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[Podcast] Drug trafficking in Antwerp: anthropological research by Teun Voeten

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Teun Voeten relates in this podcast how he combines science and journalism to produce unique sociological and anthropological studies. With a doctorate in cultural anthropology from the University of Leiden, Dr. Teun Voeten has spent 30 years of his life travelling the globe and dealing with wars and conflicts around the world.

Summary

Things to remember about Teun Voeten’s career path

  1. He wrote a book about the homeless living in New York City’s subways.
  2. He wrote about the civil war in Sierra Leone.
  3. He has created a photo book on the drug war in Mexico.
  4. In 2019, he did some research for the city of Antwerp on drug crimes from an anthropological point of view.

Chapter 1 : Teun Voeten, Researcher, Anthropologist, Journalist, Photographer

Teun Voeten explains that his different roles; as a journalist, photographer, researcher and anthropologist play a predominant role in his approach to the various themes he develops later on.

As a photographer, you look at atmosphere, at feelings, emotions; as a scientist you try to think in a very rational way, to analyse. I think the oscillation between these two ways of looking at things is very unique.

Teun Voeten explains that his different roles; as a journalist, photographer, researcher and anthropologist play a predominant role in his approach to the various themes he develops later on.

 Being a war photographer is a way to work as an anthropologist



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Chapter 2: the research on drug trafficking in Antwerp

The idea of starting this study follows an observation. While he was writing the conclusion of his thesis on the drug war in Mexico, a grenade exploded in his street (in Deurne). It was an illustration of the war being waged by local drug traffickers. This event led him to take a closer look at what was happening in Antwerp and the Netherlands.
After some preliminary observations, Teun Voeten proposed to the city of Antwerp to investigate the subject as an anthropologist. They agreed.

The research techniques used

Teun Voeten’s ambition is to understand something essential: “Why do drug dealers actually deal drugs?”

Teun Voeten’s comments are particularly interesting as they apply to many research cases, especially market research, in the definition of the objectives and key points of a study (via the desk research) and the validation of these points during the qualitative research.

You can do two things: you can read literature or you can actually go ask dealers themselves

To do this, Teun Voeten went to interview prisoners. First of all, it was necessary to create a bond, by talking to them about his previous research, in Mexico, for example. Then, he suggested to volunteers to express themselves on the subject of drugs and drug dealing in Antwerp.
One thing is clear: “It’s not [his] task to judge the inmates, […] but just to present their point of view: it’s what anthropologists do.” Most of the interviews remained anonymous, and the prisoners who participated in these discussions were given a book of photos of the drug war in Mexico, similar to the incentives used to thank research participants for their time. Full details can be found in a previous post about the costs of market research.

The profiles interviewed (approx. 200 people)

  • Prisoners (drug dealers)
  • Drug users (from recreational use to addicts)
  • Police officers (from federal police to neighbourhood officers)
  • Professors
  • Judges and lawyers
  • Scientists
  • Journalists
  • The inhabitants of the district in question

Chapter 3: the differences and similarities of the profiles

On the strength of his various studies among drug dealers, gang members and mafias, Teun Voeten can find the common points between the different profiles he has met. In particular, he wanted to understand the life course that led them to get involved in trafficking cocaine. The entry points are multiple: an acquaintance traffics and asks for help, the dealers are perceived positively (car, money, and so on), the need to make ends meet is felt, the desire to make a lot of money in a short period prevails. For most of them, it all starts innocently enough. It’s the speed at which they can make money that attracts and retains them. However, says Teun Voeten, social exclusion is not necessarily a causal factor as opposed to the excitement of “fast money”.

The researcher describes drug trafficking as a monster that has taken root on earth. Mexico is undoubtedly corrupt, some regions are inaccessible, and the country is highly unequal. As for Belgium and the Netherlands, there is less corruption and less poverty. And yet the same evil has taken root there.

For me status is like writing a good book or going to a good concert […] but for a lot of these kids status is like fancy shoes which cost 2000-euro a pair


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Chapter 4: Antwerp’s reaction

According to Teun Voeten, this anthropological research has provided an unprecedented insight into the drug-trafficking situation in Antwerp and will offer the municipality the opportunity to define points for action. The problem in Antwerp is not the worst, since some regions of Belgium (Brussels) and the Netherlands (Amsterdam, Rotterdam) are in much more complex areas and situations.

In Antwerp, they have [quite] a good combination of prevention, they help addicts, […] but there is also a repressive element and you need to have repressive, preventive and creative elements

A podcast to help you develop your start-up

In 2020 we are changing the format of our podcasts. The aim is to help you develop your start-up by providing you with relevant information on specific topics.

Our podcasts are now divided into chapters of +/- 3 minutes. Each chapter is dedicated to a specific theme or development phase. You can therefore listen to the entire podcast or choose to listen to only part of it by directly selecting the part that interests you the most.

Illustration images: shutterstock

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