasoning is to answer the question “Compared with what?” Whether we are evaluating changes over space or time, searching big data bases, adjusting and controlling for variables, designing explanations, specifying multiple regressions, or doing just about any kind of evidence-based reasoning, the essential point is to make intelligent and appropriate comparisons. (Tufte, 2006: 127, our emphasis)

While the concept of systemic violence places criminology’s focus on explaining the presence of violence and the absence of violence, the resource exchange—social control typology slightly shifts the focus, suggesting at least three logical comparisons: (1) between violent predation and fraudulent predation, stealth predation, gifts, and sales; (2) between violent retaliation and retaliatory theft and/or fraud, law, negotiation, avoidance, and toleration; and/or (3) between violent behavior and peaceful behavior. The resource exchange—social control typology provides criminology with a powerful framework that facilitates “intelligent and appropriate comparisons” (ibid) between various forms of drug market-related behavior.

A powerful typology, however, is of little use unless paired with theory that exploits the potential of the concepts contained in it (Cooney and Phillips, 2002). The beauty of an interdisciplinary field like criminology is that paradigms can both compete and cooperate in seeking to explain a particular behavior, however conceptualized. The virtue of the resource exchange—social control typology is that it provides a set of observable, quantifiable behaviors that can be explained by more than one paradigmatic perspective. Anthropologists (e.g., Bourgois, 2003; Hoffer, 2006) and ethnographers (e.g., Anderson, 1999: 107-141; Jacobs, 1999) can explore the cultural aspects of social life that influence resource exchange and social control. Biologists can explore the role of genes in propensities to engage in various forms of resource exchange and social control (e.g., Caspi et al., 2002; Dugatkin, 2006). The environment undoubtedly has effects on human behavior (Hawley, 1986), and the study of predation is nothing new to ecologists (e.g., Cohen and Felson, 1979). Economists are in many respects still the masters of resource exchange (e.g., Reuter, MacCoun, and Murphy, 1990), and they have long been interested in the role of social control on price (e.g., Caulkins, Reuter, and Taylor, 2006). Psychologists can explore the motivational and emotional aspects that influence trades and conflict management; do persons with low self-control (Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1990), for example, engage in more retaliation and less toleration, avoidance, and negotiation? Or how does rationality and phenomenology come into play when, say, a burglar (e.g., Wright and Decker, 1994) or robber (e.g., Jacobs, 2000; Wright and Decker, 1997) is choosing their prey? Sociologists have provided general and testable theories that use social structure to explain the behavior of retaliation (Black, 1983, 1998; Cooney, 1998), settlement (Black, 1976, 1980, 1989, 1998), negotiation (Black, 1998: 83-5), avoidance (Baumgartner, 1988; Black, 1998:79-83), and toleration (Black, 1998: 88-90); and economic sociology and network sociology are booming subfields that have important insights for drug market research (e.g., Granovetter, 1973, 1985; Portes and Haller, 2005). These are but a few of the many theoretical options available to criminologists for exploring resource exchange and social control; we leave the task of formulating, testing, and refining those and other theories for future work.

If there is but one reason why peaceful behavior is relevant to the study of drug market violence, it is because the presence of peace necessitates the absence of violence. If forms of resource exchange vary inversely with one another, then where there is an act of violent predation there is not an act of fraud, stealth, fair selling, or gift giving, and this is true for any combination.[xiv] Similarly, Donald Black long ago stated that forms of social control vary inversely with one another (see Black, 1976: 107; Black, 1983). Violence is relatively “intrinsic” (Goldstein, 1985: 497) to drug trade because mediatory law is relatively unavailable to disputants (see Horwitz, 1990: 128-131), but there is no reason to believe the inverse relationship is restricted to law and violence (see Cooney, 1998: 39). The same logic suggests that illicit drug markets may also have more retaliatory theft, negotiation, avoidance, and toleration. And if violence and peace vary inversely with one another, it should be possible to generate understanding of violence by theorizing and testing ideas about peaceful behavior.

Facts are never completely independent of each other. They occur either as more or less connected mixtures of separate signals, or as a system of knowledge obeying its own laws. As a result, every fact reacts upon many others. Every change and every discovery has an effect on a terrain that is virtually limitless. It is characteristic of advanced knowledge, matured into a coherent system, that each new fact harmoniously – though ever so slightly – changes all earlier facts…. The less interconnected the system of knowledge, the more magical it appears and the less stable and more miracle-prone is reality. (Fleck, 1979: 102)

The resource exchange—social control typology is relevant to criminology because it provides a set of simple, general, observable and quantifiable concepts that – because of their abstract connections – allow for the production and refinement of knowledge about drug market violence through the study of drug market peace.


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Table 1. Forms of Predatory Resource Exchange





Violent Predation




Fraudulent Predation



Stealth Predation


Note: ‘+’ denotes presence of characteristic; ‘–’ denotes absence of characteristic; ‘+/–’ denotes characteristic can be present or absent.

Table 2. Forms of Resource Exchange


Altruistic Exchange

Reciprocal Exchange

Predatory Exchange




Violent Predation





Fraudulent Predation




Stealth Predation










Note: ‘+’ denotes presence of characteristic; ‘–’ denotes absence of characteristic; ‘+/–’ denotes characteristic can be present or absent.

Table 3. Forms of Violent Retaliation



Resource Exchange

Pure Fight



Retaliatory Robbery




Note: ‘+’ denotes presence of characteristic; ‘–’ denotes absence of characteristic.


[i] Kenneth Bailey (1994: 15) makes a valuable point: “classification is the premier descriptive tool. This is clearly an advantage and makes it fundamental in social science. The research goals of explanation and prediction have been so widely touted in social science, however, that some researchers tend to stereotype classification as inadequate in these terms. They see it as ‘merely descriptive’ or ‘pre-theoretical’, as if this somehow makes it insufficient rather than the prerequisite for theorizing that it is. Rather than dismissing classification as failing to meet the goal of explanation, social scientists should understand how necessary it is as a foundation for explanation. Theory cannot explain much if it is based on an inadequate system of classification.”

[ii] There are at least two reasons why contemporary criminological research has exaggerated the link between drug markets and violence. First, much of that research is characterized by sampling on the dependent variable. It is hardly surprising that research focused on violent altercations in and around drug markets finds some sort of relationship between drug markets and violent crime. Second, most of the ethnographic research on drug markets has been done in low-income, high crime areas of American cities that are – even without drugs – relatively violent places, while ignoring drug markets in middle-class, suburban locales and countries other than the United States that are relatively less violent (see Zimring and Hawkins, 1997).

[iii] As will be discussed later, social control sometimes involves the exchange of resources.

[iv] Defined by parental occupation.

[v] In this regard, it is practically a 50-50 split.

[vi] All names are pseudonyms.

[vii] It is worth clarifying one aspect surrounding “misinformation” in violent predation. In the case of a drug sale, a buyer or seller communicates the idea that he or she may be willing to trade drugs for another resource, such as money. Misinformation in solicitation refers to cases where an actor’s trade behavior does not match his or her communication about the trade. For instance, a seller has engaged in misinformation if he or she claims to be selling “eighths” of marijuana that should weigh 3.5 grams each, but in practice only supplies 3 grams. Empirically, it is impossible to determine whether there was misinformation in solicitation until both the communication surrounding the trade and the trade itself are completed.

[viii] Holding constant the quantity of resources, misinformation, and contact.

[ix] Reduced from 3.5 grams to 3.0 grams.

[x] As compared to, say, trading drugs for sex or guns.

[xi] The communication-actualization ratio of this trade is 10:0, since the buyer was promised 10 ecstasy pills but in fact received none.

[xii] Of course, this paper does not provide an exhaustive list of forms of drug market-related social control; we leave researchers and theorists to examine other forms of social control as they become relevant to their own work. Peter Reuter (1983, 1984), for example, has done path-breaking work on the role of informal settlement among Mafia members and persons connected to them. Informal settlement, or “arbitration”, is a form of social control characterized by the intervention of (relatively) nonpartisan mediators whose authority is derived from outside the government (ibid; also see Black, 1998). The Mafia has been known to summon disputants and their partisans to “sit-down[s]” to resolve drug-related business conflicts (Reuter, 1983: 160-1). As might be expected, the lower-class and middle-class drug sellers in the current study are not part of the Mafia, and so examples of Mafia interventions are not available. Another conceivable source of informal settlement agents is higher-status gang members arbitrating the dispute of persons lower in status but part of the same organization. While many of the lower-class dealers in our sample were either in a gang or closely associated with one, there were no examples of informal mediation among gang members.

[xiii] Non-violent retaliatory theft, like non-violent predatory theft, can be further divided and measured according to whether it involves “fraud” or “stealth.”

[xiv] Eric Baumer and colleagues (1998) demonstrated that for reasons related to the crack cocaine market, as the rate of robbery increased in the 1980s, the rate of burglary decreased concurrently.  


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