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’Ndrangheta: A Reticular Organization

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The ’Ndrangheta and Sacra Corona Unita

Part of the book series: Studies of Organized Crime ((SOOC,volume 12))


The dangerousness of the Calabrian Mafia, the ’Ndrangheta, has long been underestimated. Consequently, there has been lack of attention in developing strategies, conducting research, and analyzing its actions. Until recently the Calabrian Mafia had been perceived as a minor criminal organization, as an expression of a residual outdated society; hence, a modern analysis was not conducted, it has been considered more “primitive” compared to the Sicilian and Neapolitan Mafia. This primitiveness is in direct opposition to the success that ’Ndrangheta has shown in the last decades, in particular with its capacity of territorial expansion along with its integration into transnational illegal activities. In recent times, ’Ndrangheta has been recognized as one of the most powerful criminal organization, thanks to several judicial inquiries not only in Calabria, but also in the central and northern regions of Italy. These inquiries illustrate an articulated presence in the territory, a unique organizational structure, and strong connections with the legal, economic, political, and government institutions.

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  1. 1.

    The status of the knowledge of the ’Ndrangheta—despite recent increased interest—continues to be very unsatisfactory. Among the “historical” Mafia, the Calabrian remains the least studied.

  2. 2.

    For more information, see Violante (1994, p. 89); Becchi (2000, p. 101). Furthermore, Eric Hobsbawm (1971, pp. 29–52) had already mentioned the ’Ndrangheta as a primitive form and a pre-political social revolt, of which shepherds, farmers, and small artisans were protagonists that were trying to defend themselves from feudal and State power.

  3. 3.

    Regarding the diffusion of the ’Ndrangheta in nontraditional areas, namely where it was historically born, see Commissione Parlamentare Antimafia (CPA) (2008); Sciarrone (2009); Varese (2011); Dalla Chiesa and Panzarasa (2012); Sciarrone and Storti (2014).

  4. 4.

    For a long time the organizational dimension of the Mafia—and in particular of the ’Ndrangheta—was considered less relevant, according to a perspective mainly “culturalist” shared also by notorious scholars (for example Arlacchi 1986) and by institutions. Among judges, it was supported, for example, that the ’Ndrangheta had “a primitive structure […] based more on a familiar than organizational aspect” (Pinotti and Tescaroli 2008, pp. 297–298). On the distinction between culturalist and organizational paradigm in the Mafia phenomenon, see Sciarrone (2009, Chap. 1).

  5. 5.

    In ’Ndrangheta families, the central figure is of the women that, for example, had often a fundamental role in matrimonial strategies finalized to create alliances between cosche. More in general, “Mafia women” as wives, cohabitants, sisters, and mothers are a material, symbolic, and affective support indispensable to honored men. See Siebert (1994, 1997); Fiandanca (2007); Ingrascì (2007); Gribaudi and Marmo (2010).

  6. 6.

    Social capital is understood here with reference to theoretical perspectives that consider it as the kind of resource available to an actor on the basis of its position in networks of social relations (See Bourdieu 1986; Coleman 1990). In this context, Mafiosi can be seen as specialists in social relations, characterized by a high level of social capital that are derived from relationships established with other actors. From this depends their ability to network, namely the ability to act, depending on the circumstances, as mediators, patrons, and/or protectors in relational structures of a different nature. It might be argued that the strength of the Mafia largely depends on this ability to accumulate and use social capital, but also to establish “external relations” and to rely on a wide and varied “reservoir” of relational resources can be used for different purposes. For the social capital of the Mafia, see Sciarrone (2006a, 2009, 2010, 2011).

  7. 7.

    A hypothesis of this type seems to be advanced by John Dickie (2011), according to which the organizational model of the ’Ndrangheta has emphasized, over time, his familiar character especially to meet the requirements to make it more cohesive and more impenetrable to the repressive action. As was noted: “Future research should explore when and why organization of the ’Ndrangheta came to be based mainly on blood-related family units, as now seems to be the case” (Truzzolillo 2011, p. 372). In the first judicial documents available, the Calabrian organized group does not seem to rest on ’ndrine based strictly on family, although it is plausible to assume that the family constitutes the most important recruitment channel.

  8. 8.

    An emblematic case is that relating to the cosca of Piromalli-Molè, one of the most powerful of the ’Ndrangheta (Sciarrone 2010), whose cohesion failed despite strong blood connections (Tribunale di Reggio Calabria 2008).

  9. 9.

    The dominant theory is that in the ’Ndrangheta, there would be a smaller number of collaborators of justice because of the importance of blood ties: Repentance would in fact be discouraged because, first of all, they should accuse their families. They forget, however, that this same constraint is also present in other Mafias. As noted by Pignatone and Prestipino (2012, pp. 135 + ), two judges involved in the first line in the most important investigations against the ’Ndrangheta in recent years, also Sicilian collaborators of justice had to accuse their families. On the other hand, it does not seem that the ’Ndrangheta is talking about less than in other Mafias: “The ’ndranghetisti are not so silent: They talk, and how they talk!” (Pignatone and Prestipino 2012, p. 139). The explanation for the lower number of Calabrian collaborators of justice must be sought elsewhere. For example, in the fact that in Calabria has long been a privileged investigative practices that pointed to “confident” (namely on informally information provided to the police and not according to the criteria laid down by the law on collaborators of justice). By doing so, the two judges continued, it has overlooked the fact that “the collaborator must be sought, built, and followed” (Pignatone and Prestipino 2012, p. 139) and, therefore, “it was necessary to create the conditions so potential collaborators of justice could decide to speak with the judicial authorities” (Pignatone and Prestipino, 2012, p. 137).

  10. 10.

    For a more profound analysis of these aspects—in particular regarding the organizational and relational nature—that impede the exit of the ’Ndrangheta and, thus, the collaboration with judiciary authorities, see Sciarrone (2006bp. 6).

  11. 11.

    For a comparative analysis of these two Mafia, see Paoli (2000).

  12. 12.

    The Commissione is a collegiate entity on regional basis (called also Region), comprised by representatives of Cosa Nostra of the different “provincial commissions.” Among the latter one, Palermo has always been in predominant positions. The “province” is in turn made up of representatives of the mandamenti that refer to more families territorially contiguous. From what we know, this organizational structure was created at the beginning of the 1950s, changing the model adopted by the American Cosa Nostra, but it was temporarily dissolved in 1960. It was later re-built in the mid 1970s (See Paoli, 2000; Dino 2002; Lupo 2009).

  13. 13.

    Raffaele Cutolo, one of the most important Neapolitan Camorra bosses, had been “baptized” in the 1970s by some prestigious leaders of the ’Ndrangheta and formed the Nuova Camorra Organizzata (New Organized Camorra), taking as a model several characters of the Calabrian Mafia. It also established the role of the ’Ndrangheta in the genesis of the Sacra Corona Unita (United Sacred Crown) in Apulia, a criminal organization developed in the early 1980s, which has imitated and borrowed organizational models and symbolic apparatus right from the Calabrian Mafia (Massari 1998; Sciarrone 2009).

  14. 14.

    As evident by numerous legal proceedings, in Calabria, there is a strong blend of business committees and Mafia groups at the institutional, political, and business level, especially with reference to the management of public funds (Commissione Parlamentare Antimafia (CPA) 2008). To remember then that large companies operating in the region often tend to agree closely with the Mafia groups, establishing with them a mutually beneficial exchange. In many cases, the same entrepreneurs research and solicit a pact of collusion (Sciarrone 2009, 2010, 2011).

  15. 15.

    Organic connections between cosche are documented in several judicial investigations since the mid nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century (Mannino 1997, pp. 284 + ; Truzzolillo 2011, pp. 371–2) in which are described associative structure in some aspects very similar to those emerged in recent investigations.

  16. 16.

    Tribunale di Reggio Calabria (2010); Tribunale di Milano (2010); Tribunale di Torino (2011); Tribunale di Genova (2011). These judiciary documents, together with others of previous periods (in particular, Tribunale di Reggio Calabria 1995) constitute the empiric base used in the proposed analysis. The more recent judiciary operations have highlighted the “unitary” character of the ’Ndrangheta, proposing a different vision from the past, in which it was supported on the contrary the existence of a “fragmented” or “fractionated” model of the Calabrian organizations (see Direzione Nazionale Antimafia 2012, pp. 91 + ; Pignatone and Prestipino 2012).

  17. 17.

    Schematizing and resuming the description provided by one of the most important collaborators of justice of Cosa Nostra, Antonio Calderone, at the base, there are honored man, called also soldiers structured in organized group led by a capo decina, whereas at the top, there is capo famiglia also called rappresentante that can be supported by a vice rappresentante and one or more consiglieri (Arlacchi 1993; Paoli 2000).

  18. 18.

    Think, for example, of mandamenti or commission. See note 12.

  19. 19.

    As collaborator of justice Antonio Zagari has explained: “Each cosca is independent from another and is controlled by capi società who have the faculty and the power to act autonomously from boss of other cosche even if from a superior rank. This is subject to the rule of respecting each other’s territorial boundaries and always remaining one to the other for more general interests of the entire organization, which although divided into many cells still refers to a single basic regulation” (Tribunale of Reggio Calabria 1995, p. 374). Ultimately, each group works formally equal with all others, acting independently in their own territory or in areas of origin and in those of the new expansion (Direzione Nazionale Antimafia 2012, p. 93).

  20. 20.

    Antonio Zagari has pointed out: “It is not always easy to know ranks and special rules of affiliates of the ’Ndrangheta, especially if those occupy positions and high levels of the organization because the rule wants that people from a high level are not required to disclose their rank to lower levels. Indeed, affiliates of lower levels are strictly prohibited from addressing questions regarding the hierarchy positions of superiors and elders” (Tribunale di Reggio Calabria 1995, p. 375).

  21. 21.

    Some collaborators of justice have indicated that 49 or 50 is the minimum amount of members necessary to create a locale. It is a rough indication because judiciary investigations have shown the existence of locali comprised with an inferior number of members.

  22. 22.

    It is the locale that refers to the village of San Luca, a small municipality in the hinterland of Calabria. The honored man’s tradition appoint a high symbolic value, considering it like a sort of originating nucleus of the ’Ndrangheta. See Ciconte (1992); Gratteri and Nicaso (2006); Tribunale di Reggio Calabria (2010).

  23. 23.

    Doti (endowments) are appointed with criminal capacities of affiliates and, thus, they represent a value of merit. To have a determined role, a person needs to have gained a certain dote, namely have reached a certain rank inside the hierarchical stratification of the organization.

  24. 24.

    The sources we are referring to are the declarations of several collaborators of justice (Tribunale di Reggio Calabria 1995) and the reconstructions by investigators based on wiretappings and environmental interceptions (Regione Carabinieri “Lombardia” 2008; Tribunale di Reggio Calabria 2010; Tribunale di Milano 2010; Tribunale di Torino 2011).

  25. 25.

    Each rank can have additional differentiations: For example, picciotto (young boy) might be distinguished by the picciotto liscio and picciotto sgarrista titles achieved after a certain period of Mafia internship; while camorrista might have the following rank of camorista di sgarro or sgarrista, but he could have the additional rank of sgarrista di fibbia and camorrista formato. Therefore, the creation of new ranks gradually creates a differentiation and an increment of hierarchical levels.

  26. 26.

    The relationship with deviated freemasonry was also important for Cosa Nostra. There are, however, some differences between the two Mafia organizations: “While for Cosa Nostra the pact [with the freemasonry] never represented an influence to its power, for the ’Ndrangheta the alliance went beyond a mere utilitarian relationship that represents the essential characteristics through which it has obtained the current supremacy and diffusion” (Commissione Parlamentare Antimafia (CPA) 2000, p. 128).

  27. 27.

    Regarding the relevance and the function of the “constitution” for the criminal organization, see Leeson and Skarbek (2010).

  28. 28.

    For example, initiation rites that still today represent the entrance into the Mafia organization, more than a tradition heritage, fulfilling important symbolic functions. Like all boundaries, they divide and unify at the same time: They create barriers, but also connections. For ’Ndrangheta’s rituals, see Malafarina (1986); Ciconte (1992); Paoli (2000), Gratteri and Nicaso (2006); Tribunale di Reggio Calabria (2010).

  29. 29.

    As it is evident, the term is taken from that used in the Sicilian Mafia, see note 12.

  30. 30.

    To which the same affiliates often refer simply using the term Crimine, identifying the role with the representative body. As anti-Mafia magistrates explain, this body plays “a decisive role in its organization, primarily through the protection of the basic rules of the organization (a sort of criminal ‘Constitution’), those, in short, that characterize the ’Ndrangheta as such and ensure its recognition over time and space, even far away from the motherland of Calabria; thus ensuring the maintenance of general balance, the control of the appointment of the heads of locali and openings of other venues, the authorization for the transfer of charges, the resolution of any disputes, the submission to the judgment of any wrongdoing in place by persons inside the ’Ndrangheta.” (Direzione Nazionale Antimafia 2012, p. 96).

  31. 31.

    It is a role of primus inter pares, (Direzione Nazionale Antimafia 2012, p. 94) which in fact collaborators of justice had already addressed. For example, Giacomo Lauro said that in the 1960s, Antonio Macrì of Siderno was the capo-crimine: “Represented the crimine, namely he represented the whole ’Ndrangheta in the province of Reggio Calabria” (Tribunale di Reggio Calabria 1995, p. 288; See also Ciconte 1996, p. 40 + ; Mannino 1997, pp. 419, 436, note 84). From what we know, the role of capo-crimine has long been covered with boss of the clans of the Ionian side of Calabria. The last judicial investigations show that it was awarded to a member of the clans of the Tyrrhenian coast, preferring, however, an elderly, the octogenarian Domenico Oppedisano, that while boasting a long belonging to the ’Ndrangheta not seem to have behind a career criminal with a high thickness (Tribunale di Reggio Calabria 2010, 2012). As noted by investigators, his “appointment was a compromise between multiple instances of power” related to the historical groups of the ’Ndrangheta (Tribunale di Reggio Calabria 2012, p. 178). In other words, the Ionian cosche and as well as those from the city of Reggio accept that this charge is attributed to the Tyrrhenian area, but not to a “strong” man, but to one “wise” person because of its seniority, able to represent the above “tradition.” This choice seems justified by the fact that he “looks man who groped mediations between aggressive criminal groups and, therefore, to avoid possible conflict” (Tribunale di Reggio Calabria 2012, p. 179; Pignatone and Prestipino 2012, pp. 6–7).

  32. 32.

    “In reality, this structure has confirmed the dominance of the leading families of the respective areas, formally legitimizing a function that is exercised in practice in benchmarks for agreements, alliances, and pacification” (Regione Carabinieri “Lombardia” 2008, p. 262).

  33. 33.

    According to investigators, similar structures would be present also in Australia and Canada. In all cases they are bodies that have a function of both internal coordination both of dialogue and interface with the “motherland” (Direzione Nazionale Antimafia 2012,  p.94). For an analysis of the different modes of relationships between groups active in nontraditional areas and those rooted in Calabria, see Sciarrone and Storti (2014).

  34. 34.

    For example, when the representative of Lombardy tries to become independent from the “motherland,” claiming more autonomy compared to the Calabrian Crimine, he is killed (Tribunale di Milano 2010).

  35. 35.

    Regarding the distinction between “network of organizations” and “organization network,” see Powell (1990); Podolny and Page (1998); Pichierri (2002).

  36. 36.

    As we have seen, cosche of the ’Ndrangheta do not seem, however, to point to a primarily unitarian and centralized organizational structure, but tends to favor a model that, even preferring a certain level of cooperation, is able in particular to preserve and guarantee wise operational autonomy to each group.

  37. 37.

    As it is notorious, the distinction between strong ties and weak ties is due to Granovetter (1973, 1995).


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Sciarrone, R. (2014). ’Ndrangheta: A Reticular Organization. In: Serenata, N. (eds) The ’Ndrangheta and Sacra Corona Unita. Studies of Organized Crime, vol 12. Springer, Cham.

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