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Secret Power

Secret Power

Investigating the Legimitization of Criminal Governance: Group Comparisons and Within-Individual Dynamics

Project Overview 

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).



Geographical Context

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. 

Work Packages

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.

Project Updates

There are no current events

Travaglino, G. A. & Drury, L. (2020). The secret power of criminal organizations: A social psychological approach. New York: Springer.

Drury, L. & Travaglino, G. A. (2020). Demobilising by legitimising: Masculine honour, positive and negative Contact, and social activism against criminal organisations. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. doi: 10.1177/1368430219842917 [full text]

Poppi, F. I. M., Travaglino, G. A., & Di Piazza, S. (2018). Talis pater, talis filius: the role of discursive strategies, thematic narratives and ideology in Cosa Nostra. Critical Discourse Studies. doi: 10.1080/17405904.2018.1477685 [full text]

Travaglino, G. A. & Abrams, D. (2019). How criminal organisations exert secret power over communities: An intracultural appropriation theory of cultural values and norms. European Review of Social Psychology, 30, 74-122. doi: 10.1080/10463283.2019.1621128 [full text]

Travaglino, G. A. & Drury, L. (2019). Connected guys: Endorsement of masculine honour predicts more frequent contact with members of criminal organisations. European Journal of Social Psychology, 49, 157-168. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.2389 [full text]

Travaglino, G. A., Abrams, D., & Russo, G. (2017). Dual routes from social identity to collective opposition against criminal organisations: Intracultural appropriation theory and the roles of honour codes and social change beliefs. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations. doi: 10.1177/1368430216682351 [full text]

Travaglino, G. A., Abrams, D., Randsley de Moura, G., & Russo, G. (2015). That is how we do it around here: Levels of identification, masculine honor, and social activism against organized crime in the south of Italy. European Journal of Social Psychology. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.2100 [full text]

Travaglino, G. A., Abrams, D., & Randsley de Moura, G. (2014). Men of honor don’t talk: The relationship between masculine honor and social activism against criminal organizations in Italy. Political Psychology. doi: 10.1111/pops.12226 [full text]

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