Centre for the Study of Illicit Economies, Violence and Development


The Centre for the Study of Illicit Economies, Violence and Development (CIVAD), based at SOAS, is the hub of an international network of affiliated researchers and research organisations working on different aspects of illicit economies across the world.

Illicit economies are a fundamental development and peacebuilding challenge for our times. From the arms and drugs trades, to the smuggling of counterfeit medicines and food staples, illicit economies are not just symptoms of distorted development. In many places, they are embedded in daily lives and livelihoods, and drive development processes.

The centre aims to better understand the development and peacebuilding challenges presented by illicit economies. Its research explores the pathways through which illicit economies interact with the dynamics of conflict and development. It works to identify policies for addressing illicit economies that help build peace and promote more inclusive development.

    Drugs & (dis)order

    The centre is the legacy of a four-year research programme, Drugs & (dis)order, funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund, and implemented by a consortium led by SOAS.

    Drugs & (dis)order asked the question ‘how can war economies be transformed into peace economies?’, and generated a substantial body of evidence from nine drug- and conflict- affected borderland regions of Afghanistan, Colombia and Myanmar. Its outputs include datasets, journal articles, blogs, life history comics and animations, which can all be found on the Drugs & (dis)order’s website.

    The centre builds on Drugs & (dis)order by widening the focus on drugs to include other illicit economies, and by expanding the geographical range of the research to include other countries where illicit economies are important.


    The centre is developing four strands of research:

    • Illicit flows and geographies of uneven development. How does the circulation of illicit flows (capital, commodities, people, ideas) shape and connect processes of  development within and across regions?
    • Violence, (dis)order and public authority. What are the relationships between illicit economies, violence(s), and state and non-state orders?
    • Illicit lifeworlds. What are the everyday realities, perspectives and experiences of participants in illicit economies?
    • Policies and programmes addressing illicit economies and conflict. What are the dynamics and impacts of interventions that intersect with both illicit economies and state fragility?

    Illicit Economies, Violence and Development seminar series (2022–23)

    Seminar 1: Frontiers, illicit flows and the geographies of uneven development (online)

    This opening seminar discussed how the circulation of illicit flows (capital, commodities, people, ideas) shape and connect processes of (uneven) development within and across regions. Rethinking what is meant by key terms, it took a systemic and structural look at how the world is changing, setting the agenda for the rest of the series.

    Chair: Jonathan Goodhand (SOAS University of London)
    Panelists: Michael Watts (University of California, Berkeley) and Dolly Kikon (University of Melbourne)

    Watch a recording of the seminar

    Seminar 2: Illicit economies, violence(s) and state formation in Latin America (online)

    Chair: Jeff Garmany (University of Melbourne)
    Speaker: Jenny Pearce (London School of Economics)

    • Date: 10 November 2022, 5:30pm - 7:00pm (GMT
    • Watch a recording of the seminar ​​​​​- Jenny Pearce presents on the chronification of violence, illicit economies and how we conceptualise criminalities, and discusses state formation and the politics of illicit economies.

    Seminar 3: The everyday life of drugs: producers, dealers, consumers, enforcers (in-person)

    This session will showcase research on the everyday realities, perspectives and experiences of participants in illicit drug economies, and discuss the wider implications of everyday perspectives on drugs. How can the narrative frame around drugs shift to bring everyday life to the centre?

    Chair: Maziyar Ghiabi (University of Exeter)
    Panelists: Frances Thomson (University of Bradford); Neil Carrier (University of Bristol)
    Discussant: Niamh Eastwood (Executive Director, Release)

    • Date: 8 December 2022, 5:30om - 8:00pm (GMT)
    • Venue: SOAS – Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre
    • Watch the seminar - panel and audience discussion, touching on the everyday lives of coca producers in Colombia, khat traders in Kenya, people who use drugs and experience drug law enforcement in the UK.

    Seminar 4: Militias, coercive brokers and public authority (online)

    This seminar explores the entanglements between para state armed groups (PAGs) illicit economies, organised crimes and formal politics. It will challenge dominant narratives on PAGs, which see as them a temporary response to governance deficits, or as automatically apolitical and criminal actors. It will discuss the role of PAGs as an embedded feature of many frontier regions, in which they act as ‘coercive brokers’ who mediate between different actors, scales and jurisdictions.

    Chair: Professor Jenny Pearce (London School of Economics)
    Panelists: Francisco Gutiérrez Sanín (National University of Colombia) and Antonio Giustozzi (RUSI)  

    Seminar 5: Creating and implementing financial disruption strategies – successes and challenges. A UNODC perspective (online)

    Chair: Heather Marquette (University of Birmingham and FCDO)
    Speaker: Oliver Gadney (UNODC Global Programme Against Money Laundering)

    Seminar 6: Terrorism and illicit finance (online)

    In 2019, the Security Council passed Resolution 2482, expressing ‘concern that terrorists can benefit from organized crime … as a source of financing or logistical support’. The resolution stressed the urgent need for research on the interlinkages that may exist between terrorism, organised crime and illicit finance. This reflected the growing international focus on the crime-terror nexus. This session will explore this nexus in practice including top-down responses alongside local efforts that harness local knowledge, local researchers and civil society.  

    Chair: Emily Winterbotham (RUSI)
    Panel: Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler (Counter Extremism Project); Joana De Deus Pereira (RUSI) (final panel TBC)

    Modules and courses

    Online and distance learning

    Our SOAS distance learning module, Drugs, Conflict and Development, addresses some of the empirical, theoretical and policy debates spanning the nexus of drugs, peace and conflict, and development. It is an optional module the SOAS MSc courses in International Development and Humanitarian Action (2022/23).

    Our open online course, Drugs, Peace and Development: Rethinking Policy, was launched in June 2022. Over five weeks, the course takes the learner to the conflict-affected borderlands of Afghanistan, Colombia and Myanmar, where illicit drugs are woven into everyday lives and livelihoods. It delves into the latest debates in global drug policy and the current efforts to integrate drugs, development, and peacebuilding policies. The course is open for enrolment at any time, and can be studied free of charge.