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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Postgrad (School of Social and Political Studies)

Postgraduate Course: Investigating Criminal Activity and Illicit Markets (PGSP11564)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryA growing proportion of criminal activity is mediated through online markets, some hidden, some more open. Developments in social media, microwork platforms, cryptocurrencies and anonymising technology have changed the structure of criminal opportunity online. There is growing financialisation of cybercrime and an expanding role of state or para-state actors facilitating crime-like activity. There is a need for critical investigation of criminal markets that are mediated by digital systems. This must draw on insights and data from sociology, criminology, computer sciences and other disciplines.

This course invites you to set and investigate questions relevant to this topic. You will join a research team with students and staff and focus on a live, real world problem.

The initial focus of the course is on drug crypto markets online markets for the sale of illegal drugs and illegal services. However you may take your research in a direction of interest to you, such as markets in malware, sex work and security technology.

Questions you may examine are:
How are value chains created and managed in illicit markets?
What business and organisational models and principles are used in these markets?
How has the growth of platform capitalism affected online illicit markets?
How do markets respond to disruption from law enforcement and other sources?
Course description The course will be taught through a combination of lecture/workshops, lecturer/tutor led research teams and seminars where postgraduate students examine recent research in the area. The course will respond to the problems students identify in their teams, hence the specific direction and topics may vary during the course depending on students own interests.
Researchers will deliver contrasting material on the technologies, politics, ethics and social structure of the darknet and cryptomarkets. The session will set out ethical and welfare challenges involved and lay down ground rules for students work. Students will not be using the cryptomarkets themselves nor engaging in primary research. The course will take a live methods approach with students using data collected by the course team.
Seminars will cover a range of topics such as: Is there such a thing as an illegal market, or is it just a market? What research agendas are shaping research in this area? How do you theorise criminal activity online? Can researchers be both independent, objective and impactful? What opportunities and problems are presented by using publicly available datasets? Can criminal activity be modelled using big data? Can you assess overall market change using one instance of it? Is there a politics of infrastructure in illicit markets?
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Formulate critical ethical, epistemological, and empirical questions in the field of illicit online markets
  2. Develop and deploy sophisticated analysis of online criminal markets using advanced theoretical constructs
  3. Respond to and inform the strategic priorities of different bodies governing illicit markets
  4. Understand and contribute to key debates in the literature
Reading List
Indicative Readings:
Aldridge J and Askew R (2017) Delivery dilemmas: How drug cryptomarket users identify and seek to reduce their risk of detection by law enforcement. International Journal of Drug Policy 41(Supplement C): 101 109. DOI: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2016.10.010.
Aldridge J and Décary-Hétu D (2014) Not an e-Bay for Drugs: The Crypto market Silk Road as a Paradigm Shifting Criminal Innovation. ID 2436643, SSRN Scholarly Paper, 13 May. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network.
Bancroft A and Scott Reid P (2017) Concepts of illicit drug quality among darknet market users: Purity, embodied experience, craft and chemical knowledge. International Journal of Drug Policy 35: 42 49. DOI: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2015.11.008.
Barratt MJ, Allen M and Lenton S (2014) PMA Sounds Fun: Negotiating Drug Discourses Online. Substance Use & Misuse 49(8): 987 998. DOI: 10.3109/10826084.2013.852584.
Barratt MJ, Ferris JA and Winstock AR (2014) Use of Silk Road, the online drug marketplace, in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. Addiction 109(5): 774 783. DOI: 10.1111/add.12470.
Barratt MJ, Ferris JA and Winstock AR (2016) Safer scoring? Cryptomarkets, social supply and drug market violence. International Journal of Drug Policy 35: 24 31. DOI: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2016.04.019.
Broséus J, Morelato M, Tahtouh M, et al. (2017) Forensic drug intelligence and the rise of cryptomarkets. Part I: Studying the Australian virtual market. Forensic Science International 279(Supplement C): 288-301. DOI: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2017.08.026.
Coles N (2001) It's Not What You Know It's Who You Know That Counts. Analysing Serious Crime Groups as Social Networks. British Journal of Criminology 41(4): 580-594. DOI: 10.1093/bjc/41.4.580.
Décary-Hétu D and Giommoni L (2017) Do police crackdowns disrupt drug cryptomarkets? A longitudinal analysis of the effects of Operation Onymous. Crime, Law and Social Change 67(1): 55-75. DOI: 10.1007/s10611-016-9644-4.
Hall A and Antonopoulos GA (2016) Fake meds online: the internet and the transnational market in illicit pharmaceuticals. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Hall A, Koenraadt R and Antonopoulos GA (2017) Illicit pharmaceutical networks in Europe: organising the illicit medicine market in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Trends in Organized Crime: early online. DOI: 10.1007/s12117-017-9304-9.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Angus Bancroft
Tel: (0131 6)50 6642
Course secretaryMs Emilia Czatkowska
Tel: (0131 6)51 3244
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