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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

Gregson, N. & Crang, M. Illicit economies: customary illegality, moral economies and circulation. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 2017;42:206-219.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper is concerned with how to think the illicit and illegal as part of economies. Economic geography has only recently begun to address this challenge but in limited ways. The paper shows the difficulties with those approaches, chief among which is a reassertion of the legal/illegal binary of products and actors that is contested by the more open term illicit economies. We draw on work in cultural economy to move economic geography beyond this impasse by seeing economy as practice. The paper develops a conceptual account of illicit economies connecting moral economy and the opacities produced by logistically complex global trade to highlight the importance of customary illegality in doing business. Customary illegality is the tolerance or practice of illicit activities by largely legal economic actors rather than just a focus on illegal goods or criminal actors. Illicitness is thus shown to be neither a property of goods nor of particular economic actors, but rather a transient quality often linked to circulation. The argument is illustrated empirically through three examples drawn from the food sector. The conclusion makes suggestions for future research that are empirical, methodological and conceptual.

Department of Geography