SNA as an Integrative Framework: A Holistic Approach to the Study of Organized Crime

SNA as an Integrative Framework: A Holistic Approach to the Study of Organized Crime

Alice Airola (Simon Fraser University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1286-9.ch011
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Since the second half of the year 1900, when the concept of organized crime became a matter of scientific interest, the inherent complex nature of this social phenomenon has been reflected in a multitude of definitions, methods, and analytical tools. Today, the time of integrating the huge body of knowledge, accumulated over time, has come. This chapter identifies a new and promising integrative tool in the social network analysis (SNA). In this regard, three main themes will be discussed: Why is an integrated approach to the study of organized crime necessary? How could SNA assist the researcher in structuring and implementing an effective integrative approach? and, In which ways could SNA resolve issues linked to the integrative approach, and, vice versa, to what extent a systematic integrative approach could improve the quality of SNA applied to organized crime?
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Our global and post-millennial context involves continual and rapid changes in all key societal processes and structures. This rapid evolution of social phenomena, along with a consequently rapid growth of scientific knowledge, is important in explaining organized crime as well. Scholars, historically, have approached this subject from a variety of perspectives, ranging from the traditional anthropological and sociological theories to complex quantitative, theoretical and methodological approaches. Today, the time to integrate all the theoretical and methodological perspectives, applied to the study of organized crime, has come. Being able to implement an effective and systematic integration means, above all, being able to progress in the study of criminal organizations, with one eye on the future and another on the past.

Even though an integrative approach would be highly desirable in theory, in practice it poses problems, which have often dissuaded researchers to develop a coherent and systematic method of integration. One of the main problems linked to integration concerns the necessity of building a coherent approach, which could identify the specificities of a criminal group without excluding the presence of typical features, such as some levels of organization, that make organized crime a unique criminal phenomenon. A key answer to this challenge could be found in an analytical tool, which proves to be successful in facilitating the integration of previous works and theoretical concepts within a framework that captures the configuration and peculiar features of the criminal organization subject to study.

The present study identifies SNA as a potential effective framework within which a coherent integration of different theories, methodologies, levels of analysis and multidisciplinary perspectives could be realized, without producing confusing and overcomplex results. The potentiality of SNA resides in its main object of study—social networks. They are fluid, multi-faced and flexible structures, which allow the researcher to capture the complexity and dynamicity of social phenomena and, at the same time, to identify the specificities characterizing each human organization.

Three main issues will be discussed in the following paragraphs:

  • 1.

    Why is an integrated approach to the study of organized crime necessary to progress in the study of this criminal phenomenon?

  • 2.

    How can the peculiarities characterizing the SNA approach assist the researcher in structuring an implementing and effective integrative approach?

  • 3.

    In which ways could SNA solve issues linked to the integrative approach and, vice versa, to what extent could a systematic integrative approach improve the quality of SNA applied to organized crime?

This article aims at paving way for the creation of a coherent and systematic integrative approach to the analysis of organized crime.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Complexity: Something, which involves complicated processes, situations, and aspects, the comprehension of which require a holistic approach.

Content Analysis: A research approach, which consists of coding and interpreting text data by means of a systematic classification process.

Sociometric Analysis: Sociometric techniques are qualitative methodologies, which measure social elements connected to human relationships, such as social acceptance or rejection.

Ethnography: The systematic analysis and description of people’s cultures, traditions, and systems of meaning.

Motivational Aspects: The reasons that lie behind individuals’ actions or choices. In criminology, identifying the reasons, which push people to commit criminal acts, has always been central in understanding of criminals’ behaviors. Different disciplines have proposed a huge variety of theories and hypotheses about this complex and intriguing topic.

Hierarchical Structures: A structure organized at multiple levels, where every entity is subordinate to another entity to form a chain of command that looks like a pyramid.

Holistic: An approach or point of view, which takes into account the whole of something and not just some aspects.

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