Mafia Organizations: The Visible Hand Of Criminal Enterprise

Author: Maurizio Catino
Publisher: Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019. 356p.
Reviewer: Baris Cayli | September 2019

The organizational structure of any institution determines its destiny in the long term. The success of institutions, whether legal or illegal, depends on the effective management of resources, enhancement of organizational capacity, division of labour, solidarity among its members, and the commitment to attain targets. Maurizio Catino looks at different organised crime groups from the organizational point of view, and offers fresh analyses to unveil how they function, survive, and compete. Catino examines seven organised crime groups using a comparative perspective: (i) the Sicilian Cosa Nostra; (ii) the ‘Ndrangheta; (iii) the Camorra; (iv) the American Cosa Nostra; (v) the Triads; (vi) the Yakuza; and (vii) the Russian Mafia. After an introduction of the mafia groups as a type of organised crime and secret society, the readers learn how these different organised crime groups manage their organization. What is the role of orders and the use of violence in their rise and decline, why the rules they set and rituals they practice matter, and what are the dilemmas that bring new challenges to those criminals in the governance of organization in such a difficult and competitive social environment?

Catino claims that the mafias are neither bureaucratic-corporate organizations nor formal organizations. Nor, he writes, can they be labelled merely loose-knit criminal organizations either. Instead, he says, that considering their structures and targets, they are more appropriately categorized as being illegal economic organizations. Of course, unsurprisingly, social control appears as the main pillar of strength of mafias; and this social control does not mean simply the control of territory and people, but also the control of information, which is critically important. He argues that: “the ability to obtain information is a cornerstone of the mafias’ reputation” (p. 27), so the mafiosi need to know what is going on in the territory that they control, rule, and exploit. Yet different from other organizations, in their case not only obtaining all necessary information, but also keeping that information limited to a number of reliable persons is a key to success. The recruitment process, therefore, needs to be taken seriously, in order to avoid serious consequences for their futures. The mafia groups have developed strategies and methods to tackle the control of information, coordination problems, and the recruitment of reliable people (p. 32). The recruited members are not simply individuals, but become “members of their extended family” in which the recruited individuals are socially attached and emotionally connected to their social groups through collective events and rituals (p. 131).

Catino concludes: “If the dimension of economic accumulation prevails over the ideals of brotherhood, the organizational authority loses legitimacy. When, in a mafia, the rational character of economic action becomes dominant, the practices and rituals that foster integration lose their value and the magical aspect disappears” (p. 308). The actions of mafia groups, as a result, are reflections of complicated human behaviour reflecting a need to make difficult decisions over time. These decisions leave their mark on the organizational weakness and strength which result in either failure or success. Mafia members, many times, are not highly intelligent and trained people, even if their organizations look sophisticated. Yet they are good at learning from their own mistakes and revising their decisions according to changing circumstances. It is this know-how learning that is a part of human nature.

This is a dense and serious book that is highly recommended for anyone who would like to understand the organizational codes of mafia groups. An important scholarly investigation, it unveils the organizational structure that plays a vital role in mafia groups across the world.

Dr Baris Cayli, FRSA, Visiting Professor, LUMSA University, Italy, Senior Research Fellow, University of Derby, UK

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