The Secret Power of Criminal Organizations: A Social Psychological Approach [1st ed.] 9783030441609, 9783030441616

This Brief presents a social psychological approach to understanding the reaction of communities to organized crime and

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Table of contents :
Front Matter ....Pages i-vi
Introduction (Giovanni A. Travaglino, Lisbeth Drury)....Pages 1-4
Understanding Organized Crime (Giovanni A. Travaglino, Lisbeth Drury)....Pages 5-12
Intracultural Appropriation Theory (Giovanni A. Travaglino, Lisbeth Drury)....Pages 13-22
Assessing the Empirical Evidence: Masculine Honor Values and Organized Crime (Giovanni A. Travaglino, Lisbeth Drury)....Pages 23-35
Intergroup Contact in the Context of Criminal Organizations (Giovanni A. Travaglino, Lisbeth Drury)....Pages 37-47
Towards a New Understanding of Criminal Groups’ Secret Power (Giovanni A. Travaglino, Lisbeth Drury)....Pages 49-54
Back Matter ....Pages 55-66
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Giovanni A. Travaglino Lisbeth Drury

The Secret Power of Criminal Organizations A Social Psychological Approach 123

SpringerBriefs in Psychology

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Giovanni A. Travaglino • Lisbeth Drury

The Secret Power of Criminal Organizations A Social Psychological Approach

Giovanni A. Travaglino School of Humanities and Social Science Chinese University of Hong Kong Shenzhen, China

Lisbeth Drury Department of Organizational Psychology University of London Birkbeck, UK

School of Psychology University of Kent Canterbury, UK

School of Psychology University of Kent Canterbury, UK

ISSN 2192-8363     ISSN 2192-8371 (electronic) SpringerBriefs in Psychology ISBN 978-3-030-44160-9    ISBN 978-3-030-44161-6 (eBook) © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are reserved by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors, and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. This Springer imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


1 Introduction����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������    1 2 Understanding Organized Crime ����������������������������������������������������������    5 Popular Culture������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������    5 Scientific Definitions����������������������������������������������������������������������������������    6 Italian Organized Crime����������������������������������������������������������������������������    7 Criminal Organizations and the Community: The Code of Omertà ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������    9 Explanations of Omertà: Fear and Passivity����������������������������������������������   10 Omertà: An Alternative Account����������������������������������������������������������������   12 3 Intracultural Appropriation Theory������������������������������������������������������   13 Power, Authority and Legitimacy��������������������������������������������������������������   14 The Psychological Bases of Legitimacy and Legitimations����������������������   15 Ideology and Culture����������������������������������������������������������������������������������   17 Strategic Exploitation and Social Embedding ������������������������������������������   20 4 Assessing the Empirical Evidence: Masculine Honor Values and Organized Crime��������������������������������������������������������������������������������  23 Honor, Masculinity, and Violence��������������������������������������������������������������   24 Criminal Organizations and Masculine Honor: Strategic Exploitation������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������   25 Social Embedding: The Roots of Omertà��������������������������������������������������   27 Other Predictors of Omertà������������������������������������������������������������������������   30 The Role of Other Honor Codes����������������������������������������������������������������   31 Regional Identity and Honor Codes����������������������������������������������������������   33 5 Intergroup Contact in the Context of Criminal Organizations����������   37 Intergroup Contact Theory������������������������������������������������������������������������   38 Antecedents of Intergroup Contact: The Role of Individual Differences ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������   39 Culture and Contact with Members of Organized Crime��������������������������   40




Intergroup Contact and Social Activism����������������������������������������������������   42 Positive and Negative Contact in the Context of Criminal Organizations ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������   43 6 Towards a New Understanding of Criminal Groups’ Secret Power ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������  49 A Role for Culture: Culture as Ideology in the Legitimization of Illegal Groups����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������   50 Future Research Directions: What We Still Need to Understand��������������   51 Cultural Values and the Perception of State Authorities������������������������   51 Contact and Opposition to Criminal Organizations������������������������������   52 Conclusions������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������   54 References ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������   55 Index������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������   65

Chapter 1


In contemporary societies, individuals typically live under the political authority of the nation state (Axtmann, 2004). The state is an immensely important and central entity in the current social world, to the point that it is now commonly perceived as the only viable form of political arrangement. Its activities and functions are wide ranging and numerous. For instance, the state regulates and monitors the conduct of people, some of the economic interactions taking place among sections of the population, and the type of information exchanges that are admissible within its boundaries (e.g., Gill, 2003). It also provides safety and security for its citizens and guarantees social order in domestic affairs. Many of these functions are made possible by one of the most essential characteristics of the modern state, its claim to a monopoly on “violence” (Weber, 1919). The state positions itself as the only entity possessing the legitimacy necessary to exert physical force within the boundaries of its territories. This means that when the state’s government decides to implement policies or laws, sanction rules, or mandate structural changes within society, it might use force to demand compliance from its people. It is the only actor that can legitimately claim the right to do so, at least as long as the monopoly on violence is preserved. For instance, laws issued by the government not only prescribe how individuals should behave and what types of conduct are acceptable across contexts, but also contain very specific instructions concerning what punishment should be implemented against those who disobey. The state’s monopoly on violence does not determine that governments will always revert to force in order to sanction their decisions. Systems of authority that function using only coercion are expensive and ineffective, thus difficult to sustain in the long term (Tyler, 2006a). The seminal work of Tyler and collaborators (Tyler, 2000; Tyler, 2006a, 2006b; see also Tyler & Blader, 2000) highlights that, for political and legal authorities to function effectively, it is important that individuals perceive such authorities as legitimate entities. Individuals tend to obey the laws when they believe the authority promulgating them is “suitable,” legitimate in relation to

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 G. A. Travaglino, L. Drury, The Secret Power of Criminal Organizations, SpringerBriefs in Psychology,



1 Introduction

shared standards, and therefore that it “ought to be” followed (see also Zelditch, 2001). Research shows that such legitimacy is, at least partially, grounded in the authorities’ ability to adopt fair procedures to implement rules and decisions (e.g., Levi, Sacks, & Tyler, 2009). The more authorities are perceived as being fair, the more likely they are to be bestowed the legitimacy necessary to govern. In practice, it should also be noted that the state’s monopoly on violence is usually far from absolute. The ability to engage in, and control, violence within the boundaries of a state is often shared among multiple actors and entities who are characterized by different motives and varying in degrees of legitimization and approval granted to them by the population. Throughout the course of history, rebels, outlaws, subversive, and criminal organizations have repeatedly challenged the authorities’ attempts to centralize power and control the use of force, in some circumstances even contributing to the collapse and dissolution of empires or states (Grynkewich, 2008; Hobsbawm, 2000; Morris, 2010; Scott, 2017; Tilly, 1985). More recently, the authority of some states has been eroded by changes in the structure of societies and in the nature of national and international economic relationships (Higgott, Underhill, & Bieler, 2000; Strange, 1996). According to Strange (1996), for instance, the emergence of transnational financial structures transcending the boundaries of a single state and the privatization of key public industries and globalization are among the factors that have enabled novel agents to lay claims equivalent to, or even stronger than, those of the state, thus encroaching on its authority. Examples of these agents range from international NGOs and corporations to religious institutions, to criminal or subversive organizations such as terrorists, gangs, or mafias (Strange, 1996; see also Grynkewich, 2008; Rodgers & Muggah, 2009; see Travaglino & Abrams, 2019). The (re)emergence of systems of authority and governance that are alternative to that of the state raises important questions about the sources of these agents’ power and influence. In some circumstances, non-state agents are able to exert governance over entire communities, obtain obedience and respect from people, be shielded from legal authorities, and inhibit opposition in spite of violence or predation. Travaglino and Abrams (2019, p. 75) referred to this capacity as “secret power” and defined it in general terms as: power [that] is not formally recognized or delimited by statutory authorities yet it is constituted and regulated through clearly structured social properties such as group memberships, social or geographical reach, systems of exchange and responsibility, forms of constraint, and culturally rooted rules, often backed by tradition and precedent.

It remains unclear, from a social psychology standpoint, where the legitimacy of this secret power is grounded. Moreover, little psychological research has confronted the important issue of how non-state agents are able to sustain secret power given that they are unable or unwilling to adopt legal procedures to ensure fair decisions. In this volume, we address these issues with regard to what is perhaps one of the most prototypical cases of a non-state system of authority, that of organized crime in southern Italy. Criminal organizations in these regions encroach on many of the

1 Introduction


state’s functions, exerting power over communities, while being protected by the code of omertà. Omertà indicates a code entailing normative prescriptions to the communities, those being indifference to, and silence regarding, other individuals’ illegal activities. These prescriptions apply whether one participates, observes, or is victim of a crime (Paoli, 2003; Rakopoulos, 2018). Omertà forbids both criminal organization members (internal omertà) and common citizens (external omertà) from collaborating and having contact with state authorities. Internal omertà regulates relationships within criminal organizations. It aims to prevent the emergence of defectors willing to aid state authorities, the so-­ called repentants (pentiti, in Italian). These repentants represent a major threat to criminal organizations’ ability to act because they can provide authorities with crucial information about the plans and functioning of criminal organizations. Criminal organizations are notorious for responding to such defectors with bloody acts of revenge, also involving repentants’ families and acquaintances (transversal vendettas; see Dickie, 2013). In contrast, external omertà refers to the relationship between criminal organization and the communities where these groups operate. External omertà typically indicates individuals’ lack of public opposition against criminal organizations and their unwillingness to provide state authorities with information about criminal organizations’ activities. This is an important phenomenon because people’s adherence to omertà means that the state authorities are hugely limited in their capacity to defeat criminal organizations. In the next chapters, to explain the bases of secret power, we examine the psychological underpinnings of external omertà. We begin in Chap. 2 by defining organized crime, with a particular focus on southern Italian criminal organizations. These groups are shrouded in secrecy and myth, and hence extremely difficult to define. Historically, they have been regarded either as groups of violent individuals devoid of formal structures or as economic enterprises whose main purpose is to make money. We, instead, highlight an alternative feature of these groups, namely their ability to exert secret political power over the community. We propose to conceptualize criminal organizations as political entities. This approach enables us to reinterpret criminal organizations’ relationship with the community as a special instance of a relationship of dominance-subordination, thus calling attention to the psychological factors that make such relationships possible. In Chap. 3, we describe Intracultural Appropriation Theory (ICAT; Travaglino & Abrams, 2019). ICAT is a recent theoretical framework that addresses the psychological bases of illegal governance and secret power. ICAT’s core propositions are that illegal or semi-legal groups’ power is rooted in legitimacy (rather than fear or passivity), and that such legitimacy derives from these groups’ ability to mobilize and transmit cultural meaning diffused in the population. In other words, ICAT proposes that illegal groups can use cultural values as ideological devices to sustain their position of dominance in society. We then apply ICAT to the issue of criminal organizations’ governance in the southern Italian context. We contend that such organizations’ secret power is grounded in their ability to embody the locally important cultural values of


1 Introduction

­masculine honor. In Chap. 4, we review empirical evidence indicating that when individuals endorse values of masculine honor, they are more likely to have positive attitudes towards criminal organizations and less likely to express intentions to oppose these groups collectively. In Chap. 5, we further extend this discussion by focusing on the issue of contact between criminal organizations and members of the population. We analyze additional empirical evidence showing that individuals’ endorsement of values of masculine honor is linked to more frequent and more positive contact with members of criminal organizations. Such contact is, in turn, associated with individuals’ tendency to perceive these groups as the embodiment of honor and respect. Taken together, these two chapters provide a comprehensive body of empirical evidence in support of ICAT’s main propositions. Finally, in Chap. 6, we conclude by reviewing some key directions for future research. Specifically, we discuss additional variables that must be examined in future studies, as well as the issue of generalizability of the theory to other contexts and situations. Criminal organizations are not the only group able to displace the state and express alternative forms of governance. Similar psychological processes may also characterize the relationships between gangs, terrorist organizations, and the communities where such groups operate.

Chapter 2

Understanding Organized Crime

Criminal organizations, and the related notion of organized crime, are very difficult concepts to define (Finckenauer, 2005; Von Lampe, 2001, 2016). The difficulty stems partially from the fact that such terms refer to inherently ambiguous and fuzzy social phenomena, whose shape changes depending on the motivations of who is observing and describing them. Definitions of criminal organizations tend to be influenced by the legal, political, or economic agendas of the actors that regularly interact with these groups (Varese, 2010).

Popular Culture Despite the difficulties of finding a coherent definition, and the many academic disputes that surround these concepts (see von Lampe, 2016, for a recent review), most people believe they know something about the nature of organized crime. These concepts have entered the collective imagination through representations in movies, television, newspapers, novels, and more recently videogames (see Finckenauer, 2007). The entertainment industry, especially cinema, has played a pervasive and fundamental role in shaping how the public, other media and even official agencies, perceive organized crime (Hobbs & Antonopoulos, 2013; Rawlinson, 1998). For instance, owing to their huge popularity in the post-war period, feature films have provided the public with rich, compelling narratives and imagery about organized crime and how criminal organizations might operate (Grieveson, Sonnet, & Stanfield, 2005; Rawlinson, 1998, 2011). Media representations of criminal organizations have tended to focus on folkloristic and romantic aspects of such groups. They have created an indissoluble link between organized crime and the Italian mafia, contributing to the emergence of myths revolving around themes such as loyalty, the importance of family and

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 G. A. Travaglino, L. Drury, The Secret Power of Criminal Organizations, SpringerBriefs in Psychology,



2  Understanding Organized Crime

t­raditional values (Larke, 2003), and heroic lone gangsters (Rawlinson, 1998). In some cases, they have underpinned explosions of moral panic and facilitated the ethnicization of the mafia phenomenon in the USA and elsewhere (Hobbs & Hobbs, 2011; Larke, 2003). Media representations have accompanied the emergence of conspiratorial theories according to which organized crime is an alien and foreign threat. For instance, constructions of the organized crime phenomenon in the USA have often been used to demarcate the boundaries of “ordinary” society, defined in contrast to the dangerous world of the “others,” the foreign elements (e.g., Italians, Russians, Irish, or Chinese) operating in the shadow of illegality, threatening domestic interests and the American way of life (Hobbs & Hobbs, 2011; Smith Jr, 1976; Woodiwiss & Hobbs, 2008). The wide syndication of Northern American’s cultural products has played an important role in disseminating these myths around the world. Unsurprisingly, ideas and notions that organized crime is foreign and imported are wholly inadequate to understand the complexity of this phenomenon. Such notions ignore criminal organizations’ social embeddedness, and that their capacity to operate successfully in the social sphere is in part dependent upon public compliance, collusion, and ties with local agents. Moreover, focus on the organizational structure typically associated with the Italian or Italo-American mafia has distorted the understanding of other criminal organizations. This has led to the exaggeration of certain threats and a failure to observe others (e.g., Finckenauer, 2007). Ideas created within popular culture have influenced public discourse and public policy about criminal organizations (Woodiwiss & Hobbs, 2008). Interestingly, however, media representations have not only had an impact on the public discourse, but also affected the actions of mobsters themselves. It is telling, for instance, that Walter Schiavone, a Camorra (i.e., the criminal organization operating in Naples) boss, commissioned a house to be built modeled on the home of Tony Montana, the main character in the famous Scarface movie (see Varese, 2006).

Scientific Definitions In the face of such a cacophony of different voices, opinions, and influences, how should we understand the notion of organized crime from a scientific and academic perspective? von Lampe (2016) contends that “organized crime” is not a useful analytic category per se, given the large quantity of (sometimes contradictory) elements that have been associated with this concept throughout its history. In line with this argument, Varese (2010) surveyed 115 definitions of organized crime produced between 1915 and 2009, originating mostly among criminologists and criminal justice practitioners. This analysis demonstrates crucial variations in the importance assigned to concepts such as “hierarchy,” “cosa nostra,” and “monopoly” to define organized crime. Thus, rather than a starting point, Von Lampe (2016) proposes that a definition of organized crime must be the outcome of a research process examining instances of

Italian Organized Crime


phenomena nominally associated with this concept. By examining the connections and links between different aspects of what experts and laypeople understand by the terms “organized crime” and “criminal organizations,” we might attempt to determine empirically whether such conceptual abstractions are indeed scientifically useful. Nonetheless, it is still possible to individuate some basic and common elements that emerge across the many definitions of organized crime and criminal organizations (Von Lampe, 2016; see also Varese, 2010). Typically, criminal organizations refer to a wide array of independent groups engaged in different illegal activities, including the provision of illegal goods and predatory crimes. These groups tend to be characterized by more sophisticated and specialized structures in comparison to other criminals. Finally, criminal organizations tend to be engaged in illegal governance. Within the territories where they operate, they may be able to exert the power to forbid certain types of crimes, and require that other criminals pay a “tax” on illicit profits. However, criminal organizations’ power does not only extend to the underworld of criminals. Even more important and consequential, from the standpoint of the research reviewed in this volume, is these groups’ capacity for exerting governance, accruing political power over the “upperworld” (Toros & Mavelli, 2013) and even displacing the state (Lea & Stenson, 2007). This refers to criminal organizations’ capacity for what we have defined above as “secret power,” the ability to exert illegal governance over law-abiding citizens (Travaglino & Abrams, 2019). In its more general sense, governance is the “ability to make and enforce rules, and to deliver services” (Fukuyama, 2013, p. 350). The actions of mafia-type groups can meet this definition of governance (see Lea & Stenson, 2007; cf. also Strange, 1996). Mafias are a specific type of criminal organization that specializes in the supply of protection (Varese, 2010). They may offer protection from extortion from other criminals, safeguard individuals, and groups from theft, recover stolen goods, and enforce property laws (Paoli, 2004). They may also regulate transactions among citizens, mediate disputes, and enforce traditional norms within the community (Paoli, 2003). The prototypical mafia-type groups, “the classic model of violent non-state governance of territory and population” (Lea & Stenson, 2007, p. 19) are Italian criminal organizations. In this volume, we focus on research examining the bases of these groups’ secret power.

Italian Organized Crime There are three major mafia-type groups operating in Italy, each located mainly within a specific Italian region, the camorra (Campania), the mafia (Sicily), and the ‘Ndrangheta (Calabria). It is now well established that Italian criminal groups are characterized by a high degree of formalization, which involves initiation rituals, internal structures of governance, and sophisticated hierarchies controlling the life


2  Understanding Organized Crime

of the associates (Paoli, 2004; although, for the camorra this is to a lesser extent; Scaglione, 2016). These groups use violence to obtain their objectives, place a strong duty of secrecy over their members (internal omertà), and try to establish some form of political control over “their” territories. According to Paoli (2003), two general paradigms have been used by scholars to understand and define Italian mafia-type groups such as the Sicilian mafia. Early accounts assigned the mafia a minimum of formal structure and organization, while emphasizing the social and cultural repertoire of single individuals’ acting as “mafiosi” (Blok, 1988; Hess, 1998; Schneider & Schneider, 1976). This approach posited that the best way to understand mafia was to understand local cultural values and character. Sicilian society promoted attitudes of pride, self-­ reliance, courage, and masculinity. Thus, mafiosi (mafia members) were merely individuals showing a special kind of aptitude for, and conformity to such values. Mafiosi were to be understood as people who valued respect, and who were not afraid to use violence to obtain it. They acted against the legal constraints of a state that was perceived as distant and predatory in the southern Italian context. According to this approach, an overarching association governing the life of its associates (“the mafia with a capital M,” to use Hess’, (1998) words) did not exist. As the sociologist Charles Tilly wrote in his introduction to Blok (1988): Sicily has never had any single organization one could properly call The Mafia. The Mafia super-gang is a simplifying fiction, invented by publicists and by Fascist officials charged with eliminating southern Italian lawlessness. On the other hand, there really are mafiosi — men wielding power through the systematic use of private violence. The sum of their actions makes up the phenomenon called mafia (Tilly, in Blok, 1988, p. x).

As new evidence started to emerge, and the number of mafia witnesses (pentiti) increased, scholars abandoned these early conceptions grounded in culture and local attitudes and instead accepted the existence of a formal mafia organization (Schneider & Schneider, 2003; see Schneider, 2018 for a recent account). The emphasis on culture was increasingly perceived as criminalizing and damaging to the entire southern Italy. This inflated cultural focus often had the effect of otherizing local populations as different from the more “European” culture of modern northern Italy (see Schneider, 1998). Such focus was also seen as exaggerating the diffusion of the phenomenon at the local level, while at the same time overlooking local opposition to the mafia, that was grounded in similar cultural roots (Schneider & Schneider, 2005). In response to these criticisms, a different perspective emerged according to which mafia-type groups were to be principally understood as a special form of “economic enterprise” (Gambetta, 1993). This perspective locates the main function of these organizations in the accumulation of profits and wealth for their members (Santino, 1988). Criminal organizations are described as sharing many similar features as corporations and firms involved in different types of illegal markets, depending on regional opportunities and local needs. The main aim of these groups is seen as that of acquiring the monopoly over a specific type of product, be it “protection” as in the case of the Italian mafia, or any other goods and activity criminalized by the laws of the state. This perspective, therefore, de-emphasizes

Criminal Organizations and the Community: The Code of Omertà


the role of cultural values and instead highlights the importance of formal structures of governance characterizing these groups. More recently, Paoli (2003) proposed a new paradigm for understanding the mafia phenomenon which synthetizes the two other ones. This new approach recognizes the mafia’s organizational features, economic aims, and a high degree of formal structure. However, it also highlights the importance of symbolic rituals, cultural values, and initiation practices that serve to strengthen the cohesion of the group and promote internal omertà (i.e., the oath of internal secrecy). Crucially, this paradigm acknowledges that illicit profit is not the only or perhaps even the main function of mafia groups. Paoli (2003) emphasizes that such groups are characterized by a multiplicity of different functions, aims, and objectives, among which the pursuit of political power and the acquisition of status are elements that figure prominently (see also Allum & Sands, 2004; Toros & Mavelli, 2013). These groups exercise governance over the territory, displacing the state and acquiring some of its functions, including the prerogative to impose their own normative system on local communities. Criminal organizations’ authority may, therefore, grow in direct opposition to that of the legal order of the state. Consequently, individuals living in territories characterized by the presence of mafia groups find themselves in a complex web of mutually incompatible authority systems demanding a pledge of allegiance and obedience. This raises the important question of how the mafia manages to acquire legitimacy within the population. When describing communities’ relationships with the mafia, commentators typically note that they are regulated by the code of “omertà” or “silence.” Members of the community rarely oppose criminal organizations, report their crimes to the police, or publicly challenge them. Earlier, we referred to this pattern of behavior as external omertà, in order to differentiate it from mafia members’ obligation of secrecy (internal omertà). In the next section, we describe the problem of external omertà within the communities where criminal organizations operate. Specifically, we review some of the social scientific explanations concerning individuals’ adherence to this code in the southern Italian context.

 riminal Organizations and the Community: The Code C of Omertà The presence of criminal organizations has a strong economic, social, and political impact within communities. In the context of Italian organized crime, for instance, criminal organizations’ illegal activities can have an impact equivalent to up to 0.86% of Italian national GDP (Transcrime, 2013; cited in Catino, 2015). In Italy, Pinotti (2012) estimated that the presence of mafia-type groups within a region means a loss of up to 16% GDP compared to similar regions with a lower presence of criminal organizations (see also Daniele & Marani, 2011; Lavezzi, 2014). The presence of criminal organizations might also impact community well-being and mental health (Giordano, Cannizzaro, Tosto, Pavia, & Di Blasi, 2017).


2  Understanding Organized Crime

Given such strong negative implications deriving from the presence of these groups, an important question that has puzzled scholars is why individuals do not rebel against criminal organizations. Historically, southern Italian communities are seen as responding passively to the presence of criminal organizations within the territory, displaying so-called omertà. But what is omertà? The etymology of the word is disputed. Some sources trace it to the Italian word for humility (umiltà; e.g., Treccani, n/a). Others trace it to the Sicilian word “omu,” from the Spanish “hombre” (man; e.g., see Hess, 1998). As discussed earlier, it may refer to internal relationships among members of the mafia, as well as the external relationship between criminal organizations and the community. In both cases, it indicates a code of silence prescribing indifference towards others’ illegal activities, forbidding collaboration with the police, and preventing individuals from reporting crimes to authorities (Paoli, 2003; see Travaglino, Abrams, & Randsley de Moura, 2014). According to this code, victims of crimes are supposed to avenge the crime themselves rather than obtain help from the authorities. The concept of omertà is not only used to describe relationships between mafia-­ type groups and communities in Italy. The term has been adopted by actors in a variety of contexts to describe the regulation (i.e., limitation and curtailment) of interactions with the police, for example, among gang members (Björk, 2008; Etter Sr, 1998). By drawing on popular culture, or by using the example of more mature organized crime groups, gang members might promote the use of codes that closely resemble omertà, even adopting this same word to describe such codes. Thus, omertà could be used as a general theoretical construct to explain the relationship between a variety of different social actors. For instance, community members in America may be said to be displaying omertà when they protect gang members from the police, or fail to report their crimes to the authorities (Akerlof & Yellen, 1994; Kahan, 2002). Similarly, the code of the street (Anderson, 1999), which regulates interactions among low-status youths in distressed, inner city communities in the USA, and which prohibits individuals from resolving problems by contacting state authorities, or “snitching,” can also be seen as sharing many characteristics with the concept of omertà (Asbury, 2011; Morris, 2010; Rosenfeld, Jacobs, & Wright, 2003).

Explanations of Omertà: Fear and Passivity Explanations of omertà towards criminal organizations in southern Italian communities tend to focus on two main factors, generalized passivity and fear. Passivity accounts are grounded in the idea that southern Italian people are characterized by values and beliefs, an ethos, that predispose them to passivity against criminal ­organizations. This passivity is often seen as a symptom of the population’s broad “political incapacity,” their inability to engage in collective action for the common good.

Explanations of Omertà: Fear and Passivity


One of the first theoretical accounts of this ethos is Banfield’s (1958) ethnographic analysis of a southern Italian village, in the Italian region of the Marche. After observing interactions among citizens, and between citizens and authorities, Banfield concluded that southern Italians’ behavior could be explained by employing the following behavioral rule, “maximize the material, short run advantage of the nuclear family; assume that all others will do likewise.” He termed this rule as “amoral familism” to highlight the fact that individuals are politically incapacitated by an ethos that prescribes and praises only interest in the nuclear family. According to Banfield’s thesis, southern Italian communities’ “backwardness” would be a consequence of this ethos, which makes people unable to act together in a coordinated manner to achieve the common good. Amoral familism would also be linked to distrust towards of authorities, a disregard for public affairs, and the inability to form and join associations. The persistence of criminal organizations in southern Italy would therefore be only one of the manifestations of people’s inherent inability to engage in collective action implied by the rule of amoral familism. More recently, Putnam (1993) attributed southern Italian’s passivity to the population’s lack of civil capacity and social capital. Putnam theorized that due to a sequence of absolutist regimes in their political history, southern Italians were unable to develop the social capital necessary to act collectively for the common good, create links of mutual trust among citizens, and establish civic associations. These institutional failings, interiorized in southern Italians’ normative ethos, provided the opportunity for the emergence of violent actors such as mafia-type groups who are able to guarantee transactions, offer protection, and enforce contracts where would otherwise be impossible (Gambetta, 1993). Related to the generalized passivity account, an additional explanation for omertà uses the concept of fear. This explanation appears often in journalistic accounts of mafias’ relations with the community. It also often characterizes laypeople’s explanations of omertà. When one of the authors of this volume (GAT) travelled to schools in the southern Italian region of Campania to collect data for the research presented in subsequent chapters, he organized class discussions about organized crime. At the question “why do you think there is so little opposition against organized crime here,” pupils’ answer would invariably and rather quickly refer to the risk of doing so, and the fear that people feel at the idea of opposing these groups. Interestingly, as we will discuss later on, this verbal answer was contradicted by pupils’ written questionnaire answers at least in aggregate (averaged) form. Fear also appears in some academic accounts of communities’ relationships with organized crime. These accounts highlight criminal organizations’ extraordinary ability for violence, and their capacity to subtract the monopoly of violence from the state (Marshall, 2013). As geographical, political, or economic conditions make the state’s reach over some territories more difficult, the resulting power vacuum is filled by actors such as organized crime groups. Organized crime’s capacity for violence, for instance, their possession of firearms and their ruthless, means that a fearful population can do little to respond and must accept the groups’ dominion.


2  Understanding Organized Crime

Omertà: An Alternative Account These explanations of omertà have been criticized on many grounds (Schneider, 1998; Schneider & Schneider, 2003; Tarrow, 1996; Travaglino & Abrams, 2019; Travaglino, Abrams, Randsley de Moura, & Russo, 2014). For instance, generalized passivity or fear accounts ignore important variations in how people respond to criminal organizations in southern Italy and in other geographical areas. They have difficulties in accounting for instances in which people do oppose criminal organizations, as has often happened during the past few decades (Jamieson, 2000; Schneider & Schneider, 1994). The ethos of passivity that should allegedly cause individuals’ responses to criminal organizations remains a nebulous, largely untested concept. It is unclear, for instance, the extent to which southern Italians’ amoral familism, lack of civic capacity, or trust are linked to their views of criminal organizations’ activities. The only recent empirical analysis of Banfield’s amoral familism we are aware of, which operationalized the concept as distrust towards institutional authorities and beliefs about authorities’ amorality, did not detect any reliable difference between northern and southern Italians in the extent to which individuals endorse values of amoral familism, and did not directly assess individuals’ attitudes towards criminal organizations (Foschi & Lauriola, 2016). A different account of omertà is, therefore, needed. We have recently proposed a different explanation for individuals’ lack of opposition to organized crime (Travaglino & Abrams, 2019). This explanation is grounded in the assumption that every system of governance needs legitimacy in order to function effectively (Tyler, 2006a, 2006b). The need for legitimacy also characterizes systems of governance that are alternative or oppositional to that of the state. The explanation of fear grounded in violence is not a good substitute for the legitimacy explanation; as in the long run, fear elicits resistance, opposition, and rejection. Our approach’s emphasis on legitimacy suggests that criminal organizations’ capacity for violence might become a tool of social influence, and bestow the group with the ability to express governance, only to the extent that it is normative in the context in which it is used. In other words, an ideological framework is needed to ensure that criminal organizations’ violence is perceived as an acceptable way of regulating relationships in society. In this volume, we review evidence indicating that this framework is that of cultural honor. First, in the next chapter, we describe a novel theoretical account, Intracultural Appropriation Theory, which describes how cultural values such as those of cultural honor might influence the legitimization of powerful groups in society.

Chapter 3

Intracultural Appropriation Theory

Illegal or semi-legal groups may act in ways that are similar to those of a state’s government. In southern Italy, mafia-type groups enforce rules and provide important services to “their” communities, including assisting with dispute resolutions, providing local investments, redistribution of resources, and protection. Across many other regions of the globe, terrorist groups, gangs, outlaws, paramilitary, and revolutionary groups exercise similar prerogatives within the communities they inhabit (Akerlof & Yellen, 1994; Grynkewich, 2008; Kuldova, 2018; Lea & Stenson, 2007; Sánchez-Jankowski, 2018; Strange, 1996; Travaglino, 2017). Many such groups are also illegal, violent, and engaged in antisocial activities that are ultimately highly disruptive for the community. For instance, the presence of gangs and criminal organizations in a territory is generally linked to a heightened sense of insecurity within the population, increases in the number of violent crimes, economic losses, lower political stability, and lower well-being (Ciziceno & Travaglino, 2018; Costanza & Helms, 2012; Giordano, Cannizzaro, Tosto, Pavia, & Di Blasi, 2017; Grogger, 2002; Pinotti, 2012). The repercussions deriving from the presence of these groups might be intensely personal. Recently, Giordano et al. (2017) used focus groups to explore how individuals experience the presence of mafia families in their communities or neighbors in Catania, a Sicilian city historically affected by the presence of the mafia. Individuals’ narratives revealed the strong anxiety and the emotional struggles deriving from having to share spaces and interact with members of criminal organizations. In these accounts, it emerged that individuals face conflicting demands between their sense of being law-abiding citizens, on the one hand, and the “obligation” of showing respect and behaving obsequiously towards members of criminal groups, on the other. Moreover, the prescription of “keeping silent” about specific topics (e.g., the death of a friend at the hand of the mafia) and individuals (e.g., a mafia boss’ name) shapes daily interactions, limiting individuals’ capacity to express their pain with acquaintances, and pursue collective social change.

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 G. A. Travaglino, L. Drury, The Secret Power of Criminal Organizations, SpringerBriefs in Psychology,



3  Intracultural Appropriation Theory

Nonetheless, despite their strong negative impact, the presence of these groups may generate very little public opposition. Rather, gangs and other criminal and semi-legal groups may become deeply embedded in the fabric of the community. They may even acquire the ability to exert governance over people. Indeed, omertà and other powerful expressions of secret power, often, mean that individuals are unable to create the socio-political discourses needed to imagine alternatives to the status quo, build shared oppositional identities aimed at social change, and support legal and political institutions fighting against criminal and subversive groups. What enables these groups’ exercise of authority? What makes them capable of “keeping people silent”? Although definitions of illegality and deviance used to describe these groups might be unambiguous from the point of view of the state authorities that produce them, such definitions may be largely irrelevant from the perspective of individuals who interact with these groups in their daily lives (cf. Schneider & Schneider, 2008). In fact, individuals and members of the community might conclude that such groups ought to be followed, that they have the right to assert their power and “run the block.” They may even form positive attitudes towards them, perceiving their members as embodying key values and beliefs shared within the community. In other words, these groups can be seen—by some at least— as a reflection of what the community stands for, rather than as criminal outsiders (Horowitz, 1983). To explain these and related issues, Travaglino and Abrams (2019) proposed an Intracultural Appropriation Theory (ICAT). This novel theoretical framework accounts for the socio-psychological underpinnings of illegal governance. In the following paragraphs, we summarize and explain ICAT’s basic assumptions, propositions and implications. Subsequently, in the next chapter, we review empirical evidence for the theory, applying it to the context of criminal organizations.

Power, Authority and Legitimacy A key starting point for ICAT’s analysis of illegal and semi-legal arrangements of governance is the well-known observation that no system of authority can rely exclusively on coercive power to operate over a prolonged of period time (Turner, 2005; Tyler, 2006a). Rather, to be effective, authorities need to be legitimized by their followers and subordinates. That is, they need to be perceived as entitled to exert governance by appeals to shared standards and norms. Legitimacy is a defining and central aspect of efficient governance, regardless of its sources. The difference between coercive and legitimate power resides in the type of relationship established between authorities and their followers (Turner, 2005; Tyler, 2006a; Zelditch, 2001). These two different forms of power have vastly different manifestations and implications. Turner (2005, p. 12) defined coercive power as the ability to “control a target against their will and self-interest through the deployment of human and material resources” (Turner, 2005, p.  12). Coercive power, thus, describes circumstances in which the authority is perceived as an external entity that

The Psychological Bases of Legitimacy and Legitimations


does not share the same values, norms, and identities endorsed by the followers. Authorities using coercive power generally make extensive use of violence and must employ constant surveillance of their followers to impose their will. The high prices such authorities exact in terms of followers’ lives and sufferance make coercive power dramatic and vivid. In fact, the need to use coercion generally reveals authorities’ lack (rather than possession) of power (Turner, 2005, p.  13). Coercion is what authorities must resort to when they are unable to use other, more effective, means of influence and persuasion. Coercion triggers followers’ rejection and resistance because it makes them aware that they are being controlled. It is also costly and inefficient due to the extensive reliance on surveillance apparatuses and coercive agents to implement decisions. Thus, an authority whose power is based merely on coercion cannot function effectively in the long run. In contrast to coercive power, legitimate power bestows an actor with the ability to influence or control a target because the target willingly accepts such influence and control. More specifically, legitimate power enables authorities to achieve their goals either because individuals are persuaded that what they are asked to do is right, or because they believe that the authority has the right to ask them to do something (Turner, 2005). Legitimacy characterizes authorities whose actions or pronouncements are seen as proper in relation to shared standards, identities, and norms (see also Tyler, 2006a; Zelditch, 2001). The authority is, therefore, seen as an integral part of what the group is and stands for. Because they rely on people’s willingness to comply with their demands, legitimate authorities find it much simpler to exert governance. They do not need to constantly monitor their followers, who instead may be expected to coordinate their efforts autonomously in order to achieve the authorities’ objectives or abide by the authorities’ rules. Authorities’ norms and expectations are internalized by followers, making systems of rewards and punishment to shape collective behavior less relevant. ICAT contends that groups such as criminal and terroristic organizations, gangs, and other illegal and semi-legal actors who intend to exert power over a territory are not exempted from the necessity of cultivating sources of legitimacy among members of the community. Attempting to govern only by means of brute force fear, and coercion would make the power of such actors short-lived, curtailing the actors’ capacity of becoming embedded in society. It is, therefore, important to examine the source of legitimacy of authority, in general, and those actors in particular.

The Psychological Bases of Legitimacy and Legitimations In his classic analysis of authority, the sociologist Weber (1978) individuated three different sources of legitimacy, corresponding to three “ideal types” of authorities. Legitimacy based on the leader’s personal qualities and charisma is defined as charismatic authority. Deference to shared values and beliefs underpins traditional forms of authorities. Finally, rule creation and bureaucratic procedures are instead the basis of what Weber terms legal authority.


3  Intracultural Appropriation Theory

In keeping with the last of these three sources, a robust finding emerging from research in social psychology is that, in modern societies, official authorities such as the state or the police draw legitimization from their ability to devise just procedures and adhere to the rule of law (Colquitt, Greenberg, & Zapata-Phelan, 2005; De Cremer & Tyler, 2005; Tyler, 2006a; Tyler & Blader, 2000). Individuals who perceive authorities as fair are more likely to comply with their demands. Perceived fairness of the authority is a more important factor driving compliance than the perceived risk of being caught and punished for breaking the law (Tyler, 2006a, 2006b). This is not to say that individuals are always unwilling to accept unjust relationships of power between authorities and subordinates. On the contrary, there is large empirical evidence indicating that individuals tolerate and support systems that are patently unjust and unfair. As proposed by social dominance theory and system justification theory, other motivating forces drive the legitimization of unfair authorities and institutions. According to social dominance theory, individuals employ legitimizing myths to justify unequal relationships among groups (Sidanius, Levin, Federico, & Pratto, 2001; Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). Legitimizing myths refer to values, beliefs, and stereotypes that enable and sustain group-based inequality by bestowing a moral justification to the status quo (Sidanius et al., 2001). An example of such legitimizing myths is the meritocratic ideology, according to which individuals tend to obtain what they deserve. Endorsement of such ideology means that structural and systemic inequalities that make it harder for individuals from certain backgrounds to succeed are attributed to lack of abilities. Social dominance theory contends that individuals vary in their orientation towards such myths, being more or less prone to endorse them (i.e., a social dominance orientation). System justification theory postulates that individuals are motivated to legitimize the political and economic system in which they live (Jost, 2019; Jost, Ledgerwood, & Hardin, 2008). To do so, they construct ideologies aimed at justifying why things are the way they are. Among other functions, such ideologies reduce the discomfort deriving from living in a world that is fundamentally unfair (Jost & Hunyady, 2003). However, individuals’ adherence to these ideologies, especially the adherence of individuals from subordinate groups, ensures the perpetuation of an unfair system. These theoretical approaches indicate that individuals may accept asymmetric relationships of power and unequal social arrangements among groups. However, within these approaches, it is not clear how individuals decide to which system of authority they must pledge allegiance, in circumstances in which there exist competing ones. For instance, when criminal cartels challenge the power of the state, or a terrorist organization puts roots in a particular neighborhood, it is not clear why individuals decide to actively support these groups rather than the (perhaps less unfair, or violent) official institutions that aim to fight them. We contend that illegal groups are able to express governance because they are able to mobilize meaning and culture in a way that bestow them with social influence and power.

Ideology and Culture


Ideology and Culture The authority of criminal, illegal, or semi-legal actors cannot—by definition—be grounded in the rule of law. These groups’ actions contravene both formal and informal standards of justice. That is, such groups are not only criminal in relation to the laws of the state. Rather, they operate in ways that are manifestly unfair and unjust in relation to commonly shared standards. For instance, when Italian criminal organizations sell protection or other services they may decide to not deliver the service in the forms agreed, extract more money for it, or just take the payment without providing what was promised. As Varese (2010, p. 18) puts it, “in the world run by the mafias, there is no such thing as a right,” and indeed no “higher authority to which a victim can appeal.” It is also unclear why such groups should command more legitimacy and obedience from people, compared to competing systems of authority, like the one of the state. ICAT’s key proposition is that illegal and semi-legal actors’ legitimacy stems from their strategic use of local cultural values. Specifically, these groups appropriate, represent themselves as, and subsequently reinforce cultural values shared within the community (i.e., intracultural appropriation) to gain legitimacy and approval. The legitimacy so acquired enables illegal groups to exert governance over the population, reinforce compliance, or limit opposition. In other words, ICAT contends that illegal groups use cultural values as ideological devices with the scope of exerting secret power in society. They justify their position of social dominance, and solidify their power, by making use of cultural traditions, customs, and beliefs that are deeply cherished within the community. The ability to obtain power and social influence by appealing to customs, shared values, and traditions maps onto another of the sources of legitimacy analyzed by Weber (1978), that of “traditional authority.” Both ideology and culture are terms characterized by a long and checkered trajectory in the history of the social sciences. Both concepts are very arduous to define consensually, and different authors may mean very different things when they use them. Below, we explain how they are employed in the context of ICAT. In so doing, we hope to clarify some of the key aspects of this theoretical framework. When first coined by de Tracy at the end of the eighteenth century, the word “ideology” was used, in a neutral or even positive sense, to indicate the scientific study of ideas, how they were produced, transmitted, and used by people. The term, however, swiftly acquired negative connotations in post-revolutionary France and, perhaps most famously, in the writings of Marx and Engels (1970), where it was employed to indicate pernicious doctrines that distorted (rather than illuminating) the truth about the social world (see Jost, Federico, & Napier, 2009; Knight, 2006). These two contrasting acceptations persist in the word’s current usage. Some authors use “ideology” to refer—broadly—to “systems of beliefs and ideas” pertaining to the sphere of the political, regardless of their content. This is what can be defined as the neutral conception of ideology (e.g., Jost et  al., 2009; Thompson,


3  Intracultural Appropriation Theory

1984, 1990). This conception is not concerned with whether a system of ideas is oriented towards subverting or preserving the status quo. Instead, it posits that, ultimately, all political action (whether reactionary or revolutionary) is driven by individuals’ adherence to an ideology (Seliger, 1976; see also Becker, 2019; Jost, 2019; Jost, Becker, Osborne, & Badaan, 2017). The neutral conception of ideology tends to focus on clusters of values and beliefs that are, at least prima facie, systematic, coherent, and widely shared among people (Seliger, 1976). In this acceptation, ideology is generally used to analyze the roots and implications of political attitudes— left vs right—in their many shapes and forms (Marxism, authoritarianism, socialism, liberalism, and so forth; Jost, 2009). Thus, according to this framework, the study of ideology is chiefly the analysis of those social discourses aimed at supporting or resisting the power of state authorities and official institutions in general (Becker, 2019; Jost, 2019). Other authors, instead, circumscribe the meaning of ideology to those systems of ideas and beliefs that uphold and legitimize relationships of inequality among groups in society. This approach to ideology is known as the critical approach (Thompson, 1990). The criteria used to convey ideologies’ negative sense vary from theorist to theorist, for instance, Marx and Engels (1970)’s definition of ideologies as misleading ideas produced by the dominant class, or Habermas (1989)’s notion of ideology as “distorted communication” (see Jost et al., 2009; Knight, 2006 for discussions). Nonetheless, such approaches embrace the common theoretical frame that ideologies produce and reproduce false accounts of the social world that serve the purpose of sustaining asymmetrical relationships of exploitation among groups. Both conceptions of ideology are affected by limitations (see Thompson, 1990). On the one hand, the neutral condition of ideology blunts the term’s critical edge. This conception ignores the way the notion of ideology has been used historically. Specifically, it overlooks the fact that the notion of “ideology” has been used to confront important problems concerning the asymmetry of intergroup relationships in society, for instance, how such relationships are established and maintained over time. On the other, the critical acceptation of ideology as a “misleading” account of reality give rise to acute problems pertaining to what criteria must be used to define the truth of social reality. In order to overcome these conceptual opacities, Thompson (1990) proposed a definition of ideology as “meaning in the service of power” (p. 11). Specifically, according to Thompson (1990), ideology refers to the processes through which meaning, symbolic expressions, and processes of signification of the world may be harnessed by a group (or individual) to justify and underwrite their position of dominance in society. Therefore, according to Thompson (1984, 1990), the study of ideology is the study of how meaning can be employed, in certain circumstances and specific contexts, to establish and sustain asymmetrical relationships of power in society. This formulation of ideology provides a suitable theoretical backdrop for ICAT’s analysis of illegal and extra-legal systems of governance. It preserves the critical scope of the notion of ideology because it firmly orients the concept towards the analysis of relationships of dominance-subordination. However, in this

Ideology and Culture


c­ onceptualization, ideology is not used to refer to any specific doctrine, or system of beliefs. A social discourse or act might be ideological in one context and subversive in another, in so far as it might be employed either to underwrite a group’s position of dominance or, in other contexts, to challenge a group’s claim to, or possession of, social power. The cluster of meaning and values that buttress Italian criminal organizations’ governance, for example, need not necessarily be (although it could be) an explicit and coherent political program articulating the group’s political agenda. Nor is such cluster consistently and immutably “ideological.” In different social contexts, and in relation to different groups and social arrangements (e.g., official authorities, law enforcement agencies, and institutional governance) such values are, in fact, subversive. Criminal organizations’ actions, values, and discourses can be defined as ideological only to the extent that meaning is mobilized to perpetuate relationships of dominance-subordination with the community. Conversely, criminal organizations are not merely profit-driven bodies and cannot be defined as non-­political only because they do not directly challenge the authority of the state with a systematic, alternative doctrine. Their strategic use of values and meaning to sustain their position of power is, according to this conceptualization of ideology, deeply political (see Toros & Mavelli, 2013 for a discussion). Moreover, the theoretical framework’s attention to the role of meaning in perpetuating asymmetrical relationships enables us to move beyond the earlier focus on whether ideologies are true or false social discourses about reality. It is, indeed, not by ascertaining whether a discourse represents or mis-represents social facts and relationships that one can determine whether the discourse is ideological or not. Rather, it is important to analyze whether and how the meanings and values mobilized by the discourse are used to underwrite a group’s own position of dominance in society. But what are we referring to when we talk about “meaning”? In a society, a primary source of meaning, and the basis of many processes of signification of reality, is “culture.” The notion of “culture” is as difficult to define rigorously as that of ideology. It encompasses a similar number of different usages and variations in scope (Wolf, 1999). During the enlightenment, culture was generally employed to indicate individuals’ intellectual and spiritual development, an acceptation that still reverberates in some of the ways the term is used nowadays (e.g., high culture). In this sense—and in line with the spirit of the enlightenment—culture referred to universal standards and aspirations that should shape individuals’ efforts towards perfecting (cultivating) their soul. Only subsequently, as the ideas of the enlightenment began to be questioned and rejected, the word “culture” came to signify the aspirations of a specific collective, often a nation state (Wolf, 1999). This second connotation of the notion of culture put aside the universalistic implications of the word and emphasized the importance of particularistic worldviews, as well as customs, beliefs, rituals, and traditions, that distinguished one nation from another. The particularistic sense of culture is much closer to how the word is generally understood nowadays in disciplines such as anthropology (e.g., Geertz, 1964) and psychology (Hofstede, Hofstede, & Minkov, 2010). In psychology, the notion of “culture” is often used to refer to a system of shared values, beliefs, and practices


3  Intracultural Appropriation Theory

that influence the way in which individuals perceive the social and physical environments (Kitayama, 2002; Oyserman, Coon, & Kemmelmeier, 2002; ­ Travaglino & Moon, 2020; Triandis, 2001). Culture is “shared meaning,” in the sense that it provides individuals with a template of shared symbols that structure thought, action, and feelings (Bruner, 1990; cf. Kashima, 2000), with profound impact on the agent’s sense of self (Kitayama & Markus, 1999). Importantly, culture is not only a set of ideas and constructs in individuals’ minds. Culture materializes in the physical environment in which individuals live (e.g., Miyamoto, Nisbett, & Masuda, 2006), including in the artifacts and material objects individuals use (Kitayama, 2002). Ultimately, culture emerges from the institutional practices and arrangements regulating social life that infuse meaning in individuals’ actions (Kitayama, 2002; Wolf, 1999). To the extent that meaning can be used to sustain and perpetuate relationships of dominance between groups, culture can be conceptualized as an ideology.

Strategic Exploitation and Social Embedding Not all social groups and individuals in society have the ability to create and disseminate meaning equally (cf. also Thompson, 1990; Wolf, 1990). Social groups that are endowed with power—that is, groups that have easier access to economic and social resources—have a stronger ability to create, transmit, and validate meaning in society (Miyamoto et  al., 2018; Travaglino & Abrams, 2019). Moreover, because cultural meaning is embodied in social practices and institutions (Kitayama, 2002), it is much more easily shaped by groups that have the capacity (i.e., resources, access, and experience) to alter such arrangements. Thus, ICAT contends that groups both benefit from, and catalyze the impact of, specific clusters of meaning to the extent that such clusters sustain their power. Currently, very little research in psychology has examined how the dimension of power influences the formation, transmission, and manipulation of cultural meaning. The study of ideology and that of culture have proceeded on parallel tracks with little cross-fertilization among them (cf. Wolf, 1999; see also Travaglino & Abrams, 2019). Thus, whereas the study of ideology does examine how ideas might sustain and perpetuate the status quo, it has mainly focused on systems of ideas that are amenable to the institutional authority of the state, for instance, the left–right dimension (Jost et al., 2009). Other systems of cultural meaning, values, and beliefs are rarely scrutinized in the extent to which they can perpetuate inequality among groups (Haidt, Graham, & Joseph, 2009; Osborne, Yogeeswaran, & Sibley, 2017; Uhlmann, Poehlman, & Bargh, 2009). Conversely, the transmission of cultural values is often portrayed as a neutral, authorless process governed by evolutionary dynamics. Little research has examined the role of status and inequality in how cultural meaning and information are transmitted and vary in society (see Kashima, Bain, & Perfors, 2019, for a recent review).

Strategic Exploitation and Social Embedding


According to ICAT, dominant illegal groups are able to use cultural meaning, values, and beliefs to sustain their own position of dominance in society. The theory postulates the existence of two distinct processes characterizing groups’ ideological use of culture, namely strategic exploitation and social embedding (see Fig. 3.1). Strategic exploitation refers to a groups’ ability to appropriate cultural values that are shared within the community and, concurrently, perform actions and engage in symbolic production that reinforce the desirability, diffusion, and validity of such values. For instance, research shows that American gangs engage in types of behavior, wear clothes, and produce social discourses that emphasize the spirit of autonomy, individualism, and self-reliance valued in their context (Sánchez-Jankowski, 2018). Thus, such groups are actively engaged in the production, diffusion, and reinforcement of cultural meaning that bestow them with legitimacy, social influence, and power. Linked to the process of strategic exploitation, social embedding indicates illegal groups’ ability to represent themselves in front of the community as the embodiment of specific cultural values, thus obtaining consensus among those people that endorse these values. This process can be observed in a variety of contexts and situations in which social groups or individuals achieve consensus by virtue of their ability to mirror shared cultural values and norms. For instance, research on leadership demonstrates that in order to achieve the ability to lead, a leader must embody values that are consonant with what the group stands for (Abrams, Randsley de Moura, & Travaglino, 2013; Abrams, Travaglino, Marques, Pinto, & Levine, 2018;

Shared Cultural Values Strategic Exploitation

Non-state Agents in Dominant Position

Self-Representation as the Embodiment of Cultural Values Communities Legitimise

Social Embedding

Fig. 3.1  Intracultural appropriation theory of secret power: Adapted from Travaglino and Abrams (2019)


3  Intracultural Appropriation Theory

Haslam, Reicher, & Platow, 2011; Hogg, 2001; Travaglino, Abrams, Randsley de Moura, & Yetkili, 2016). Similarly, Travaglino (2017) theorized that hackers benefit by being the subject of more positive attitudes from those individuals who endorse values of individualism and equality. This is because hackers actively present themselves as embodying such values. Importantly, the two processes of strategic exploitation and social embedding are analytically distinct, but conceptually interrelated. Illegal groups such as criminal organizations in Italy catalyze the diffusion, and reinforce the importance of cultural values by using discursive practices and actions directly aimed at presenting themselves as the embodiment of such values. Conversely, a by-product of the processes of self-representation enacted by these agents is the propagation and strengthening of the values shared within the community. In the next chapter, we review some initial empirical evidence illustrating the processes of strategic exploitation and social embedding in the context of criminal organizations in southern Italy. Specifically, we examine how criminal organizations mobilize meaning related to masculine honor, and represent themselves as the embodiment of such values in order to boost their position of power in society.

Chapter 4

Assessing the Empirical Evidence: Masculine Honor Values and Organized Crime

Intracultural appropriation theory proposes that non-state, semi-legal, or illegal agents derive their legitimacy from their appropriation and exploitation of cultural values shared within the community (Travaglino & Abrams, 2019). More specifically, this theoretical framework postulates the existence of two processes, strategic exploitation and social embedding. “Strategic exploitation” refers to the agents’ adoption and reinforcement of cultural values within the population that promote their legitimacy. “Social embedding” refers to these agents’ ability to represent themselves to the population as the embodiment of such shared cultural values. By mobilizing meaning to their advantage, these agents are able to exert secret power over communities. The theoretical framework can be applied to a host of different situations to analyze how secret power and social influence are exerted by semi-legal or illegal agents (cf. Travaglino, 2017). In this chapter, we focus on evidence pertaining to individuals’ perception of criminal organizations in the southern Italian context. Specifically, we examine the cultural underpinnings of omertà, that is, individuals’ acceptance of and lack of opposition against criminal organizations. We have discussed earlier how accounts grounding omertà in the population’s passivity or fear are insufficient to explain how agents such as Italian criminal organizations operate and exert secret power. There is little doubt that criminal organizations use violence as a tool of social control. However, over a long period of time, such tool would be ineffective if not accompanied by an ideological framework sustaining these organizations’ legitimacy. Coercive violence would alienate the communities where organized criminal groups operate, unless such violence is perceived as an appropriate, suitable way of regulating social relationships in society. Anthropological and sociological evidence indicates that criminal organizations use discourses promoting values of masculine honor to legitimize their actions (Schneider & Schneider, 2003). Below, we first introduce the notion of honor in the context of psychological research, then review evidence indicating that individuals’

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 G. A. Travaglino, L. Drury, The Secret Power of Criminal Organizations, SpringerBriefs in Psychology,



4  Assessing the Empirical Evidence: Masculine Honor Values and Organized Crime

endorsement of such values is subsequently associated with the legitimization of criminal organizations’ actions and lower intentions to oppose criminal organizations collectively.

Honor, Masculinity, and Violence In many cultures or subcultures, violence may be condoned and justified by people in specific and well-circumscribed situations (Copes, Hochstetler, & Forsyth, 2013; Fiske & Rai, 2014). For instance, violence might be tolerated as a way to regulate relationships in society when it is used to avenge offenses, slights, and other insults against one’s own person or group. A common characteristic of these cultures is the importance they assign to individuals’ or groups’ honor. Honor is defined as the “value of a person in his [sic] own eyes, but also in the eyes of his society” (Pitt-­ Rivers, 1966, p.  21). The emphasis on honor is typical of many areas in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Latin America, and southern regions of the USA (Cohen & Nisbett, 1997; Rodriguez Mosquera, 2016; Schneider, 1971; Uskul, Cross, Gunsoy, & Gul, 2019). As the definition implies, the notion of honor emphasizes the public and relational aspects of individuals’ “self.” This means that, in order to “have honor,” individuals should not only claim honor but should be regarded as deserving honor by others. This emphasis on the relational aspects of the self also implies that individuals’ public conduct must reflect, and abide by, shared norms and values sanctioned by others. Reciprocity is a central organizing theme that characterizes relationships among people in honor cultures (Leung & Cohen, 2011). Individuals must demonstrate the ability to return favors, or reciprocate insults and violence, in order to avoid shame in front of their peers. So strong are the norms of reciprocity in honor cultures that individuals go to great lengths to avoid situations in which they owe something to someone else (Schneider, 1969). Receiving a favor obligates the recipient to return it. Conversely, being unable to return a favor, regardless of competing claims, or other impediments, may cause offense and strain relationships. Thus, individuals may strategically offer unsolicited favors to create links and build coalitions that can be used when the need arises (Schneider, 1972). Other central norms in honor cultures vary depending on the gender of the individual. Women’s honor derives from their capacity to defend their family’s reputation and their ability to maintain sexual purity and remain chaste. The chastity of women’s conduct also affects men’s honor. To be honorable, men must be able to use violence to react quickly against threats and insults, retaliating, and to defend the purity of their women (Barnes, Brown, Lenes, Bosson, & Carvallo, 2014; Barnes, Brown, & Osterman, 2012; Rodriguez Mosquera, 2016). Losing honor has serious consequences (Fiske & Rai, 2014; Vandello & Cohen, 2008). In some regions of the world, women who have their chastity impugned, or their sexual conduct called into question, might be victims of violence and killed by members of their own family (whether husbands, fathers, or brothers) trying to

Criminal Organizations and Masculine Honor: Strategic Exploitation


restore the family honor (i.e., the so-called honor killings). Dishonored men, instead, are ostracized and excluded from social life. Their shame prevents them from taking part in many of the rituals characterizing communal life (i.e., sharing food and drinks with other men in the public arena). However, it should also be noted that cultural (or subcultural) codes of honor do not merely foster indiscriminate violence. Whereas violence employed to restore honor is generally considered legitimate, individuals in honor cultures might be even more disapproving of indiscriminate aggression, such as starting a fight for fun, compared to individuals from other cultural areas (Cohen & Nisbett, 1994; Harinck, Shafa, Ellemers, & Beersma, 2013; Shafa, Harinck, Ellemers, & Beersma, 2015). Presumably, this might be due to individuals’ awareness of the serious and long-lasting consequences of employing violence, as well as to the implications of needlessly offending someone. The honor cultural code, therefore, can be conceptualized as a general set of norms, beliefs, and practices regulating relationships and interactions in society. This code prescribes the circumstances in which violence is legitimate, who can and should enact violence against whom, and how violence should be employed (Copes et al., 2013). In line with ICAT’s analysis, we contend that it can also be used as an ideological device to sustain relationships of domination in society (Travaglino & Abrams, 2019). In the context of Italian criminal organizations, as well as other violent gangs and groups (Anderson, 1999; Horowitz, 1983; for a review see Copes et al., 2013; cf. also Fiske & Rai, 2014), the honor code may provide these agents with legitimacy, social influence, and ultimately the ability to exert secret power.

 riminal Organizations and Masculine Honor: Strategic C Exploitation There is evidence in anthropological and sociological accounts that criminal organizations present themselves as the embodiment of masculine honor-related values (Schneider & Schneider, 2003). Affiliates of the organization are known as “men of honor.” Their behavior scrupulously follows the dictates of the honor code. For instance, they are quick to retaliate violently against offenses to their reputation, women, and families. Moreover, they publicly enforce traditional values, ostensibly prohibiting members of the organization from betraying their wives. Purportedly, they kill only when such values are infringed. These actions are meant to signal what the organization’s members stand for, and the values they embrace and embody. At the same time, “men of honor” strengthen and reinforce such values in the community by disseminating them and emphasizing their centrality and importance. Criminal organizations’ propaganda and practices used to disseminate their values are hard to investigate given the clandestine and illegal nature of these groups. Some research in Mexico has analyzed the different strategies narcogangs use to disseminate their messages, ranging from graffiti to public banners, strategic use of violence, and even control of local media and social networks (Atuesta, 2017;


4  Assessing the Empirical Evidence: Masculine Honor Values and Organized Crime

Campbell, 2014; Rios & Rivera, 2019). According to Campbell (2014), these messages enable narcogangs to solidify their legitimacy among the population, while at the same time signaling the state’s inability to protect its citizens. In this sense, narcogangs produce a political discourse, mobilizing meanings and using different channels to put forward their claims to the control of the territory. Similar attempts to propagate their values, signaling their adherence to the masculine honor culture might be found in the actions of Italian criminal organizations (Toros & Mavelli, 2013; Travaglino & Abrams, 2019). For instance, young members of the Neapolitan mafia—known as camorra—use social networks such as Facebook to display their capacity for violence. They pose for the camera holding guns and automatic weapons, write posts insulting the state and the police, and post messages of support for jailed associates. These practices enable young members associated with the organizations to display their values and social standing in front of their peers. Moreover, local singers, called neomelodici (new-melodists), subvert local musical traditions disseminating values linked to omertà and honor within their songs. Those singers are often invited to camorra’s members’ parties and banquets to entertain the guests. Neomeolodics might be directly linked to specific criminal groups, and their music be financed by local bosses (Pine, 2008). They also have a following among local people, thanks to the status gained from their contact with members of criminal organizations. Their performances promote values and beliefs that are consonant with those of criminal organizations, representing and estheticizing the violence used to defend one’s honor as necessary, epic, and beautiful. An additional recent example of how criminal organizations manipulate public discourse comes from Poppi, Travaglino and Di Piazza (2018). In this study, we analyzed in depth a TV interview with Giuseppe Riina, the son of the mafia Boss Toto’ Riina, and a member of Cosa Nostra in its own right (Poppi et al., 2018). In this controversial interview, broadcasted on Italian national television in April 2016, Giuseppe Riina talks about his adolescence and family life, as well as his relationship with his father. During the interview, Riina conveys the importance of values and practices such as “never ask questions,” “a critical acceptance of the father authority,” and “respect for the family,” regardless of the circumstances. He justifies his father’s behavior because he was his father. Unsurprisingly, the interview drew vast criticisms and sparked outrage in Italy. It was widely seen as an opportunity for Riina to promote his father’s image as “an upstanding man who respects family and traditional values,” deny the criminal essence of the mafia, and amplify the importance of the mafia’s alleged core values of simplicity, respect, and masculinity. In addition, criminal organizations strategically appropriate and emphasize values of reciprocity important in honor cultures (Schneider & Schneider, 2003). Mafiosi are extremely skilled in building webs of mutual obligation with a variety of different social actors, including community leaders, members of the police force, politicians, and other citizens in key positions. They appear as pleasant and good company, astutely manipulating the politeness and hospitality that are central values in cultures of honor (cf. Cohen & Vandello, 2004). The social connections

Social Embedding: The Roots of Omertà


mafiosi create as a result of their dealings are extremely important because such connections provide mafiosi with the ability to “make things happen.” As a consequence, members of the community may ask mafiosi for jobs, opportunities, access to resources, or contacts otherwise perceived as unobtainable (Pine, 2008; Schneider & Schneider, 2003). Thanks to their connections and an attentive control of the territory, mafiosi may be able to satisfy these demands, creating additional links and relations in the process that could become useful in the future. Recent anthropological research on the ‘Ndrangheta (the mafia group in Calabria, an Italian region) shows how ‘ndranghetisti (local mafia bosses)’s practice of free gift giving to community members might be functional to create consensus within the population (Pipyrou, 2014). Free gifts may be services, favors, or goods that are given without clear expectations that the gift be returned. Such gifts, however, create the potential for relatedness, entangling people in relationships of reciprocity, as well as contributing to a create myth about criminal groups’ generosity. Other institutions such as the police force or local branches of government might not be able to match these services and favors, either due to bureaucratic constraints or inefficiency, and thus appear in the eye of local communities as “distant” or “weak.” The above examples provide some insight into how criminal groups, such as Italian criminal organizations, use different strategies to showcase the values and beliefs they support. We contend that the purpose of these actions is twofold. On the one hand, they magnify the importance of these values in receptive communities. In line with ICAT’s mechanism of strategic exploitation, criminal organizations propagate and disseminate ideas about the importance of traditions, respect, family, masculinity, and reciprocity. On the other hand, such actions also serve the purpose of increasing criminal organizations’ social embedding, by signaling what these groups stand for and what they embody. In the next section, we review empirical evidence indicating that when individuals embrace similar sets of values grounded in masculine honor, they are more likely to perceive criminal organizations positively, and less likely to oppose them.

Social Embedding: The Roots of Omertà ICAT posits that non-state agents accrue legitimacy and social influence by representing themselves as the embodiment of social values shared within the communities (Travaglino, 2017; Travaglino & Abrams, 2019). Criminal organizations do use violence to control the territory. However, we contend that only using violence is not sufficient, but their ability to exert secret power and illegal governance is instead rooted in shared values of masculine honor (Travaglino & Abrams, 2019). To examine these claims, recently, in two separated studies, we asked 121 (Mage  =  20.42) participants from various Northern Italian regions and 301 (Mage  =  17.50) from a southern Italian region (Campania) to take part in surveys measuring individuals’ perceptions of criminal organizations (Travaglino, Abrams,


4  Assessing the Empirical Evidence: Masculine Honor Values and Organized Crime

& Randsley de Moura, 2014). In these surveys, we measured individuals’ endorsement of masculine honor-related values, their perceptions of criminal organizations, and their intentions to engage in collective antimafia activities (see Travaglino, Abrams, & Randsley de Moura, 2014; Travaglino, Abrams, Randsley de Moura, & Russo, 2014 for a full list of measures). Collective antimafia activities are activities aimed at publicly challenging criminal organizations, for instance, using public demonstrations, and creating associations that protest criminal organizations’ actions in society. Masculine honor was measured using a scale developed by Barnes et al. (2012). This scale includes 16 items measuring individuals’ agreement with men’s use of violence in situations threatening their honor (e.g., “A man has the right to act with physical aggression toward another man who calls him an insulting name”) and with characteristics that allegedly should define what a real man is (e.g., “A real man will never back down from a fight”). These items were averaged together to form an index of individuals’ endorsement of masculine honor-related values. We selected this measure because it has two important characteristics. First, the way in which the items are formulated makes it possible for both men and women to indicate the extent to which they endorse male honor-related values. In cultures of honor, values prescribing the use of male violence are endorsed more strongly by men. Nonetheless, women may also share similar values, as women play an important role in transmitting such values to their children (Barnes et al., 2012). Second, this measure does not ask about individuals’ aggressive attitudes or the likelihood they would personally engage in violence. Rather, the measure specifically taps into individuals’ approval of male violence and toughness in situations threatening honor. This is in line with our aim to examine how social meaning may justify and legitimize a group’s exercise of social power. Additional measures of individuals’ perception of criminal organizations and individuals’ intentions to oppose these groups were developed specifically for those studies. The former construct was measured by asking participants the extent to which they thought criminal organizations’ actions were legitimate, and to what extent they approved of the outcome of criminal organizations’ actions. To measure individuals’ intentions to oppose criminal organizations collectively (antimafia activities), instead, we asked participants about the likelihood that they would take part in collective action against the mafia, such as a protest march, signing a petition against mafia, joining an antimafia organization, or convincing other people to join it. Results from these two surveys supported ICAT’s main contention. That is, individuals who endorsed masculine honor-related values to a greater degree also reported stronger positive attitudes towards criminal organizations. Stronger positive attitudes were, in turn, related to lower intentions to engage in collective antimafia activities. This evidence is in line with the idea that criminal organizations’ legitimacy is grounded in values of masculine honor. Individuals (male or female) who endorse these values perceive male violence as a suitable tool to regulate relationships in society, and believe that toughness and bravery are attributes defining a “real man” (Barnes et al., 2012). Within this shared cultural framework, the actions

Social Embedding: The Roots of Omertà


of criminal organizations’ members, “men of honor” as they call themselves, become more acceptable and legitimate. This basic process underpinning omertà has been replicated across different studies and samples (see Travaglino & Abrams, 2019 for a review). The model remained stable, even when we statistically accounted for the effects of individuals’ system-justifying tendencies and their level of social dominance orientation. Finally, the analyses also hold when controlling for gender, demonstrating that a similar psychological process operates among both male and female participants. This model of omertà has also been applied in the context of moral emotions such as shame and guilt (Travaglino, Abrams, Randsley de Moura, & Russo, 2014). Shame is an important emotion because, feelings of shame indicates that individuals consider their actions as immoral and unworthy (Iyer & Leach, 2009). Shame can also be perceived vicariously, on behalf of others’ wrongdoings (Lickel, Schmader, Curtis, Scarnier, & Ames, 2005). In a survey reported in Travaglino, Abrams, Randsley de Moura, and Russo (2014), we asked 170 participants aged Mage = 16.17 to indicate how ashamed they felt when they learned about criminal organizations’ wrongdoings in national and international media. In this study, we also measured individuals’ endorsement of masculine honor values and intentions to oppose criminal organizations collectively, using the same scales as described above. In line with the idea that individuals’ endorsement of masculine honor is linked to the legitimization of criminal organizations, individuals who endorsed masculine honor values also reported lower vicarious shame in relation to the publicization of criminal organizations’ wrongdoings in the media. Presumably, this is because endorsement of such values meant that individuals did not perceive criminal organizations’ actions as immoral. Interestingly, in Travaglino, Abrams, and Randsley de Moura (2014)’s and subsequent studies, we also measured the perceived risk of opposing criminal organizations. If the accounts of omertà as generalized passivity and fear hold true, this variable should explain most of individuals’ willingness to engage in collective action against criminal organizations. However, in line with ICAT, and specifically with an account of omertà that highlights the central role of the dynamics of legitimization of criminal organizations (as opposed to avoidance and passivity), perceived risk was not a significant predictor of individuals’ willingness to engage in antimafia activities. In fact, in one of our studies (Travaglino, Abrams, Randsley de Moura, & Russo, 2015) perceived risk was positively associated with individuals’ intentions to engage in antimafia activities, consonant with the idea that coercive power is not an effective means of social control but can instead generate resistance against groups perceived as the “oppressors”. Travaglino, Abrams, and Randsley de Moura (2014)’s model of omertà was replicated in both the northern (study 1) and southern (study 2) Italian contexts. These two areas of Italy are characterized by a different emphasis on honor-related values, with the southern regions displaying stronger adherence to honor-related norms (Knight & Nisbett, 2007). Thus, evidence from this study seems to suggest that it is the endorsement of masculine honor-related values at the individual level, rather than the extent to which those norms are prevalent at the collective level, that plays a more important role in individuals’ perception of and intentions to oppose ­criminal


4  Assessing the Empirical Evidence: Masculine Honor Values and Organized Crime

organizations. However, it should be noted that this evidence is far from conclusive because currently there exists no systematic empirical exploration of North-South differences in the perception of criminal organizations, and more research is needed to examine the articulation between macro cultural contexts, endorsement of values at the individual level, and individuals’ perception of these groups.

Other Predictors of Omertà In an earlier chapter, we presented a definition of omertà as a code prescribing silence towards others’ criminal activities (regardless of one’s status as perpetrator, bystander, or victim), and imposing non-collaboration with police forces (Paoli, 2003). In other words, the code of omertà encompasses both the mandate of “minding one’s own business” and of self-reliance vis-à-vis institutional authorities, thus limiting cooperation with police forces. In Travaglino, Abrams, & Randsley de Moura (2014; study 2), we drew on this definition and explored additional potential constructs and predictors associated with the notion of omertà. We operationalized the mandate of “minding one’s own business” as the psychological construct of “collective motive” (Klandermans, 1984). According to Klandermans (1984), an important motive explaining why people engage in collective action across contexts concerns the extent to which they value the goal of the collective mobilization (e.g., defeating criminal organizations). Importantly, such a motive interacts with individuals’ expectations about being able to achieve the mobilization goal through collective efforts (cf. Feather, 1982). We believe the construct of collective motive accurately captures the mandate of collective passivity which is related to omertà. In principle, individuals might value the goal of collectively defeating criminal organizations, but they will not act without the belief that the goal could be achieved. The mandate of non-cooperation with police forces was instead operationalized using the construct of anxiety of interacting with the police (Eller, Abrams, Viki, Imara, & Peerbux, 2007; Viki, Culmera, Eller, & Abrams, 2006). The rationale for this operationalization was that the prohibition of cooperation with authorities implies that contact with the police might be perceived as inappropriate and disloyal in the eyes of others. Members of the police force may be deemed “outsiders,” representatives of a state authority perceived as distant and unhelpful. In such circumstances, people cannot be seen as departing from shared social norms prescribing limited contact with the police, or might not want to risk losing the respect of other members of the community. Even more importantly, individuals must incur the risk of appearing to be snitches or “infami” (the Italian word that is generally used for those who betray the code of omertà, meaning traitorous, shameful individuals). Thus, we expected that for individuals who embrace values of masculine honor, the prospect of having contact with the police might be uncomfortable and generate anxiety. In line with this idea, previous research in other contexts demonstrates that

The Role of Other Honor Codes


individuals who perceive such contact as threatening are also less likely to report crimes to the police (Viki, Culmer, Eller, & Abrams, 2006). Importantly, following ICAT, individuals’ collective motive to oppose criminal organizations and their anxiety about interacting with the police should be predicted by the extent to which they endorse masculine honor. Travaglino, Abrams, & Randsley de Moura (2014; study 2)’s results provided evidence for this model. Specifically, the more individuals endorsed cultural values of masculine honor, the lower they valued the goal of a collective mobilization against criminal organizations, and higher their anxiety about interacting with the police. These variables, together with individuals’ positive perceptions of criminal organizations’ actions, explained the association between masculine honor-related values and individuals’ intentions to oppose these groups collectively. This model, reproduced in Fig. 4.1, provided support for the idea that individuals’ endorsement of masculine honor-­ related values sustains criminal organizations’ legitimacy in society.

The Role of Other Honor Codes Honor is a multifaceted and complex cultural syndrome (Rodriguez Mosquera, 2016). Importantly, honor encompasses different sets of norms about women’s, as well as men’s, behavior. Moreover, as indicated by previous research, another important aspect of honor relates to individuals’ subjective concerns about their own reputation and social image (Rodriguez-Mosquera, 2016; Uskul et al., 2019). An important research question concerns the role that each of these specific aspects of the honor cultural syndrome, namely masculine, feminine, and subjective concerns about reputation, has in explaining the way in which individuals perceive, and intend to act against, criminal organizations. One may expect one of two broad patterns of results to emerge (Travaglino, 2017). One possibility is that masculine honor-related values play a specific and unique role in sustaining criminal organizations’ social influence and secret power. This hypothesis implies that, to the extent that individuals embrace masculine honor values (but not other aspects of honor), they also have a more positive view of criminal organizations. Such a hypothesis is compatible with ICAT’s proposition that it is criminal organizations’ ability to mobilize meanings related to masculine honor, and the strategic self-presentation of their members as “men of honor,” that bestows these groups with the legitimacy necessary to exert illegal governance in “their” territories. An alternative view is that it is individuals’ generalized endorsement of cultural values of honor that enables criminal organizations to maintain their social standing. This proposition would perhaps be more consistent with the passivity accounts described earlier because it would ground individuals’ legitimization of criminal organizations in individuals’ generalized ethos and cultural beliefs, rather than in criminal organizations’ strategic use of symbols and shared values posited by ICAT.



Attitudes toward criminal organizations

Collective Motive



Collective Antimafia Activities

Perceived Risk

Fig. 4.1  Path model testing the psychological predictors and implications of omertà. Adapted from Travaglino, Abrams, and Randsley de Moura (2014)

Notes: N = 301; dashed lines indicates non-significant paths (ps >.05); all other paths were statistically significant at p < .05; ‘+’ and ‘-’ indicate the direction of the relationship between variables. Contact with police was control variable on individuals’ anxiety about police. Regional identity (not showed in this figure) was a further predictor of individuals’ endorsement of masculine honor values.

Masculine Honor


Anxiety about Police

32 4  Assessing the Empirical Evidence: Masculine Honor Values and Organized Crime

Regional Identity and Honor Codes


We tested these different alternatives in a study (Travaglino, Abrams, & Russo, 2017) involving a large, gender-balanced sample of 1,173 adolescents from three different high schools in Campania. In this study, in addition to Barnes et al. (2012)’s honor ideology for manhood scale, we also measured individuals’ endorsement of prescriptions concerning female behaviors. Specifically, we used the Honor Ideology for Womanhood scale developed by Barnes et  al. (2014). This scale includes 12 items measuring individuals’ agreement with statements emphasizing the virtues and behavior that characterize honorable women. Example items are “A respectable woman knows that what she does reflects on her family name,” “A good woman stands by her man at all times,” and “A good woman never tolerates disrespect.” Moreover, we measured individuals’ concern for their own reputation and social image by using the scale developed by Rodriguez Mosquera, Fischer, Manstead, and Zaalberg (2008), the Honor Values scales. Rather than endorsement of general prescriptions about men’s and women’s social behavior, this scale measures to what extent individuals value their own and their family’s reputation. For instance, individuals were asked how much they thought it important that others saw them as “someone deserving respect” or someone “not to be disrespected,” and whether they regarded as important “caring about the implications of their actions for their family’s social image.” Results from this study supported ICAT’s contention that criminal organizations’ legitimacy is grounded in their ability to embody masculine honor-related values. Specifically, for both male and female participants and controlling statistically for the other facets of honor, only individuals’ endorsement of the masculine honor ideology was associated with more positive attitudes towards criminal organizations, and lower intentions to oppose these groups. In contrast, there was no statistically significant association between the other components of the honor cultural syndrome and individuals’ perception of criminal organizations. Additional statistical analyses demonstrated that individuals’ concerns for reputation and social image were linked to individuals’ intentions to oppose criminal organizations but only among men, not women. This was presumably due to the fact that, compared to women, men’s subjective concerns with honor and reputation assumed a meaning closer to the norms and values measured using the honor ideology for manhood scale.

Regional Identity and Honor Codes We have argued that members of criminal organizations mobilize meaning and values related to masculine honor to sustain their position of dominance in society. Through their actions and statements, they emphasize the importance of these values for the local community, representing themselves as what the community stands for. Such dynamics are an important source of legitimacy for criminal organizations because they lead residents of local communities to perceive members of criminal organizations as belonging to “us,” rather than as deviant outsiders (cf. Horowitz, 1983).


4  Assessing the Empirical Evidence: Masculine Honor Values and Organized Crime

Prior research has shown that the cultural code of masculine honor is an important component of what it means to be southern Italian (Knight & Nisbett, 2007; Travaglino, Abrams, & Randsley de Moura, 2014). We, thus, investigated the association between masculine honor and identity in a study of 170 individuals from southern Italy (Travaglino et  al., 2015). More specifically, we examined the role played by two different group memberships, a southern regional group (i.e., being Campani) and the national group (i.e., being Italian). We reasoned that, whereas valuing a regional identity may reflect more strongly local values and traditions of masculine honor, such values would be less relevant for a national identity. In other words, we predicted that cultural values of masculine honor sustaining criminal organizations’ secret power would be associated more strongly with a regional, rather than national, identity. Results from the study supported this idea. Individuals who valued their regional identity more strongly also reported a stronger endorsement of masculine honor values, and subsequently reported lower intentions to oppose criminal organizations collectively. Conversely, valuing a national identity was negatively associated with endorsement of these values, and subsequently higher intentions to oppose criminal organizations. These findings suggest that members of criminal organizations, by mobilizing meaning and values related to masculine honor, may be successful in portraying themselves as part of a valued local group membership, thus limiting opposition from local communities. It should be noted that, in this study, there was no direct link between regional identity and lack of opposition against criminal organizations. Rather, it is only through the values and meaning related to masculine honor that regional identity was linked to support for criminal organizations. Mobilizing different beliefs linked to this identity should result in different outcomes. This proposition was tested in Travaglino et  al. (2017)’s large empirical study of southern Italian adolescents already mentioned above. In Travaglino et al. (2017), in addition to the measures described earlier, we also measured individuals’ adherence to a “social change” set of beliefs (Abrams, 1990; Abrams & Grant, 2012; Abrams et  al., 2019). The social change belief structure refers to individuals’ indorsement of the idea that the group’s situation may improve, and the ingroup free itself from a dominant outgroup, only if there is a major societal change that alters the structure of the intergroup relationships. The measure of social change beliefs—adapted from previous research (Abrams & Grant, 2012)— included items such as “The situation in Campania can improve only if the Camorra is defeated completely” and “People in Campania will only improve their situation if the Camorra is completely eliminated.” In the context of criminal organizations, individuals who identify with a southern Italian regional identity should also place more importance in the goal of improving the group’s situation, acting to liberate it from a dominant outgroup. This prediction was supported by the results of the study (Travaglino et  al., 2017). Individuals identifying as Campani (a southern Italian regional group) were more likely to endorse values of masculine honor, which were subsequently linked to lower opposition to criminal organizations. However, such identity was also

Regional Identity and Honor Codes


linked to a stronger adherence to a social change structure of beliefs, auspicating a radical social change vis-à-vis the presence of criminal organizations in the territory. Social change beliefs were in turn related to stronger intentions to engage in opposition against criminal organizations. Interestingly, there was also a negative relationship between individuals’ endorsement of masculine honor-related values and their adherence to a social change set of beliefs, in keeping with the idea that values of masculine honor may make these groups appear as more legitimate and the status quo less in need of change. Results from this study indicate that the link between regional identity and individuals’ lack of opposition towards, and support of, criminal organizations is a complex one. In line with ICAT, and contra to the earlier conceptualization of omertà, there is no direct association between regional identity and support for criminal organizations. Regional identity plays a role only on the bases of the meaning and values mobilized by this identity. Overall, the findings summarized in this chapter are consistent with ICAT’s main proposition that masculine honor is the source of criminal organizations’ legitimacy in society. The more individuals endorse values of masculine honor, the more they perceive the group’s actions as legitimate. Moreover, in line with the definition of omertà (Paoli, 2003), empirical findings show that individuals’ endorsement of masculine honor values is also a predictor of individuals’ indifference towards the goals of a collective mobilization against criminal organizations (“mind your own business”), and their anxiety about interacting with the police (“don’t appear a snitch”). The findings highlight the association between individuals’ endorsement of regional identity and cultural beliefs in sustaining criminal organizations’ secret power. Contrary to previous approaches, ICAT recognizes the importance of considering the way in which both the community and criminal groups actively negotiated their respective roles within the social context, by sharing and endorsing similar values, beliefs, and practices (Travaglino & Abrams, 2019). In the next chapter, we examine the role of contact between members of criminal organizations and the community in further strengthening criminal organizations’ control over the territory.

Chapter 5

Intergroup Contact in the Context of Criminal Organizations

As discussed in Chap. 3, ICAT postulates the existence of two interrelated processes, namely strategic exploitation and social embedding. For Italian criminal organizations, the strategic use of masculine honor values is aligned with their use of the code of omertà, which prohibits collaboration with law enforcement agencies. In abidance with the code, community members rarely report criminal organizations’ crimes to the authorities or oppose criminal organizations’ actions (Travaglino, Abrams, & Randsley de Moura, 2014; Travaglino, Abrams, Randsley de Moura, & Russo, 2014). In fact, betraying the code of omertà may result in the loss of respect from other community members, and potentially elicit retaliation from criminal organizations or the wider community (Paoli, 2003). Thus, criminal organizations’ use of values of masculinity provides them with the ability to maintain control, and exert secret power, over the community. In the previous chapter, we examined some of the ways that criminal organizations mobilize meaning that sustains their position of dominance in society. In order to convey their adherence to masculine honor values and strengthen the importance of such beliefs within the community, criminal organizations may use a variety of different channels. For instance, they engage in behavior that reflects their adherence to masculine honor values (e.g., exemplary killings), strive to portray themselves as “real men” in the public discourse (e.g., using the media), and even use entertainment and songs to emphasize the importance of the code of omertà. In this chapter, we examine important recent evidence concerning an additional channel through which criminal organizations disseminate their values and obtain consensus. Specifically, we examine the antecedents and implications of social interactions between members of such groups and individuals from the local community. Members of criminal organization must operate covertly, and keep their affiliation a secret due to the fact that mere membership in such organizations is criminalized by the state. Nonetheless, perhaps paradoxically, they must also engage

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 G. A. Travaglino, L. Drury, The Secret Power of Criminal Organizations, SpringerBriefs in Psychology,



5  Intergroup Contact in the Context of Criminal Organizations

in overt contact with members of local communities to be able to exert governance, establish important relationships with other agents, and project their power publicly. Based on a theoretical integration of ICAT (Travaglino & Abrams, 2019) and intergroup contact theory (Allport, 1954; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006), this chapter summarizes empirical evidence examining the issue of social contact between community members and criminal organizations. First, we briefly introduce intergroup contact theory, a central theoretical framework in psychology that examines the consequences of social encounters between different groups for intergroup attitudes and engagement in social activism (Dhont, Van Hiel, & Hewstone, 2014; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006; Reimer et al., 2017; Shook, Hopkins, & Koech, 2016; Yetkili, Abrams, Travaglino, & Giner-Sorolla, 2018). We then use this framework to analyze contact in the context of criminal organizations in southern Italy. Specifically, we describe some recent empirical evidence concerning antecedents and implications of individuals’ contact with members of these groups.

Intergroup Contact Theory Intergroup contact theory is based on the notion that positive contact between individuals from different social groups encourages more positive attitudes among those individuals (Allport, 1954; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006). The outcomes of positive contact between individuals generalize to the entire group (Pettigrew, 2008), improving social relationships. The empirical and theoretical underpinnings of intergroup contact theory were developed during the early to mid nineteenth century with a focus on reducing prejudice towards minority groups (Allport, 1954; Horowitz, 1936; Smith, 1943; Watson, 1947; Williams Jr., 1947; Zeligs & Hendrickson, 1933). For example, Deutsch and Collins (1950, 1951) compared racial attitudes of White Americans living in integrated housing projects to those living in segregated housing projects. White residents that had been assigned to integrated apartments experienced more frequent and positive contact with outgroup members and they also displayed more positive racial attitudes and less racial stereotyping. In addition to prejudice towards minority groups in segregated areas, a vast body of research reveals how positive intergroup contact can improve attitudes towards outgroups based on a vast array of different social categories (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006, 2008). For instance, evidence suggests that good quality contact between the public and the police increases the public’s positive attitudes towards the police and a desire for more closeness to the police (Eller, Abrams, Viki, Imara, & Peerbux, 2007). In addition, Pettigrew and Tropp’s (2006) meta-analysis of over 500 studies showed that intergroup contact is highly effective in improving intergroup relations in groups varying by age, sexual orientation, and physical ability. Therefore, contact can be considered an effective tool for altering attitudes towards a range of social groups, even in the absence of conflict and segregation.

Antecedents of Intergroup Contact: The Role of Individual Differences


Most of the intergroup contact literature assumes that positive intergroup contact between members of different social groups is beneficial for society, due to the resulting increase in social equality and harmony between groups. However, an emerging body of research examines some undesirable or “ironic” effects of contact, which in some circumstances may destabilize social harmony and perpetuate social inequality (for a review, see McKeown & Dixon, 2017). This research indicates that positive intergroup contact can influence disadvantaged group members’ political attitudes and behaviors in such a way that is damaging to the interests of that group. For example, research indicates that while contact between Black and White South Africans reduces negative intergroup attitudes for both groups, it also decreases Black South Africans’ acknowledgement of the persisting discrimination experienced in post-­apartheid South Africa (Dixon, Durrheim, & Tredoux, 2007). Therefore, in these circumstances, intergroup contact can have deleterious effects in terms of social equality. Little research has examined the fact that contact might also have “ironic” effects in the context of interactions between community members and members who belong to unlawful groups, such as criminal and terrorist organizations and gangs. In a recent set of studies (Drury & Travaglino, 2019; Travaglino & Drury, 2019), we theorized that contact between members of criminal organizations and members of the community might help the former to maintain consensus and social influence. This is because such contact provides criminal organizations with an important opportunity to propagate their values and present themselves as the embodiment of masculine honor.

 ntecedents of Intergroup Contact: The Role of Individual A Differences In addition to identifying the range of target groups that can benefit from positive intergroup contact, several studies have also examined which individuals are more likely to engage in contact. For example, when individuals are highly anxious about intergroup encounters, they are also less likely to engage in contact with members of the outgroup. Conversely, those individuals who have a general positive orientation towards others (i.e., self-expansion) are more strongly drawn to interact with members of a different group (Paolini, Wright, Dys-Steenbergen, & Favara, 2016). Intergroup contact is also more likely for individuals with particular personality traits, social orientations, or social attitudes (Boccato, Capozza, Trifiletti, & Di Bernardo, 2015; Hodson & Dhont, 2015; Jackson & Poulsen, 2005; Turner, Dhont, Hewstone, Prestwich, & Vonofakou, 2014). For instance, individuals who score highly in the personality trait of extraversion (McCrae & Costa, 2008) are more likely to engage in intergroup contact with members of another group (Turner et al., 2014). Those high in authoritarian traits, instead, are more likely to avoid contact (Pettigrew, 2008). Research also shows that contact has stronger benefits, in terms


5  Intergroup Contact in the Context of Criminal Organizations

of improving intergroup relationships, for individuals high in social dominance orientation (Hodson, 2011; Hodson & Dhont, 2015). Conversely, there is evidence suggesting that intergroup contact may shape individuals’ personality and social orientation (Dhont et al., 2014; Shook et al., 2016; Vezzali, Turner, Capozza, & Trifiletti, 2018). Increased levels of positive contact are related to individuals’ reduced levels of social dominance orientation (Shook et al., 2016). Moreover, longitudinal studies examining high school students’ intergroup contact showed a bi-directional relationship between personality traits and contact. In these studies, higher levels of agreeableness and openness to experience predicted subsequent good quality intergroup contact, and good quality intergroup contact was related to subsequent higher levels of agreeableness and openness to experience (Vezzali et al., 2018). Taken together, this body of research suggests that differences in personality and social orientation may influence individuals’ willingness to engage in contact with outgroup members. At the same time, experiences of intergroup contact may have a deep influence on individuals and shape their personality and attitudes. Thus, whereas intergroup contact can be considered as a situational framework that explains variations in intergroup attitudes as a function of the situation in which individuals interact with members of other groups, this research indicates that it is important to consider also how individuals’ differences in a variety of domains may play a role in the selection of, or be shaped by, such situations (see Jackson & Poulsen, 2005).

Culture and Contact with Members of Organized Crime Research on the antecedents of contact has focused on differences in traits and social orientations that predispose individuals to contact with outgroup members. However, this research has not examined the question of which groups individuals select for contact. In other words, why are individuals motivated to select those situations and circumstances in which they may engage in contact with a given outgroup, compared to other potential situations and groups. This question is especially salient in the context of criminal organizations, whereby otherwise law-abiding community members interact with groups that are threatening, illegal, and violent. We recently proposed that a variable that may play an important role in driving individuals towards instances of contact with specific outgroups is culture (Drury & Travaglino, 2019; Travaglino & Drury, 2019). As we discussed in Chap. 3, culture guides individuals’ interpretation of social reality, and gives meaning to the world around them. Cultural values and beliefs serve to identify targets in the “us” group, and differentiate them from those that should be avoided (Brewer & Yuki, 2014). We contended that the cultural values individuals hold might, therefore, contribute to individuals’ appraisal of whether engaging in contact with a given outgroup is appropriate.

Culture and Contact with Members of Organized Crime


According to ICAT, criminal organizations strategically appropriate values of masculine honor. We theorized that to the extent that individuals endorse these values in the southern Italian context, they should be also more likely to engage in contact with members of organized crime. Such contact might in turn provide criminal organizations with an opportunity to portray themselves as the embodiment of masculine honor, boosting their social status and influence. In other words, contact may be a key way for criminal organizations to strengthen their image as “men of honor” and obtain the ability to exert secret power. Moreover, in line with the research on contact reviewed before, contact might also boost endorsement of cultural values by strengthening individuals’ adherence to them. This is also in line with criminological research suggesting that the presence of criminal groups within a geographical area may lead to the propagation of criminal attitudes and values in the community (Spergel, 1995; Sutherland, 1937; see Wood & Alleyne, 2010 for a review). We examined the relationships between individuals’ endorsement of masculine honor and frequency of contact with members of criminal organizations by analyzing longitudinally some measures from previous datasets (Travaglino, 2018; see Travaglino, Abrams, & Randsley de Moura, 2014; Travaglino, Abrams, Randsley de Moura, & Russo, 2015). More specifically, we tested whether cultural values of masculine honor predicted higher frequency of contact with members of criminal organizations after 5 months and, conversely, whether frequent contact with members of criminal organizations resulted in subsequent greater endorsement of masculine honor values. Time 1 (T1) data were collected in January 2014 and Time 2 (T2) data were collected in May 2014. Results from this study showed that frequency of contact at T1 and individuals’ endorsement of masculine honor values at T2 were not significantly associated. Masculine honor values at T1, instead, were positively related to frequency of contact with members of the Camorra after 5 months. These results support the idea that culture is a predictor of individuals’ contact with members of criminal organization. They demonstrate that cultural values may steer individuals towards contact with specific outgroup members. However, the results also indicated that unlike personality factors and social attitudes, shared cultural values do not seem to be shaped by contact (Hodson & Dhont, 2015; Jackson & Poulsen, 2005; Turner et al., 2014). We further examined the implications of contact with members of criminal organizations by analyzing additional measures from Travaglino, Abrams, & Randsley de Moura (2014; study 2) cross-sectional study. We discussed that criminal organizations may use contact with members of the community to reaffirm their adherence to values of masculine honor. In line with the process of social embedding postulated by ICAT, criminal organizations’ legitimacy and ability to exert governance depend on their capacity to represent themselves as the embodiment of masculine honor values. Thus, we tested whether more frequent contact with members of criminal organizations predicted individuals’ perception of such members as matching ideals of masculinity and honor, a variable we named “romanticization” (Travaglino & Drury, 2019). Romanticization was measured using items such as “In general, men who belong to the Camorra have a high sense of honor,” “Camorra is


5  Intergroup Contact in the Context of Criminal Organizations

highly respected by people who live in Campania,” and “Camorra is an important part of the region’s history.” Results from these analyses supported our hypotheses. Replicating the findings described above, individuals who reported a stronger endorsement of masculine honor were also more likely to report more frequent contact with members of the Camorra, the local mafia group in Naples (Campania). In turn, more frequent contact was positively related to a greater tendency to romanticize criminal organizations. This created an indirect positive effect from masculine honor to romanticization via contact. Thus, these results supported the idea that individuals’ endorsement of masculine honor values predicts more frequent involvement in situations in which they have contact with members of criminal organizations. Contact, in turn, predicts individuals’ perception of these groups as matching ideals related to masculine honor. This latter study demonstrated that intergroup contact theory can be used to understand how criminal organizations promote and maintain power within the community. Even secret criminal groups can garner benefits by aligning themselves with important shared cultural values and mobilizing these meanings strategically. Hence, examining contact in the context of criminal organizations presents a new avenue for intergroup contact theory. The findings described so far identify a further “ironic” effect of intergroup contact (McKeown & Dixon, 2017). Instead of bringing about equality and a more socially harmonious society, contact may enable agents such as criminal organizations to propagate their adherence to values and beliefs that sustain their secret power in society.

Intergroup Contact and Social Activism Previous research considering different types of groups and situations indicates that intergroup contact can contribute to dampen disadvantaged groups’ willingness to engage in social activism, and challenge another group’s position of dominance in society (McKeown & Dixon, 2017). This research shows that instead of anger at the injustice and unequal status relationships, intergroup contact may lead the disadvantaged group to develop more positive attitudes towards the outgroup, which in turn may deter them from engaging in collective political action to protest against inequality (Dixon et al., 2010; Sengupta & Sibley, 2013; Tausch, Saguy, & Bryson, 2015; Tropp, Hawi, Van Laar, & Levin, 2012). For example, positive contact in New Zealand between Māori and individuals of European descent predicts lower Māori’s support for policies designed to increase Māori land registration (Sengupta & Sibley, 2013). This effect is termed as the “sedation” effect (Cakal, Hewstone, Schwär, & Heath, 2011). Research shows that contact demobilizes individuals via several routes (see Reimer et  al., 2017), including ingroup disidentification, reduced group-based anger, reduced perceptions of discrimination, and improved intergroup attitudes. The route via improved attitudes is termed the demobilization-by-liking hypothesis (Reimer et al., 2017). More positive contact with the advantaged group leads to less

Positive and Negative Contact in the Context of Criminal Organizations


negative intergroup attitudes, reducing individuals’ engagement in collective action aimed at changing the intergroup relations. We have previously described evidence indicating that individuals’ endorsement of masculine honor values is associated with reduced social activism against criminal organizations (see Chap. 4). Moreover, earlier in this chapter, we have discussed evidence showing an association between individuals’ endorsement of masculine honor, frequency of contact with members of criminal organizations, and tendency to romanticize members of criminal organizations. Taken together, this work suggests that the negative association between masculine honor values and social activism against criminal organizations may be at least partially explained by contact with members’ criminal organizations. That is, individuals who endorse masculine honor may be less likely to engage in social activism against criminal organizations because they are more likely to interact and engage in contact with members of these groups. Contact, in turn, may dampen individuals’ intentions to engage collectively to change status relationships in society. We examined these predictions together with some of the psychological mechanisms in a third study (Drury & Travaglino, 2019). Importantly, in this study, we also examined the role of the valence of contact in explaining individuals’ perceptions of criminal organizations. The notion of contact valence refers to whether the contact is experienced by individuals as positive or negative.

 ositive and Negative Contact in the Context of Criminal P Organizations An important shortcoming of our previous studies on contact was that they did not consider the valence of intergroup contact experienced by participants. The majority of studies within the intergroup contact literature focus on positive instances of intergroup contact and its implications for positive intergroup attitudes (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006). However, a recent body of research examines the psychological processes involved in, and the outcomes of, negative intergroup contact (Graf & Paolini, 2017). Generally, experiencing positive contact with outgroup members can foster a more sympathetic view of the outgroup. Positive contact increases trust and empathy towards the outgroup (Pettigrew, 1997). It can dissolve intergroup boundaries, replacing a “them” and “us” approach to intergroup relations with a superordinate sense of identity, a “we” (Gaertner et al., 1999). Instead, individuals who experience negative intergroup contact also report more negative intergroup evaluations (Aberson, 2015; Drury, Abrams, Swift, Lamont, & Gerocova, 2017; Wölfer et al., 2017). Criminal organizations attempt to present themselves as the embodiment of masculine honor. Thus, individuals who share those same values should also report more positive contact with members of these groups. In turn, individuals’ ­experiencing more positive contact should be more prone to romanticize criminal


5  Intergroup Contact in the Context of Criminal Organizations

organizations, that is, to perceive them as the embodiment of shared values of masculine honor. Stronger romanticization should subsequently be associated with a reduced intention to engage in social activism against criminal organizations. Previous research indicates that one mechanism through which positive contact may predict beneficial outcomes is by reducing perceived threat from the outgroup (Aberson, 2019). Stephan, Stephan, Demitrakis, Yamada, and Clason (2000) intergroup threat theory describes perceived threat as consisting of two types of threat: symbolic and realistic. Symbolic threat concerns the perception that the outgroup presents a threat to the morals, values, and way of life of the ingroup. Realist threat is the perception that the outgroup presents a threat to the political or economic power or well-being of the ingroup. Both positive and negative forms of intergroup contact are associated (negatively or positively) with perceived threat (Aberson, 2015; Kanas, Scheepers, & Sterkens, 2017; Mähönen & Jasinskaja-Lahti, 2016). Threat also explains the relationships between both negative and positive intergroup contacts and intergroup attitudes (Aberson, 2019). On the basis of these findings, we hypothesized that positive contact between community members and members of criminal organizations should also be associated with reduced perceived threat posed by criminal organizations, and subsequently reduce individuals’ willingness to engage in social activism to oppose these groups. Conversely, negative contact between members of criminal organizations and individuals might be not grounded in the same shared framework of meaning and values. This implies the existence of a weaker relationships between individuals’ endorsement of masculine honor-related values and negative contact with members of criminal organizations. Moreover, individuals who experience negative instances of contact with members of criminal organizations might perceive the group as more threatening and be less prone to romanticize it. Thus, negative contact should be associated with individuals’ stronger intentions to engage in activism to oppose these groups. This set of hypotheses, summarized in the model in Fig. 5.1, were tested in a study consisting of cross-sectional data from 327 Italian adolescents (Mage = 17.40; Drury & Travaglino, 2019). We asked participants to answer a survey measuring individuals’ endorsement of masculine honor (Barnes, Brown, & Osterman, 2012), instances of positive and negative contacts with members of the camorra (Reimer et al., 2017), their tendency to romanticize criminal organizations, and individuals’ intentions to engage in social activism to oppose criminal organizations (as in Travaglino, Abrams, & Randsley de Moura, 2014; Travaglino, Abrams, Randsley de Moura, & Russo, 2014). We also measured individuals’ perceived threat from criminal organizations, using items adapted from existing research tapping perceived threat to liberty (“Members of the Camorra threaten our freedom and rights”), security (“Members of the Camorra threaten our security”), economy (“The presence of members of the Camorra in our country has a negative impact on the economy”), and collective reputation (“Members of the Camorra have a bad effect on the reputation of local people”; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2011; Van Assche, Roets, Dhont, & Van Hiel, 2016). Results supported all but one of the hypothesized relationships in the model. Specifically, results indicated that individuals’ endorsement of masculine honor

Positive and Negative Contact in the Context of Criminal Organizations

Positive Contact



Masculine Honor

Collective Action Intentions

Negative Contact

Tendency to Romanticize Criminal Organizations

Fig. 5.1  Simplified structural equation model showing the role of positive and negative contact in the context of collective action intentions against criminal organizations. Notes: N = 317; dashed lines indicate non-significant paths (ps > 0.05); all other paths were statistically significant at p < 0.05; ‘+’ and ‘−’ indicate the direction of the relationship between variables age and gender were covariates in the model. Measurement models for latent variables are not shown. Adapted from Drury and Travaglino (2019)

was statistically related to positive contact, but not to negative contact. Instances of positive contact were related to lower perceived threat and stronger tendency to romanticize criminal organizations. Instances of negative contact, instead, were related to stronger perceived threat but, contra our hypotheses, they were not statistically linked to lower tendency to romanticize criminal organizations. Threat was positively related to individuals’ intentions to engage in social activism, while individual’s tendency to romanticize criminal organizations was negatively related to their intentions to oppose criminal organizations collectively. In addition, we also found negative indirect effects of masculine honor on individuals’ intentions to engage in social activism. This occurred firstly via increased positive contact then two further independent pathways: a tendency to romanticize the group and decreased perceived threat from criminal organizations. Contra one of the hypotheses, there was no indirect effect from negative contact to social activism via tendency to romanticize, but there was a positive indirect effect via reduced threat. Finally, individuals’ endorsement of masculine honor also directly related to increased tendency to romanticize criminal organizations and to decreased intentions to engage in social activism. There was, instead, no direct effect from masculine honor to threat. Overall, results from this study indicate that individuals who endorse masculine honor are more likely to experience instances of interactions with criminal organizations’ group members as positive, rather than negative. Thus, rejection of masculine honor values did not statistically predict more instances of negative interactions with a group that embodies such values. Our research corroborates the notion that


5  Intergroup Contact in the Context of Criminal Organizations

positive and negative contacts are independent constructs, rather than two ends of the same continuum (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2011). Furthermore, in line with previous research (Reimer et  al., 2017), our results indicate that positive and negative contacts are related to social activism via different psychological mechanisms. Specifically, positive contact was associated with reduced social activism via two indirect psychological pathways. In the first pathway, positive social interactions with members of criminal organizations were linked to reduced perceived threat that criminal organizations present to the local economy and security, which in turn leads to less inclination to protest against those groups. Individuals’ endorsement of masculine honor values had a direct association with a stronger tendency to romanticize criminal organizations. However, merely sharing cultural values in the absence of actual contact was not sufficient to reduce the perception that these groups constitute a threat to society. The effect of individuals’ endorsement of masculine honor values on reduced threat was only indirect, via instances of positive contact with members of such groups. The articulation between positive contact, reduced threat, and lower social activism may illustrate one of the methods criminal organizations use to achieve power in society. Research on contact indicates that when individuals experience positive social encounters with outgroup members they appraise and re-appraise both ingroup and outgroup norms, culture, and behaviors (Pettigrew, 1997, 1998). In the context of organized crime, experiencing positive contact with members of criminal organizations may lead individuals to re-assess the extent of the threat of these groups to society, thereby reducing their motivation to oppose these groups collectively. The second psychological pathway from positive contact to reduced social activism occurred via a stronger tendency to romanticize criminal organizations. Instances of positive contact experienced by community members were linked to a stronger tendency to see the group as embodying cultural values of masculinity and honor. In line with ICAT, this may also enable criminal organizations to limit dissent and opposition within the community. Taken together, these two pathways provide evidence for an instance of social embedding that we termed as demobilization via legitimization. Experiencing positive interactions with criminal organizations reduces the threat these groups induce, and fosters feelings of admiration and liking. These psychological processes legitimize criminal organizations’ norms, values, and actions, leading to lower motivation to engage in social activism against them. Negative instances of contact, instead, were not significantly predicted by the extent to which individuals endorsed masculine honor values. This suggests that negative contact operates on the bases of different meaning, identities, and beliefs. This interpretation is further supported by the fact that there was no significant (neither positive nor negative) link between masculine honor and individuals’ tendency to romanticize criminal organizations. Negative contact was instead associated with increased threat, which then leads to stronger intentions to engage in social activism against criminal organizations. This latter finding further strengthens the point that criminal organizations’ secret power is not grounded in threat, but rather in legitimacy stemming from the ability to embody values endorsed in the population.

Positive and Negative Contact in the Context of Criminal Organizations


Overall, these three studies provide support for the main proposition of ICAT (Travaglino & Abrams, 2019), that cultural honor values are crucial to legitimizing criminal groups. The strength of criminal groups and their ability to wield power over a territory depends chiefly upon the degree to which they are perceived by the community to personify the principles of masculine honor. The findings indicate that shared cultural values increase the likelihood of positive social interaction between the community and criminal organizations’ members. When community members enjoy positive contact with criminal organizations’ members, they perceive criminal organizations as matching masculine honor values and feel less threatened. In turn, these effects reduce individuals’ inclination to engage in social activism against criminal organizations. It is worth noting that within our model the direct effect of masculine honor on collective action remained significant and that the indirect effects via positive contact are relatively small. This suggests that other, yet unidentified, psychological processes from masculine honor to reduced collective action may exist.

Chapter 6

Towards a New Understanding of Criminal Groups’ Secret Power

Illegal agents such as criminal organizations, gangs, and terrorist groups may, in some circumstances and geographical areas, wield extensive power over the community. They may become embedded within the fabric of society, gain control of important aspects of trade and the economy, weaken the status of social institutions, and increase violence. Ultimately, they create alternative systems of authority and governance that exert power over the territory. To explain the psychological bases of these groups’ ability to exert governance, we recently proposed a novel theoretical framework, ICAT (Travaglino & Abrams, 2019). According to ICAT, an authority must sustain itself through legitimacy, if it is to operate effectively over a prolonged period of time (Tyler, 2006b). Mere coercion does not suffice, because—however dramatic and impactful—coercion triggers resistance and, eventually, the authority’s demise (Turner, 2005). Official authorities’ legitimacy is generally rooted in their ability to be fair and just. For example, psychological research shows that individuals are more willing to obey the police if they perceive that the police treat them employing just procedures (Tyler, 2006a). Nonetheless, research also indicates that individuals may be motivated to legitimize unfair systems and authorities, as well as asymmetrical relationships of dominance-­ subordination between groups (Jost, 2019; Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). By definition, illegal and semi-legal agents cannot ground their power in just procedures or the rule of law. They behave in ways that do not abide by even basic standards of justice in social relationships. Yet, they often receive support from (segments of) the community where they operate (Akerlof & Yellen, 1994). Individuals might even prefer them to the state, and recognize their authority as a more influential force in their lives. This is, perhaps, not entirely surprising. After all, individuals are motivated to sustain the status quo, also when the status quo is detrimental to their direct interests (Jost, Federico, & Napier, 2009). The question remains, however, as to why individuals pledge allegiance to a specific system among those potentially available. In other words, confronted with the choice of

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 G. A. Travaglino, L. Drury, The Secret Power of Criminal Organizations, SpringerBriefs in Psychology,



6  Towards a New Understanding of Criminal Groups’ Secret Power

different ­systems of governance, why they obey illegal and semi-legal groups and reject the state? Why do they sometimes shift their loyalties towards groups that are unfair, unjust, and violent? In this volume, we have analyzed these questions in the context of Italian criminal organizations. As we have discussed at length, these groups represent a key and perhaps prototypical case study for analyzing the governance of illegal and semilegal agents.

 Role for Culture: Culture as Ideology in the Legitimization A of Illegal Groups ICAT’s core proposition is that agents such as criminal organizations are able to mobilize meaning that reflects the community’s cultural values. In doing so, they are perceived more positively, their position of dominance in society is legitimized, and opposition is limited. This is not the first time that cultural values have been invoked to explain southern Italians’ inability to act collectively against criminal organizations. In our initial discussions of the factors underpinning omertà (see Chap. 2), we described the generalized passivity account, which links a variety of different explanations purporting to address southern Italians’ lack of opposition against groups such as the mafia. This account revolves around the idea that a set of values and beliefs limits southern Italian people’s ability to act collectively for the common good. In this volume (and elsewhere), we have evaluated the passivity account and identified its limitations (Travaglino & Abrams, 2019; Travaglino, Abrams, Randsley de Moura, & Russo, 2014). This explanation overlooks the important role played by groups such as criminal organizations to actively mobilize, strengthen, and transmit the values and meaning that sustain their legitimacy. Consequently, the passivity account undermines the community’s agency. According to this theory, the community’s behavior is determined by vaguely defined values and ethea such as “amoral familism.” Moreover, the theory ignores the strong generative potential that criminal groups have in society. It also overlooks their ability to gain consensus as well as create narratives and discourses that sustain their legitimacy. In contrast to this view, ICAT highlights the importance of dominant groups’ engagement in processes of strategic exploitation and social embedding. Groups such as criminal organizations, gangs, and terrorist organizations, actively appropriate shared cultural values invest resources in representing themselves as embodying these values, strengthening their importance in the population. They mobilize cultural meaning in an ideological way, to sustain their position of dominance in society. In other words, in contrast to the passivity account, ICAT postulates that dominant and subordinate groups engage in the active dynamics of negotiation of meaning and values. To the extent that individuals endorse these cultural codes, and embrace similar meaning and values, they also have a more positive view of these

Future Research Directions: What We Still Need to Understand


groups, and are less likely to engage in collective opposition against them. Conversely, rejecting the meaning and values characterizing these groups is associated with stronger negative attitudes and more willingness to oppose these groups collectively. Thus, cultural values do not determine individuals’ behavior. Rather, cultural values are actively produced, negotiated, embraced, and rejected potentially shaping—in interaction with other structural factors—individuals’ responses.

 uture Research Directions: What We Still Need F to Understand Cultural Values and the Perception of State Authorities ICAT is a novel theoretical approach highlighting how the disciplines of social and political psychology may contribute to our understanding of the factors that shape the relationships between communities and criminal groups. So far, little psychological research has confronted issues pertaining to illegal governance and alternative systems of authority. This is despite the fact that these sorts of alternative political arrangements are increasingly common (Strange, 1996). Much more research is needed on these topics. For instance, given the central roles of the two processes of social embedding and strategic exploitation in ICAT, an important research priority is to examine the way in which groups such as criminal organizations, gangs, and terrorist organizations propagate their values in society (Travaglino & Abrams, 2019). Specifically, qualitative research is needed to examine the discourses and analyze the actions employed by these groups to propagate the values they stand for. Moreover, research is needed to investigate how these groups use a variety of sources and channels to present themselves as the embodiment of the cultural values that sustain their legitimacy. Another important direction for future research concerns the role played by individuals’ perception of their relationship with the state and other official authorities in their legitimization of illegal groups. According to the social banditry framework (Heering, Travaglino, & Abrams, 2020; Travaglino, 2017), individuals’ attitudes towards illegal and semi-legal authorities are shaped by the extent to which they perceive the state as responsive to their grievances—a concept known as external political efficacy (Niemi, Craig, & Mattei, 1991). Specifically, the social banditry framework contends that individuals who have low political efficacy may seek alternative channels to express their dissent. One such a channel might be individuals’ support for, and legitimization of, groups such as criminal organizations, hackers, and gangs (Travaglino, 2017). The social banditry framework draws on the work of the social historian Hobsbawm (1959). In his seminal analysis, Hobsbawm e­ xamined the reasons why bandits in pre-industrial societies were sometimes celebrated as heroes by peasants. Peasants were confronted by a rigid authority system grounded in family ties and birthright, and hence had very little political voice. Bandits who


6  Towards a New Understanding of Criminal Groups’ Secret Power

attacked the rich and powerful represented a way for individuals to satisfy their aspirations for fairer social relationships in a context in which no other forms of political action were possible. Previous research has shown that individuals’ sense of political inefficacy is associated with stronger support of the network of hackers known as “Anonymous” (Travaglino, 2017). Similar psychological processes might also be at work in the context of criminal organizations, or other illegal systems of authority. For example, it has been argued (e.g., Tarrow, 1996) that many of the foreign regimes that governed southern Italy in the past adopted a “logic of colonial exploitation” and, notably, “southern Italy’s semi colonial status [did not] suddenly disappear with [Italian] unification” (Tarrow, 1996, p. 394). In fact, the merging of northern and southern economies in the second half of the nineteen centuries had negative implications for southern Italians’ more vulnerable institutions and industries, while providing Northern Italy with an enlarged market and a source of cheap labor. Such factors might have contributed to foster a distance between individuals and the authorities, lowering individuals’ perception that the system was responsive to their needs. The resulting power vacuum might have been filled by alternative systems of authorities that might—in the eye of individuals—represent a challenge to the status quo. Future empirical research should examine the role of the perceived justice of the system, and lower efficacy in the context of illegal governance. Note that such factors do not supplant the role of individuals’ cultural values. For example, as mentioned in Chap. 3, Travaglino, Abrams, and Russo (2017) found that individuals’ endorsement of cultural values of individualism predicted their support for Anonymous, over and beyond individuals’ political efficacy and perceived justice of the system. These findings indicate that cultural and other factors may operate simultaneously in predicting individuals’ attitudes towards illegal authorities. A final, important point worth mentioning is that the research summarized in this volume (see also Travaglino & Abrams, 2019) is mainly cross-sectional. No inferences can be made about cause and effect among variables. Future research should, therefore, use experimental and longitudinal methods to investigate which factors predict individuals’ endorsement of criminal organizations and similar groups across contexts and situations.

Contact and Opposition to Criminal Organizations In Chap. 5, we described recent evidence concerning the role of intergroup contact in the context of Italian criminal organizations (Drury & Travaglino, 2019; Travaglino & Drury, 2019). Evidence from two studies indicates that individuals who endorse masculine honor values are also more likely to report frequent contact with members of criminal organizations (Travaglino & Drury, 2019). The relationship between individuals’ endorsement of cultural values and contact emerged both longitudinally (in a five-month time span) and cross-sectionally. Instances of social

Future Research Directions: What We Still Need to Understand


contact with members of criminal organizations were, in turn, associated with individuals’ tendency to romanticize this group, that is, to see it as social embedded in the region’s history, as well as reflecting ideals of honor and respect. These two studies only measured the frequency of contact between members of the community and criminal organizations. They did not examine the valence of such contact, that is, whether the experience of the contact was positive or negative. Previous research in other contexts suggests that positive and negative contacts operate as independent constructs and that negative contact is more powerful than positive contact (Barlow et al., 2012; Paolini, Harwood, & Rubin, 2010; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2011). What are the psychological implications of experiencing negative contact with members of criminal organizations? This is an extremely important research question, considering criminal organizations’ threatening stance in society, and the claim (discussed earlier in this book) that criminal organizations use threat and violence to exert control. Moreover, findings from a further study indicate that positive contact was associated with lower threat and stronger tendency to romanticize criminal organizations. These latter variables, in turn, were associated with individuals’ lower willingness to engage in social activism against criminal organizations. This finding is consistent with a growing body of research on the “ironic” effects of contact (McKeown & Dixon, 2017). It suggests that, in addition to dissuading minority groups from social activism (Cakal, Hewstone, Schwär, & Heath, 2011; McKeown & Dixon, 2017; Sengupta & Sibley, 2013), positive contact may further damage social harmony by encouraging the legitimization of groups that perpetuate violence and exert secret power over the community. A similar process might strengthen the power of other harmful groups in society, such as street gangs or terrorist groups. Positive contact with members of these groups may lead to instability, fractured authority, and weakened governance within regions where these groups operate. Specifically, the endorsement by individuals of values and ideologies that these groups artfully adopt, together with a context which facilitates interactions, may provide these groups with the ability to exert governance, and enable them to present themselves as the embodiment of cherished values. It is an important task for future research to examine the role of positive contact in a variety of different contexts where illegal or semi-legal agents exert secret power. Future research should also examine the antecedents of negative contact with criminal organizations. Our findings showed that negative contact is associated with increased intentions to engage in social activism. Individuals experiencing negative contact with members of criminal organizations also reported perceiving more threat from these groups. Threat in turn was associated with stronger (rather than weaker) intensions to engage in social activism. This pattern of results supports ICAT’s propositions, and indicates that these groups’ secret power is grounded in legitimacy rather than threat. It is important to address the question of what type of people are more likely to experience negative contact with members of criminal organizations. It may be the case that differences in ideas, beliefs, and values make some individuals more likely to experience negative interactions with members of these groups. For instance, a social change system of beliefs (discussed in Chap. 4;


6  Towards a New Understanding of Criminal Groups’ Secret Power

Abrams & Grant, 2012) may mean that individuals are more prone to engage in activities that bring them in conflict with members of these groups, augmenting their intentions to fight against them. Qualitative research is also needed to shed further light of what takes place during instances of both positive and negative contacts with members of criminal organizations or other illegal groups within the community (see Horowitz, 1983).

Conclusions Illegal and semi-legal groups’ ability to exert secret power is detrimental to communities. Nonetheless, these groups receive support from individuals, who not only tolerate their secret power because of fear, but actively legitimize and sustain them. As argued in this volume, research in psychology and other disciplines should shed stronger light on the cultural and socio-psychological factors that may affect individuals’ perception of, and engagement with, these groups. Importantly, the focus on individuals’ values and culture should not undermine the importance of considering individuals’ (even criminals’) agency, as well as the important contribution played by other more structural factors. It is only by considering each of these different levels, and the interactions between them, that it will be possible to design effective interventions aimed at triggering social change.


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A Amoral familism, 11, 12, 50 Antimafia activities, 28 B Bi-directional relationship, 40 C Code of the street, 10 Coercion triggers followers, 15 Coercive and legitimate power, 14 Coercive violence, 23 Collective motive, 30 Collective social change, 13 Conceptual opacities, 18 Criminal organizations, 2–4, 7–10, 12–14, 19, 25, 26, 28, 29, 31, 37, 38, 41, 43, 50, 54 definitions, 5, 6 hypotheses, 44 ideas and notions, 6 intergroup contact literature, 43 negative contact, 44 organizational structure, 6 positive contact, 43, 45, 46 psychological pathway, 46 representations, 5 romanticization, 44 romanticize criminal, 44, 45 Cultural values and beliefs, 40 Culture, 20 communities and criminal groups, 51 values, 50

D Dominant illegal groups, 21 E Experimental and longitudinal methods, 52 External omertà, 3 H Honor Codes hypothesis, 31 manhood scale, 33 regional identity, 33 reputation and social image, 31 social change belief structure, 34 Honor cultural syndrome, 33 Honor Values scales, 33 I ICAT’s core proposition, 50 Ideology, 17 conceptions, 18 conceptualization, 19 formulation, 18 meaning, 18 neutral conception, 18 Illegal agents, 49 Illegal and semi-legal agents, 49 Illegal and semi-legal groups, 54 Illegal governance, 14, 52 Illegality and deviance, 14

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 G. A. Travaglino, L. Drury, The Secret Power of Criminal Organizations, SpringerBriefs in Psychology,



66 Intergroup contact, 40, 52 antecedents, 39 criminal and terrorist organizations, 39 criminal organizations, 37 empirical evidence, 38 literature, 39 omertà, 37 personality traits, 39 social dominance orientation, 40 social groups, 38 Intergroup contact theory, 38 psychological mechanisms, 43 and social activism, 42 Intergroup Threat Theory, 44 Intracultural appropriation theory (ICAT), 3, 12, 23 antisocial activities, 13 assumptions and implications, 14 coercive power, 14, 15 collective behavior, 15 force and coercive power, 15 ideology, 16 illegal/semi-legal groups, 13 socio-political discourses, 14 Ironic effects, 39 Italian contexts, 29 Italian criminal organizations, 17, 50 Italian mafia-type groups, 8 Italian organized crime, 7 L Legitimacy, 1–3, 12, 14, 15, 49, 50 M Mafia organization, 8 Manhood scale, 33 Masculine honor, 28, 31, 39, 47 community, 27 criminal organizations, 23, 25, 26 cultural code, 25 emphasis, 24 empirical evidence, 27 and identity, 34 indiscriminate aggression, 25 legitimacy, 23, 28 notion, 24 political discourse, 26 psychological process, 29 theoretical framework, 23 violence, 24, 25 Masculine honor-related values, 35 Media representations, 6 Mobilize cultural meaning, 50 Modern state, 1

N National and international media, 29 Negative contact, 46 Negative intergroup contact, 43 Neomelodici, 26 O Omertà, 29, 35 anxiety, 31 collective mobilization, 30 concept, 10 definition, 30 explanations, 10, 12 notion, 30 operationalization, 30 potential constructs and predictors, 30 principle, 30 Organized crime, 7, 11 Outgroup members, 40, 41 P Psychological processes, 47 R Realist threat, 44 Repentants, 3 Romanticize criminal organizations, 53 S Secret power, 2 Sicilian society, 8 Social activism, 53 Social and political psychology, 51 Social banditry framework, 51 Social contact, 52–53 Social dominance theory, 16 Social embedding, 21, 22, 37 criminal organizations, 27 violence and toughness, 28 Social groups, 20 Social psychology, 16 Southern Italy, 12 State’s monopoly, 1, 2 Strategic exploitation, 22, 37 System justification theory, 16 T Theoretical approaches, 16 Traditional authority, 17