Crime, Law and Social Change

, Volume 58, Issue 3, pp 321–349 | Cite as

The structure of drug trafficking mafias: the ‘Ndrangheta and cocaine

  • Francesco CalderoniEmail author


The paper analyses the social organization of two drug trafficking mafia groups. The groups belonged to the 'Ndrangheta, a mafia from Calabria, a Southern Italian region. Based on judicial sources, multiple linked analyses examine the tasks, statuses and social network structures of the two groups. The analyses showed that the formal hierarchy of the mafias does not play a relevant role in the organization of drug trafficking. At the same time, the two groups exhibited a particular organizational structure, with a clear division of tasks and signals of status differentiation among the members. Remarkably, the analyses highlighted the strategic positioning of the criminal leaders. The most prominent participants (high-status individuals) were not those most involved in criminal activities (i.e. the most central in the network). This positioning strategy allowed minimizing the risks and ensuring effective management of smuggling operations. Criminal leaders were able to control the activities thanks to the specific cultural, family, kinship and ritual ties characterizing the mafias. This specific organizational structure may explain the strong resilience of mafias to law enforcementaction. Implications for both research and law enforcement are discussed.


Cocaine Criminal Activity Betweenness Centrality Drug Trafficking Criminal Organization 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I would like to thank Giulia Berlusconi, Paolo Campana, Ernesto U. Savona and Carlo Morselli for their help and suggestions.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore and TranscrimeMilanItaly
  2. 2.Università Cattolica di MilanoMilanItaly

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