Dons, Yardies and Posses: Representations of Jamaican Organised Crime

About the project

Focusing on representations of Jamaican organised crime, this project aims to connect arts and humanities approaches with social science and policy-oriented perspectives on transnational criminal organisations. The accelerated flows of capital, goods and people facilitated by globalisation have allowed criminal organisations to expand and develop into transnational networks. A sophisticated and continually evolving phenomenon, transnational organised crime has become ‘a matter of international priority’ (UNODC, 2010). Rooted in political violence and electoral turf wars, Jamaican gangs played a central role in the growth of the international illegal drug trade in the 1980s. Organised crime remains a pressing concern of the Jamaican government.

A deeper understanding of Jamaican organised crime is necessary in order for the problem to be effectively addressed. Existing academic debate in this area has been contained within the social sciences. There has been no sustained focus on the question of representation, despite the fact that Jamaican gangs have since the 1980s acquired global notoriety through the media, film, music and popular fiction, and also increasingly feature in literary fiction and criminal autobiography. There is, therefore, a need for an enquiry into the complex relationship of cultural and media narratives to social science and policy perspectives on Jamaican organised crime in the Caribbean, Europe and North America.

This network will advance research on Jamaican organised crime by exploring the multi-directional relationships between a.) literary, visual, cinematic, popular music and media representations of Jamaican organised crime; b) social science research on Jamaican organised crime; and c.) policies aimed at combating Jamaican organised crime. It will bring together arts, humanities and social science researchers to collaboratively address the following key questions:

  • How do literary and visual texts, films, popular music and media reports frame the causes, consequences and control of Jamaican organised crime?
  • How do cultural and media representations of Jamaican criminal gangs engage with, popularise, contest and complicate social science and policy perspectives
  • How do social science analyses of Jamaican organised crime and related policies in Jamaica, Europe and North America reflect the influence of these various kinds of representations?

As well as crossing disciplinary boundaries, the network will initiate cross-sector conversations between academics, writers, artists, a filmmaker, creative industry professionals, and public and voluntary sector representatives. In doing so it will generate new perspectives on representations of Jamaican organised crime relevant for academics, policy-makers and practitioners. It will also cross national boundaries through its concern with the global circulation of cultural and media narratives, academic theories and policies, and through its focus on connections between key urban sites in Jamaica, the US and the UK, such as downtown Kingston, Brooklyn, Brixton and Handsworth.

Networking activities will consist of three two-day workshops in Kingston, Amsterdam and Leicester. Each workshop will incorporate a public-facing event relevant to the workshop theme involving writers, a filmmaker and artists. The network's findings will also be communicated via peer reviewed publications, a project web page hosted by the University of Leicester, an online exhibition, a blog, and social media platforms.

Aims and objectives

  • To establish an international network of researchers, creative practitioners and stakeholders through three two-day workshops in the UK, the Netherlands and Jamaica
  • To create opportunities for knowledge exchange by bringing together academics, writers, artists, a filmmaker, creative industry professionals, and public and voluntary sector representatives with a shared interest in the project theme
  • To generate innovative cross-disciplinary and cross-sector approaches to literary, visual, cinematic, popular music and media representations of Jamaican organised crime
  • To critically analyse representations of Jamaican criminal gangs across a range of media and across geographical and institutional contexts, and to understand how these representations frame the causes, consequences and control of organised crime
  • To assess the relationship between representations, social science research and public policies, considering the role of cultural and media discourses in shaping everyday, policy and social science engagements with Jamaican organised crime and, conversely, the ways in which cultural and media representations of Jamaican organised crime engage with social, political and policy contexts
  • To engage non-academic audiences through public-facing events involving creative practitioners which will be built into all three workshops, and through a dedicated project web page, blog and online exhibition
  • To produce a variety of scholarly outputs, including a journal special issue and single and multi-authored articles, in order to communicate research findings to a range of academic beneficiaries
  • To build capacity in the research area by facilitating the involvement of PhD students in the project

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