Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers
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Albanian culture and major crime
Challenging culturalist assumptions among investigating UK police
in Policing race, ethnicity and culture
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The UK National Crime Agency and, concomitantly, tabloid and media reports, have long named Albanian migrants from the wider Western Balkan region as a leading ethnic group responsible for serious and organised crime. Most recently, ethnic Albanians have been identified as populating the most violent gangs, controlling the cocaine and human trafficking market and fuelling rising knife crime in the capital. As a social anthropologist specialising in Albanian cultures and societies since the late 1980s and directing an academic consultancy company, Anthropology Applied Ltd from 2003 to 2013, I have often been asked to provide cultural expertise in UK immigration proceedings regarding Albanian crime victims’ return situation. I have also been approached by different police forces in cases involving alleged homicide and violent crimes committed in the UK. The instructions included a request to explain how ‘kanun’ traditions, usually understood as ethnically specific ancient Albanian customary law, informed the deeds in question. This contribution critically interrogates the underpinning assumptions of such requests and explores the scope for providing theoretically and ethnographically informed cultural expertise to the police in such cases. Without denying specific repositories of cultural knowledge and often hidden yet distinct socio-cultural continuities, it emphasises the ways in which shifting geo-political and other factors have shaped offenders’ social obligations, thereby informing their rationale, agency and strategy, identity constructions and defence in discursive recourse to ‘kanun’. It emerges that externally applied, stereotypical labels in terms of kanun culture can become a self-fulfilling prophecy in supporting criminal identities, rather than explaining their root causes.

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Policing race, ethnicity and culture

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