Axis 4 - Serious organized crime (SOC) and emerging crime

This area studies the diversity and specific features of different criminal organizations. It is structured around research projects on the themes of Mafias and their territorial expansion strategies, criminal cohabitation in the legal sphere and the market for transgression.
Understanding the diversity and specific features of the various criminal organizations involves not only the question of specialization or diversification of activities, but also the nature of their positioning in relation to the legal sphere (corruptive links, the need for money laundering, the path to legalization, territorial control and the desire to condition the economic, political and social spheres). The issue of temporality also makes it possible to classify organizations and establish an initial diagnosis of dangerousness based on the capacity of the criminal association to endure beyond the lifetime of its members, and in particular its leader. Identifying the boundaries of criminal groups opens up a number of questions relating to the various structures of criminal organizations (network, pyramid, federation, etc.), the adaptation of the means of combating crime to the specific characteristics of these groups, the dynamics of these groups and their interactions, and even their links, both in terms of activities and territories.
The dynamics of criminal organizations also take into account the emergence of new players and the possible reconfigurations that this implies, as well as the development of new activities (cybercrime, waste trafficking, etc.) or the redeployment of old illegal practices (the return of piracy, for example).
Clotilde Champeyrache has published ‘A Commonsian Approach to Crime: The Mafia and the Economic Power of Withholding’, Cambridge Journal of Economics, vol.45, n°3, p.411-425, 2021, which illustrates how original American Commons-style institutionalism provides relevant analytical tools for understanding crime. The demonstration is based on the example of mafia infiltration of the legal productive economy, identifying its capacity to condition other economic and political actors. This article was selected as the ‘editor's choice’ of the issue (Volume 45 Issue 3) Cambridge Journal of Economics OUP, which will be followed by a book to be published in 2024 (working title: Economics of Organized Crime: An Original Institutional Approach, Routledge).
This line of research develops a multidisciplinary approach in line with the practices of the master's programme and the laboratory by developing a geopolitical analysis of mafia phenomena. There is no systematic link between economic crises and the rise of crime, and it has even been shown that the 1930s were rather ‘peaceful’ years in terms of crime. However, by weakening states, periods of recession, if they do not lead to a return of public power, as in the Roosevelt era, they will logically become favourable to organised crime, and in particular to mafias.
How could it be otherwise? Mafias are highly sophisticated secret societies that constitute what might be called the ‘aristocracy of crime’.
Because of the sums of money at their disposal, mafias are major threats to the legal powers that be, and have become a central issue in geostrategic thinking. They compete locally with certain states, having forged ‘symbiotic’ links with their political and economic environment. As a result, while they ‘control’ certain territories, they also enjoy decisive protection among local and sometimes national elites. This does not mean, however, that the state is ‘criminal’, as some literature claims: in fact, until it has fallen completely into anomie (as in the case of failed states), it is the only body - even today in the global context - capable of providing a credible response to this particular kind of violence.
What is true, on the other hand, is that the State is the victim of a ‘Janus syndrome’: it can be divided, within itself, between those who fight crime in the name of the law and those who prefer to make ‘scurrilous pacts’ (pactum sceleris) with criminal forces. The antinomic figures of Judge Falcone and President Andreotti summed up this complex dialectic in Italy in the 1980s. Moreover, mafias strengthen their power by forging links with certain economic and financial circles. The more the latter evolve in a deregulated environment, the less hesitant they are to rely on the forces of crime to prosper (or stay in place). Through a number of these dynamics, financial globalization over the last twenty years or so has strengthened this vicious circle of politics, business and crime, which is so complex that it is utterly futile to think that it can be broken entirely. In all the countries where there are real ‘mafias’ (Italy, United States, Japan, Turkey, Albania, etc.), history teaches us that all the repressive efforts have never succeeded in eradicating their presence once and for all. It is the economic and social environment (regulated or deregulated society) that mainly determines a society's susceptibility to the risk of mafia activity.
While the Mafia phenomenon is highly specific, this does not mean that other forms of organized crime (cartels, gangs, ‘mega-gangs’ and other suburban gangs) are any less dangerous. In fact, they can sometimes be much more aggressive or bloodthirsty than mafias and have many more members. This is the case with Latin American ‘mega-gangs’ such as El Salvador's Mara Salvatrucha, which has more than 11,000 ‘soldiers’. However, these gangs do not generally have a structure or political and economic links that would lead us to believe, given the current state of knowledge, that they will survive over the ‘long term’ (F. Braudel).
This concept is very useful in determining whether a criminal organization - whatever its apparent degree of violence - is a genuine mafia or a simple organized gang, even a very impressive one, which will dissolve on the capture of its leader.

Related research questions 

 Historical studies of the formation and dissolution of mafia organizations

 Teleologies of organized crime: opportunities and systematisms

 Resilience and persistence of organized crime

 Impact of digitization on organized crime: virtual organizations, democratization of GCO-type practices