United States Sociology and the study of organized crime: 1918 to 1992

Marylee Reynolds, Fordham University


Sociology in the U.S. and racketeering and gangsterism grew up together in the decades following World War I. They even shared the same locale, the burgeoning Midwest city of Chicago where the population grew from 1.5 to 3.3 million from 1900 to 1930. Despite these common links, the two existed side by side but with little official recognition one of the other, as if representing two entirely distinct social configurations. Yet it's more than remarkable that the group of sociologists whose perspectives were intently focused on the life of the city and its streets, including its seamier sides of life, neglected almost entirely the particular phenomenon known today as "organized crime." On the front pages of the Chicago Tribune and in the Hollywood movies of the day, Chicagoans and the American people at large including, we assume, its practitioners of social science and criminology, were offered a portrait of gangsterism as a familiar cultural object. (This assertion is carefully documented here.) Then why was this type of crime virtually ignored by U.S. Sociology? This problem is addressed here from a number of standpoints, examining the methodological, theoretical, and ideological frameworks within which U.S. Sociologists engaged in their work. It is also argued that social and political changes of the 1960's and the 1970's fostered the perspectives and theories conducive to a new type of criminology, a focus on the forms of social power and the place of crime, law, and lawlessness within that power structure. An entire chapter explores the single most important sociological work about organized crime in Chicago during its heyday. Written by John Landesco in 1929, Organized Crime in Chicago was published for the first time in 1968. Its marginal status among the works of the Chicago school is critically examined.

Subject Area

Sociology|Criminology|American history

Recommended Citation

Reynolds, Marylee, "United States Sociology and the study of organized crime: 1918 to 1992" (1992). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9223823.