Investigating the Legimitization of Criminal Governance: Group Comparisons and Within-Individual Dynamics
Criminal groups such as mafias, large gangs and other criminal organizations are a substantial security and economic threat. Notably, criminal groups’ harm also extends to social and political interactions within communities. Criminal groups exert political authority and governance in "their" territories, managing exchanges and interactions among people and imposing norms. Despite substantial hardships, communities rarely oppose criminal groups or cooperate with legal authorities against them.
To explain criminal groups' ability to exert power, social scientists refer to codes such as omertà (law of silence), anti-snitching norms or the 'Code of the street'. These codes would prevent communities from collaborating with or reporting criminal groups to the police. However, the socio-psychological dynamics underpinning these codes remain unclear.
The project ‘Secret Power’ pioneers a new multimethod approach that addresses how ideologies, values and identities may foster criminal groups' capacity to exert power in society. The project aims to transform the scientific understanding of criminal governance, providing strong quantitative evidence that can substantiate policy recommendations and educational interventions.
The project has been awarded a European Research Council – Starting Grant (ERC-StG). The overall funding is €1,499,818.00 (funded by UKRI).
Criminal governance affects communities globally. The project will initially focus on three countries, Italy, Japan and the UK. These countries all present instances of criminal governance. For instance, Italy hosts traditional' mafia-type groups notorious for their ability to exercise quasi-political influence. The Japanese Yakuza is an equally large, structured and hierarchically organized group with a strong foothold within the community. In the UK, a larger number of small criminal groups, including crime firms and gangs, have less influence over institutions but struggle to control territories.
All three countries are also characterised by a relatively strong presence of the state. Therefore, the project will investigate how people respond to illegal political power in contexts where there are conflicting legal and illegal institutions vying to elicit cooperation and gain consensus.
The global reach of the project will also allow us to assess cultural differences and similarities in how people appraise the power of criminal groups.
Preparatory Work Package: this WP aims to create a new measure of people's appraisal of criminal governance.
Work Package 1: This WP aims to collect data using extensive population surveys. It will focus on a cross-section of geographical subunits within countries to examine the interplay between individual-, area- and structural-level factors. In addition, experimental studies will examine the factors that help sustain the legitimacy of criminal governance across countries.
Work Package 2: This WP focuses on adolescence, a crucial period for forming attitudes toward authorities. The longitudinal studies will be conducted in communities with high criminal governance activity. The studies will investigate the within-individual dynamics predicting the legitimization of both legal and criminal forms of governance.
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