Closure and Collaboration in the American Mafia

Daniel Della Posta, Cornell, Sociology
How do organizations obtain access to valued resources without diluting the loyalties and identities of their members? Network analysts suggest focusing on the boundary-spanning activities of “brokers” who bridge gaps in social structure. In many contexts, however, brokers are viewed with suspicion and distrust rather than rewarded for their diversity of interests. I examine organizations in which the theoretical deck is seemingly stacked against brokerage and toward parochialism: American-Italian mafia families. Using a historical network data set, I document a division of network labor in which a small number of brokers—often, surprisingly, ethnic outsiders excluded from formal membership—bridged otherwise disconnected islands of criminal activity to gain power within exclusive mafia circles. While social closure in solidary groups ensures a heavy premium on insider status, it can also paradoxically increase the returns to outsider brokerage, albeit only when taken up in a way that does not violate group norms.
November, 7 2016 | 12:45 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. | Gross Hall 230E

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