Introduction: The digital transformations of illicit drug markets as a process of reconfiguration and continuity

Meropi Tzanetakis, Nigel South

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter explores the disruptive potential of the Internet to transform illicit drug markets while also challenging stereotypical depictions and superficial understandings of supply and demand. It argues that the digital transformation of illicit drug markets combines, on one hand, a reconfiguration of the scope and impact of how sellers, buyers, and other actors interact within and upon digitally mediated retail drug markets and, on the other hand, continuing trends in the embeddedness of market structures in cultural, economic, political, and legal realms. We develop conceptual ideas for studying the architecture of digital drug markets by drawing on interdisciplinary approaches to digitalisation, markets, and drugs. To understand the functioning of online drug markets, we first need to understand digitalisation. Thus, we draw on scholarship on the digital transformation of society and, second, put forward an understanding of markets that considers how personal relations and social structures enhance and restrict market exchange. Thus, we draw on economic sociology. Third, we build on and extend social science research on illicit drug markets which points out that drug markets exhibit significant variations over time and across jurisdictions. The introduction aims to provide a research agenda that can help us to explore ongoing digital transformations of illicit drug markets. It expands and deepens scholarship on the technological, structural, economic, and cultural factors underlying the resilience and growth of digital drug markets. It also goes beyond a concern with just one type of digital drug market into wider forms of digital environments.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDigital Transformations of Illicit Drug Markets
Subtitle of host publicationReconfiguration and Continuity
EditorsMeropi Tzanetakis, Nigel South
Place of PublicationBingley
PublisherEmerald Publishing Limited
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781800438668, 9781800438682
ISBN (Print)9781800438699
Publication statusPublished - 16 Aug 2023

Publication series

NameEmerald studies in digital crime, technology and social harms
PublisherEmerald Publishing


  • Cryptomarkets
  • Digital transformation
  • Embeddedness
  • Illicit drug markets
  • Social media
  • Surface web


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