Revealed: The business of drugs in America

Ultra-violent and sensationalised depictions of players in America’s drug trade are far removed from the real situation, says Flinders University criminologist Dr R.V. Gundur.

Flinders University criminologist Dr RV (Rajeev) Gundur

His new book – Trying to Make It: The Enterprises, Gangs, and People of the American Drug Trade (Cornell University Press) – recounts the lives and stories of people involved in the US drug trade, from the borderlands of Cuidad Juarez and El Paso to the heartlands of Phoenix and Chicago.

“The public often think of the drug trade through the lens of the media they consume. They see ultra-violent depictions in shows such as Narcos, which represent a small sliver of the people involved in the drug trade. Or they see sensationalised fantasies, such as those depicted in Breaking Bad,” he says.

“No matter where you are – even in South Australia, where I now live – the drug trade is part of the human condition and involves a lot of ordinary people who aren’t the hyper-violent criminal masterminds we come to envision from television.”

Painting a complex picture of  ‘illicit entrepreneurs’ who help run America’s drug trade has taken the Flinders University expert on a long journey.

His 2017 doctorate thesis, Organized Crime in the Margins, completed while at Cardiff University, has now been published by Cornell University Press (2022).

Dr Gundur‘s long-running research efforts explore themes of protection rackets, illicit business sense, prison and street gang dynamics, and how all of these elements fit within the mosaic of the drug trade.

“The stories in Trying to Make It remind us that the people involved in the drug trade, for the most part, do not deserve vilification,” he says.

“Wherever the drug trade exists, many folks involved are simply ordinary people who are trying to make the most of their circumstances.”

Equipped with degrees in International Relations, Spanish, Latin and American Studies, Dr Gundur provides an unusual vantage point of a topic that is firmly in the public eye.

He also studies illicit enterprise in cyberspace, including cyber fraud and cybercrime in the way it impacts new adopters of internet technology.

Dr Gundur arrived at the College of Business, Government and Law at Flinders University in 2018 after a stint at the University of Liverpool in Singapore and is a member of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime’s Network of Experts.

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