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ECPR Journals Virtual Special Issue

Managing Cooperation Issues On The Market For Migrant Smuggling In Northern Italy

Organised Crime
Anna Paus
Università degli Studi di Milano
Anna Paus
Università degli Studi di Milano

Illegal markets have as of yet, mostly been studied from an either purely criminological, economic or sociological perspective. Only recently, have economic sociologists started showing interest in applying their theoretical framework to the study of illegal markets, by arguing that not only legal markets are socially embedded but also their illicit counterpart. Investigating the social mechanisms that underlie illegal markets is vital, as it offers important insights into how these markets emerge, function and in how far they can be distinguished from legal markets. This paper follows Beckert and Wehinger’s (2012) theoretical approach, regarding the issue of cooperation, which illegal markets face, due to their uncertain environment, characterised by the absence of institutions, formal contracts and rules. How do illegal market actors solve this issue and are prevented from engaging in opportunistic behaviour? This question is tested empirically through the application of social network analysis of a specific illegal market: the market for migrant smuggling within Northern Italy. It presents an interesting case, as this market is characterised by: (i) the absence of territorial control (ii) no strict rules of affiliation and (iii) no common application of violence to enforce “rules” within the criminal organisation. This illegal market is quite different in structure and operation from the “traditional” criminal enterprises that are focused upon more commonly in the organised crime literature (i.e. Mafia-type syndicates). The specificities of this illegal market make the question of why people cooperate, even though they are not necessarily bound by family or kinship ties, where violence is not generally used to intimidate and where there is no territorial control or codes of conduct within the criminal enterprise, an intriguing and important research query. The authors argue that the (temporary) social embeddedness of this illegal market is used as a means to solve the issue of cooperation.
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