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Social Dimensions of Organised Crime

Elsenbroich Corinna, Anzola David, Gilbert Nigel (eds.)
Springer-Verlag: Berlin, 2016
ISBN 978-3319451671 (hb)

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Reviewed by Susanne Karstedt
Griffith University

Cover of book This book brings together the most important results of the GLODERS project which stands for Global Dynamics of Extortion Rackets. GLODERS was extraordinarily complex in combining innovative computational modelling, new judicial data sources from stakeholders, and usage of qualitative and narrative data with the aim of understanding the dynamics of extortion racket systems. The three editors – Corinna Elsenbroich, David Anzola and Nigel Gilbert – deserve highest praise and congratulations on pulling it all together, as anyone who has been involved in such complex, interdisciplinary and multi-national projects will certainly acknowledge.

The project aimed at capturing the interaction between a criminal group of extortionists, civil society, which in this context means the victims of extortion and consumers, and the state represented by its judicial system. Its theoretical foundation and focus is on the normative patterns that drive and sustain such extortion racket systems; norms are embodied in the models proper and further explored through survey data on normative orientations, e.g. towards corruption (Chapter 9). The book includes the empirical, theoretical and typological foundations of the models (Part I) and presents three types of models: an agent-based, event-oriented model (Chapter 8), a simulation model based on textual data (Chapter 10 and Chapter 11), and a run of experiments that aims at capturing the different time periods of extortion racketeering, civil society, and judicial responses in Southern Italy (Chapter 12). All models are based on novel judicial data sets from the South of Italy.

The book starts with an overview over different types and contexts of extortion, ranging from the Yakuza in Japan, Russia, Latin America, Mexican cartels and guerrilla warfare in Colombia to Germany, leaving the reader with the question whether any general type of model will be possible, a problem that is addressed from a philosophy of science perspective in Chapter 12. It proceeds to develop a ‘typology’ of interactions between the main players, the criminal organisation, the state and ‘civic society’, which are linked to each other in six relational types like, e.g. dissociation between the state and civil society. Norms as the core of the theoretical argument and the models are discussed in Part II: first, a general theory of norms and then a very brief overview over legal norms addressing the Italian Mafia (Chapters 4 and 5).

The first model and one of the centrepieces of GLODERS is presented in Part III. It begins with a descriptive analysis of the exceptional judicial data base of extortion rackets, which gives unprecedented insights into the dynamics and mechanisms of extortion rackets in Sicily and Calabria. More information on the content and coding of this database would be welcomed by readers, in order to assess the results, as well as more in-depth analyses. Chapter 7 presents the event-oriented model, combining a diligent documentation with the results of simulation runs. Summarising the most important result, it is the victims and shop owners whose actions and norm orientations are decisive in fighting back against extortion rackets. In the light of criminological theories and research, this is by no ways surprising, and fits well into the contemporary crime prevention framework, as I will briefly discuss below.

Part IV focusses on the criminal organisation itself. Based on textual data from a case of money laundering in Southern Italy, the erosion of trust and the dissolution of a criminal organisation is analysed as a ‘run on the bank’ with more lethal outcomes than such an event would have in legal markets. Most interesting are the results of the experiment in Chapter 12. The experimental modelling used data from qualitative interviews with shopkeepers, analyses of trials and mafia documents. It analyses five different periods from before 1980 to after 2000 with the simulator GLODERS–S9, each defined by changes in normative context, strength of the major players and relationships between them. The results demonstrate the importance of normative change, but also show that as imprisonment increases over the last periods, so does reporting of extortion, which can be interpreted as interactive effects of legal and social norms in the model.

The editors rate the ‘coproduction’ of the research with stakeholders as one of the ‘most fruitful aspects’ of GLODERS. Unfortunately, the book is not easily accessible to the large group of non-experts but interested readers, e.g. from criminology. We find extensive usage of unexplained acronyms and concepts, illegible figures that make any detailed understanding of the model in Chapter 11 impossible (pages 161 and 165), figures with titles that are nowhere explained in the text (page 138), table presentations that are hard to align with the text (page 139), and generally little documentation of the models that would help a non-expert reader.

This reviewer asks for pardon for putting on her criminological hat, but feels justified given the topic. Criminological literature is mainly absent; Michael Levi and his colleagues on money laundering is just one of the more glaring examples. As welcome as a focus on norms is, which are often absent in criminological theorising and research, such an approach misses out on the more parsimonious but highly pertinent Routine Activity Approach (also Situational Crime Prevention) that is based on the triangle of a motivated offender, a suitable target and a guardian. It is easy to see how that fits with the GLODERS models and their results. In comparative and time series analyses of crime, actions by potential victims in terms of ‘target hardening’ (also as a result of fear of crime) are decisive in reducing all types of crime. This seems exactly to be the result of the event-oriented models that indeed action and change has to come from potential victims aka shops.

Where do the results of GLODERS lead us? One suggestion would be to base the next generation of models on integrated criminological theories, another one to expand into other global regions and times: excellent test beds would be Mexico with an extraordinary number of killings of mayors, which resembles the killings of European kings well into the 1600s, both documented in extraordinary data sets. Tilly’s (1997) ‘War Making and State Making as Organised Crime’ still provides a good starting point.

* References

TILLY, C. (1997). War Making and State Making as Organised Crime. In: Tilly, C. (ed): Roads from the Past to the Future, pp165-192, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.


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