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Suburban Drug Dealing: A Case Study in Ambivalent Economics

The Economics of Ecology, Exchange, and Adaptation: Anthropological Explorations

ISBN: 978-1-78635-228-6, eISBN: 978-1-78635-227-9

Publication date: 1 September 2016



This chapter contrasts two “careers in dope” (Waldorf, 1973), one a Hispanic crack dealer and the other a White trafficker of powder cocaine. The first dealer worked openly on the street, in the urban style; the latter dealt indoors, exclusively through networks of kin and friends, the only way to sell drugs in the suburbs. This chapter seeks to establish “suburban” drug sales as a particular modality, with dynamics specific to its context.


Two in-depth case cases are examined. They are drawn from a larger set of oral interviews that explore the life histories of drug dealers, with an emphasis on how they sold marijuana and cocaine, and how and why they quit selling.


First, the suburban style of drug sales has much to do with the mitigated risks White people face as dealers. Second, suburban dealing illuminates the limits of conventional economic theory to explain drug dealing universally.


Because suburban drug deals happen among friends and kin relations they are never anonymous. Making sense of economic transactions among intimates raises a number issues fundamental to economic anthropology: the ambivalence of gifts in socialeconomic relationships, and more generally the integration of economic phenomena in social dynamics.



Crawford, D. (2016), "Suburban Drug Dealing: A Case Study in Ambivalent Economics", The Economics of Ecology, Exchange, and Adaptation: Anthropological Explorations (Research in Economic Anthropology, Vol. 36), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 197-219.



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