Beijing Law Review
2010. Vol.1, No.1, 14-19
Copyright © 2010 SciRes.
Organised Behaviour and Organised Identity
Vincenzo Ruggiero
Middlesex University, London (UK).
Email: V.Ruggiero@ m dx.
Received Oct ober 13th, 2010; revised November 10th, 2010; accepted November 20th, 2010.
There is growing body of literature which offers reviews of the concepts of organised crime and political vio-
lence, while documenting the official efforts to address such concepts jointly and treat them as a single issue. It
would be intriguing to investigate how members of organised criminal groups and violent political groups re-
spectively react to such official efforts. In my own memory, when the ‘mafiosi’ happened to share a prison in-
stitution with members of the Red Brigades, they would steer away from those idealist Communists who got
nothing out of killing. The former, when overcoming the disgust they felt in the presence of those who in their
eyes adopted an incomprehensible political stance, and perhaps even a despicable sexual lifestyle, would simply
suggest: “don’t make revolution, make money, you cretin!”. The latter, in their turn, would deal with the former
as one deals with yet a different version of the economic and political power against which they fought. Echoes
of this are found in an example coming from Greece itself, where the Courts have attempted to term common
rather than ‘political’ the offences attributed to the Revolutionary Organisation November 17. The fact that or-
ganised crime is guided by material motivations and terrorism by political ones may be seen as irrelevant by of-
ficial agencies pursuing the objective of degrading the ‘enemy’ whoever that might be. Therefore, the ceremo-
nies of degradation, including the choice of an ad hoc vocabulary, may well serve the task, as the mad, the drug
user and the terrorist constitute an undistinguishable mob in the face of which quibbling differences may just
obstruct the criminal justice process. The purpose of this paper is to try and clarify a number of issues that we
encounter when dealing with organised crime and political violence respectively.
Keywords: Criminal Enterprise, Criminal Partnerships, Identity, Repertoires of Action, Conflict, Frame
There is growing body of literature which offers reviews of
the concepts of organised crime and political violence, while
documenting the official efforts to address such concepts jointly
and treat them as a single issue. It would be intriguing to invest-
tigate how members of organised criminal groups and violent
political groups respectively react to such official efforts. In my
own memory, when the ‘mafiosi’ happened to share a prison
institution with members of the Red Brigades, they would steer
away from those idealist Communists who got nothing out of
killing. The former, when overcoming the disgust they felt in
the presence of those who in their eyes adopted an incompre-
hensible political stance, and perhaps even a despicable sexual
lifestyle, would simply suggest: “don’t make revolution, make
money, you cretin!”. The latter, in their turn, would deal with
the former as one deals with yet a different version of the eco-
nomic and political power against which they fought. Echoes of
this are found in an example coming from Greece itself, where
the Courts have attempted to term ‘common’ rather than ‘po-
litical’ the offences attributed to the Revolutionary Organisa-
tion November 17.
The fact that organised crime is guided by material motive-
tions and terrorism by political ones may be seen as irrelevant
by official agencies pursuing the objective of degrading the
‘enemy’ whoever that might be. Therefore, the ceremonies of
degradation, including the choice of an ad hoc vocabulary, may
well serve the task, as the mad, the drug user and the terrorist
constitute an undistinguishable mob in the face of which quib-
bling differences may just obstruct the criminal justice process.
The purpose of this paper is to try and clarify a number of
issues that we encounter when dealing with organised crime
and political violence respectively.
Professional Crime and Political Violence
Let us start with the hypothesis that organised political groups,
in order to finance their activity, are often forced to resort to
forms of serious criminality. While such criminality may at
times include drug trafficking, it is likely to be a general rule
that political groups purporting to represent disadvantaged
communities would avoid involvement in activities that might
damage those very communities. Moralistic and Robin Hood-
esque in their own self-perception, ideally, political groups will
opt for ‘robbing the robbers’, namely the wealthy who are fa-
voured by the exploitative system against which political action
is addressed. Lucrative hold ups, for example, or kidnappings
of tycoons, according to this logic, would be the preferred
sour ces of financing for violent political organisations. But
even when carrying out such financially rewarding exploits, are
we sure that political organisations mimic their criminal organ-
ised counterparts? In order to answer this question it is neces-
sary to identify some peculiarities of organised crime and po-
litical violence respectively.
Conspiracies and Enterprises
There is confusion and eclecticism as to what exactly consti-
tutes organised crime. There is also a tendency to avoid the
problem of its definition, as if the obvious need not be defined.
In a statement issued by the US President’s Commission on
Organized Crime, it is stressed that, while there is acceptance
and recognition of certain acts as criminal, there is no standard
awareness as to when a criminal group is to be regarded as
organized. ‘The fact that organized criminal activity is not nec-
essarily organized crime complicates that definition process’.
Descriptions range from ‘two or more persons conspiring to-
gether to commit crimes for profit on a continuing basis’ to
more detailed accounts of what these crimes are. Organised
crime can be simply equated with serious offending, although
serious crime may be extremely disorganised. On the other
hand, o.c. can be identified as one single, self-perpetuating,
criminal conspiracy (US agencies in the 1960s). Organised
crime is also seen as being constituted by ‘crime families’ and
the notion of bureaucracy has been applied to such families,
suggesting hierarchically structured groups, characterized by
formal rules and consisting of individuals with specialized and
segmented functions within the hierarchy. A few individuals
and families, in the past, were therefore deemed to centralize
and coordinate all organized criminal activities.
Critics suggest that a credulous sociology was led to believe
in the big conspiracy: The Organization. This sociology, ‘inno-
cent of such notions as informal organizations and patron-client
networks, fixed the sociological frame of organized crime
around conspiracy’ (Block, 1991).
While bearing these controversies in mind, I suggest that the
be st-known definitions of organized crime can be classified very
roughly as follows. Some hinge on strictly quantitative aspects:
the number of individuals involved in a criminal group is said
to determine the organizational degree of that group (Johnson,
1962; Ferracuti, 1988). Organized crime is said to differ from
conventional crime for the larger scale of its illegal activity
(Moore, 1987). Some others focus mainly on a temporal vari-
able, that is on the time-span during which illegal activeties are
conducted. The death or incarceration of a member of organ-
ized crime, for example, do not stop the activities in which they
are involved.
Criminologists who focus attention on its structural charac-
teristics observe that organized crime operates by means of
flexible and diversified groups. Such a structure is faced with
peculiar necessities due to its condition of illegality. Firstly, the
necessity, while remaining a ‘secret’ organization, to exert pub-
licly its coercive and dissuasive strength. An equilibrium is
therefore required between publicity and secrecy that only a
complex structure is able to acquire. Secondly, the necessity to
neutralize law enforcement through omertà (conspiracy of si-
lence), corruption and retaliation. Finally, the need to reconcile
its internal order, through specific forms of conflict control,
with its external legitimacy, through the provision of occupa-
tional and social opportunities (Cohen, 1977).
Frequently, definitions of organized crime revolve around the
concept of ‘professionalism’: its members, it is suggested, ac-
quire skills and career advancement by virtue of their full-time
involvement in illegality. Mannheim (1975) only devotes a
dozen pages of his voluminous treatise to organized crime. The
reason for this may perhaps be found in his preliminary general
statement, where it is assumed that all economically oriented
offences require a degree of organization, or at least necessitate
forms of association among persons. In this light, the term ‘or-
ganized crime’ should be applied to the majority of illegal ac-
Other authors prefer to concentrate on the collective clientele
of organized crime. This is therefore identified with a structure
involved in the public provision of goods and services which
are officially defined illegal. Organized criminal groups, in
other words, simply fill the inadequacy of institutional agencies,
which are unable to provide those goods and services, or per-
haps officially deny that demand exists for them. The contribu-
tion of McIntosh (1975) is to be located in this perspective. She
notes that organized crime is informed by a particular relation-
ship between offenders and victims. For example, even the
victims of extortion rackets often fail to report the offenders,
less because they are terrified than ‘because they see the extor-
tionist as having more power in their parish than the agents of
the state’ (ibid.: 50). It may be added that the victims may also
recognize their ‘protector’ as an authority which is more able
than its official counterpart to distribute resources and opportu-
The descriptions and definitions mentioned so far share a
central element: they are, to varying degrees, related to the
notion of ‘professionalism’. This seems to allow for an original
approach to the subject-matter, because such a notion alludes to
a plausible parallel to be drawn between organized crime and
the organization of any other industrial activity. However, one
crucial aspect which characterizes the crime industry is ne-
glected. This is that the crime industry itself cannot limit its
recruitment to the individuals who constitute its tertiary sector
or middle management. In order for the parallel with the licit
industry to be validated, it has to be stressed that organized
crime also needs a large number of unskilled criminal employ-
ees. Professionalism and unskilled labour seem to cohabit in
organized criminal groups, and their simultaneous presence
should be regarded as a significant hallmark of organized crime.
In my opinion, therefore, what connotes large criminal or-
ganisations is their internal division of labour, which transcends
the technical skills of their members, displaying a social dif-
ferenti ation between those enjoying decision-making power and
those devoid of it.
Let me now give a provisional answer to the question posed
above: even when carrying out financially rewarding exploits,
are we sure that political organisations mimic their criminal
organised counterparts? I would suggest that, even when com-
mitting serious crimes, political organisations cannot be as-
similated to organised crime, but rather to varieties of profes-
sional criminality. In this type of criminality the distribution of
roles, typically, is based on specific individual skills, while a
relative collegiality presides over decision-making, so that the
planning and execution of operations are enacted by individuals
close or known to one another. On the contrary, contract killers
or drug couriers working for large criminal organisations, for
example, hardly know the identity of the final beneficiary of
their acts. They may engage in a long-term career while ignor-
ing the strategy, motivations, let alone the face, of their em-
Considering that some organised criminal groups do not limit
their activities to conventional offending, some supplementary
observations are needed. Successful organised crime manages
to establish partnerships with the official world, particularly
with business people and political representatives. When unable
to do so, it remains a form of pariah organised crime, operating
in the underworld, and destined to exhaust its resources and
energies within the restricted realm of illicit markets. Organisa-
tions leaping onto the overworld, by contrast, are required to
adopt a business style, a conduct, a strategy and a ‘vocabulary
of meaning’ helping them to blend in the environment receiving
them. In an environment saturated with corruption, within the
political as well as the economic sphere, organised criminals
will learn the techniques and the justifications of white collar
criminals, now their partners. They may still ‘commute’ be-
tween licit and illicit markets, but their new status will force
them to identify allies, sponsors, mentors and protectors. In
brief, they will be required to develop the negotiation skills
characterising an economic consortium or a political party.
Even when groups, while operating in the official economy,
find it opportune from time to time to use violence, this vio-
lence will still be inscribed in the ‘vocabulary of meaning’ be-
longing to political parties and competing economic actors.
Killing, therefore, may become in this case part and parcel of
the negotiation process.
Political Violence and Criminology
Looking at the work we have inherited from the founding
fathers, it comes as no surprise that political violence was cen-
tral to the analytical efforts of early criminology. Cesare Bec-
caria and Jeremy Bentham, for example, dealt with ‘sedition’
and ‘crimes against the state’ respectively, and their analyses,
which also addressed institutional violence, were triggered by
the revolutionary movements of the eighteenth century. The
Positive School, in its turn, was engaged in understanding the
turmoil of 1848, the violent events occurring during the Com-
mune of Paris, as well as the attacks carried out by anarchists,
revolutionary socialists and individual nihilists. Last but not
least, Durkheim was compelled to differentiate between social-
ism as a ‘reasonable proposal for change’ and communism as
an ‘abnormal programme of destruction’ (Ruggiero, 2006).
Moving to the current times, it seems that only after the
events of 9/11 has criminology resumed any specific interest in
political violence, at least in its variant commonly termed ter-
rorism. Thus: ‘Criminology can play a major role in helping us
understand the aetiology of terrorist behaviour. Again, contri-
butions in this area have thus far been limited, but we are al-
ready seeing traditional criminological theories being applied to
explain terrorism’ (LaFree & Hendrickson, 2007).
There are scholars advocating the application of crimino-
logical theories of ‘common’ violence to the analysis of politi-
cal violence, who argue that both types of violence are directed
to the achievement of goals. For example, both aim at extract-
ing something from someone; moreover, at least by perpetrators,
both are presented as the outcome of provocation by the victims.
When institutional-anomie theory (value clash) is applied to the
study of terrorism, this is described as a clash between support-
ers of primordial institutions against ‘a rootless world order of
abstract markets, mass politics, and a debased, sacrilegious
toleran ce’ (ibid: 26).
From a different perspective, the suggestion has been made
that the principles of situational crime prevention should also
be applied to terrorism. According to this view, after identify-
ing and removing the opportunities that violent groups exploit
to mount their attacks, situational measures implemented through
partnerships among a wide range of public and private agencies
will assist with this task (Clarke & Newman, 2006). In other
contributions the point is put forward that conventional crime is
characterised by tensions and dynamics that underpins many
forms of terrorism. Issues of shame, esteem, loss, and repressed
anger, alongside the pursuit of pride and self or collective re-
spect, which provide important tools to criminological analysis,
may also help establish a taxonomy of terrorism. That crimino-
logical theories can migrate into the area of political violence is
empirically probed by authors who apply a rational choice
theoretical framework to a specific examples of political vio-
lence and terrorism.
This notwithstanding, it is still appropriate to claim that most
of the literature on political violence is produced by experts in
political sciences, international studies and law. It is worth
specifying, in fact, that most criminological studies available do
not focus on political violence or terrorism, but rather on the
official perceptions, the institutional responses to these phe-
nomena, and the effects that such responses produce in the
social and political sphere.
It is not uncommon for criminologists to address the cones-
quences of state intervention against terrorism, particularly in
terms of human rights violation, its impact on civil liberties and
policing, but also in respect of corporate and state crime.
Themed sections of academic journals and professional maga-
zines have also focused on ‘trading civil liberties for greater
security’, ‘anti-terrorism and police powers’, ‘terrorism and
criminal justice values’ (Zedner, 2008).
It may be contended that the state of criminology with re-
spect to political violence is similar to the state once observed
by Becker (1963: 166) with respect to gangs and juvenile devi-
ance. ‘I think it is a truism to say that a theory that is not
closely tied to a wealth of facts about the subject it proposes to
explain is not likely to be very useful’. In other words, one may
look at violent political actors with the same dissatisfaction
with which Becker looked at young delinquents, and lament the
paucity of information available around what they think about
themselves and their activities. Some criminologists, perhaps
stimulated by such paucity, have followed an alternative ana-
lytical route.
Elements of criminological theories are used by Hamm
(2007), who refers to Sutherland’s notion that criminal behave -
iour is learned through interaction and interpersonal communi-
cation. While Sutherland argued that the learning process in-
volves specific techniques to commit crime as well as ration-
alisations for the crimes committed, Hamm supplements these
with ‘a third element in a person who is willing to use it as a
tactic: fanatical dedication to a cause’ (Hamm, 2007).
Rationalisations are intended by Hamm as ideology, there-
fore ‘the confluence of skill, ideology, and fanatical dedication
has been the engine driving most terrorist groups throughout
history’. Drawing on classical sociological thought, the author
also introduces the variable charisma, that he applies to specific
characters in the contemporary history of terrorism such as
Carlos the Jackal and Osama bin Laden. Charisma, or the
power of the gifted, is regarded as the fourth dimension of ter-
rorism, a quality that elicits loyalty and unquestioned action.
For charisma to express its strength, however, a crisis has to
erupt in specific spheres of collective life. Charismatic leaders,
therefore, are capable of responding to crises through their
unique gifts, which may fall in the spiritual domain, in the
economic arena or in the political sphere. ‘If the crisis involves
political conflict, the gifts will be in the realm of oratory. And if
that conflict leads to violence, the leader is likely to be gifted in
military tactics’ (Hamm, 2007). The author, however, mainly
looks at ‘terrorism as crime’ from a particular angle, as he is
less interested in political violence per se than in the crimes
committed for the provision of logistical support to that vio-
lence. His analysis, therefore, focuses on crimes aimed at pro-
viding terrorists with money, training, communication sys-
tems, safe havens, and travel opportunities. These crimes are
seen as the ‘lifeblood of terrorist groups’, and include counter-
feiting, bank robbery, theft, fraud, kidnapping, espionage, drug
smuggling, gun running, tax evasion, money laundering, cell
phone and credit card theft, immigration violations, passport
forgery, extortion, and prostitution. Hamm’s goal, therefore, ‘is
to examine terrorists’ involvement in these crimes and describe
law enforcement’s opportunities to detect and prevent them’
(Hamm, 2007). In this way, one may opine, criminological
theories are mainly applied to the analysis of ‘auxiliary’ com-
mon offences rather than precise political ones.
Arena and Arrigo (2006) claim that the extant literature
‘examines the causes of terrorism from within a psychological
framework’. There is, in effect, an abundance of studies ad-
dressing violent political conduct as a function of the individ-
ual’s psyche, or even attempting to identify specific personality
traits ‘that would compel a person to act violently’. This search
for the terrorist personality, in reality, is a long-standing effort
and echoes the analysis of Lombroso and Laschi (1890), ac-
cording to whom individualistic political offenders (as opposed
to revolutionaries) are characterised by ‘congenital criminality
and impulsive instincts, which converge in a form of epilepsy
associated with vanity, religiosity, megalomania and intermit-
tent geniality’ (Ruggiero, 2006). Arena and Arrigo suggest that
the identity construct is too often deemed a contributing factor
in the emergence and maintenance of extremist militant conduct,
and while noting that knowledge around identity and terrorism
is limited, they propose an alternative social psycho-logical
framework grounded in symbolic interactionism. The concepts
utilised include symbols, definition of the situation, roles, so-
cialisation and role-taking.
Fuzzy Actors
As I said earlier, organised crime may use violence as a sup-
plementary tool of negotiating their presence on markets, or
with the system. Violent political groups, on the contrary, use
violence as a signal of their unwillingness to negotiate with a
system they would rather demolish. Their action transcends the
immediate result they achieve, and prefigures, realistically or
not, a different set of achievements which will be valued in a
future, rather than in the current society. Of course, some po-
litical groups may use violence as a supplementary form of
pressure to accelerate a specific negotiation and pursue a con-
crete, material objective. But in this case, the word ‘terrorism’
becomes inappropriate, and such groups might be described as
engaging in ‘armed trade unionism’. Are official governments
prepared to do so? The ad hoc vocabulary of degradation, al-
luded to above, would prohibit it.
Finally, the evolution of organised crime into structures
commonly described as networks may make comparisons be-
tween the two forms of violence increasingly far-fetched. Net-
works imply the alliance between highly heterogeneous groups
and individuals, each with a distinctive cultural and ethnic
background, who may establish common goals on an occa-
sional or long-term basis. Actors operating in networks are
socially ‘fuzzy’, in the sense that their exploits and careers
overlap with those of others who are apparently radically dif-
ferent from them. Networks are a reflection of grey areas host-
ing diverse cultures, identities, values and motivations, areas in
which the diversity of activities results from the development of
points of contact, common interests and strategies between licit,
semi -licit and overtly illicit economies. I am thinking of ‘dirty
economies’ consisting in encounters which add to the respect-
tive cultural, social and symbolic capital possessed by criminals,
politicians and entrepreneurs, who interlock their practices.
Networks, mobility and fluidity are metaphors that aptly de-
scribe the flows of people and groups engaged in some of the
most successful forms of organised crime.
Such forms of organised crime, in sum, see the participation
of diverse collective or individual entities each pursuing their
own goals in a style and against a set of values that are consis-
tent with their own specific cultural, ethnic and professional
background. As collective actors, participants display a form of
organised behaviour without showing signs of an organised
identity. Let us now shift to a set of considerations pertaining to
political violence.
Violent political groups do not pursue material gain, and
when they do, this is related to the acquisition of symbolic
status, namely a capacity to step up their propaganda and hence
their visibility. Although criminology does provide analytical
tools to deal with symbolic or expressive violence, there are
other characteristics in political violence which make this spe-
cific conduct hard to locate within a criminological framework.
A short overview of theories will help clarify this point.
Anomie theorists may interpret the behaviour of armed
groups as the effect of a lack of social integration and regula-
tion, namely of cohesion, collective beliefs and mutually-
binding constraints allowing smooth interactions. However,
violent political groups claim to represent highly integrated and
regulated groups, such as classes, political formations or reli-
gious communities. In other words, their lack of solidarity with
the dominant social groups is counter-balanced by a high de-
gree of solidarity proffered to what are deemed dominated
groups, thus describing a situation of anomie with respect to the
former and one of strong normativeness with respect to the
latter. In their case, therefore, it is not anomie, but its opposite,
namely solidarity and integration that provide crucial precondi-
tions for action.
Adopting the concept of social disorganisation, it might be
suggested that political violence is a possible solution to the
dilemmas of exclusion and impotence. However, it should be
noted that similar solution is embedded in a process of empow-
erment in which ‘boundary creation’ is paramount. All social
relations occur within boundaries between those involved, and
while at the individual level, these boundaries fall somewhere
between you and me, at the collective level they fall between us
and them. Boundary creation between us and them is crucial for
the formation of identities, and in the case of social movements
and groups it also involves the recognition of existing inequali-
ties as unjust. The concept of disorganisation may explain ‘op-
positional behaviour’, not ‘oppositional identity’. The latter
involves identifying with an unjustly subordinated group, rec-
ognising the injustice suffered by that group, opposing it, and
forging a collective identity of interest in ending that injustice.
This implies a high degree of organisation and purposefulness,
rather than aimless social disorganisation. While it is useful to
explain dysfunctional processes and behaviours, it is also im-
portant to describe how some processes are functional to the
promotion of shared consciousness, to the identification of
collective interests and the building of organisational capacity
to act on those interests. Political violence is one of the out-
comes of such functional processes.
In the perspective of learning theories, violent behaviour is
transmitted in enclaves of peers and through mimetic processes
triggered by role models. Learning opportunities, however, are
accompanied by ‘claim making’ about social justice and the
perception of viable ways of pursuing it. Such claims become
political when groups and organisations holding means of coer-
cion are addressed. On the other hand, strain theorists would
posit that political violence is one of the possible deviant adap-
tations to an unsatisfactory situation. The impossibility of
achieving goals through legitimate means, in this type of adap-
tation termed ‘rebellion’, is turned into the imagining of alter-
native goals and the promotion of alternative, including violent,
means to achieve them. Rebellion, however, which implies a
‘genuine transvaluation’, namely a full denunciation of offi-
cially prized values, also includes a sense of frustration, a de-
gree of resentment, and ultimately the perception of one’s im-
potence due to lack of resources. Although questioning the
official monopoly of imagination, rebellion as described in
strain theory remains anchored to a deprived social condition
hampering the constitution of alternative reservoirs of imagina-
tion. Such a reservoir, on the contrary, can be regarded as an
important resource without which movements as well as violent
political groups could not produce action. Resource mobilisa-
tion theorists, for example, suggest that availability of resources,
rather than absence of them, makes groups capable of under-
taking concrete action. Resources include material and non-
material items, such as finances, infrastructures, authority,
moral commitment, political memory, organisations, networks,
trust, skills, and so on. In brief, while strain theorists tend to see
social action as the result of a deficit, organised social action,
whether violent or not, can also be interpreted as the outcome
of a surplus.
Political violence may be prevalent in contexts where control
efforts eschew negotiation or accommodation, and are them-
selves characterised by violence. In this sense, the activity of
some violent political groups could be understood as violence
against the establishment, on the one hand, and as one of the
effects of violence perpetrated by the establishment, on the
other. If this relational dynamic seems to be successful in ex-
plaining political violence, conflict theory, which also contains
relational elements, proves too general for the task. It is true
that institutions do not represent the values and interests of
society at large, and that norms of conduct may only reflect the
norms of the dominant culture. But to state that political vio-
lence is a manifestation of two sets of norms violently clashing
does not account for the fact that in most contexts, where also
the norms of conduct only reflect the norms of the dominant
culture, there is a negligible degree of contentious politics and
political violence. The analysis of the specific context in which
political violence occurs is crucial if the generalisations of con-
flict theory are to be avoided. The existence of repertoires of
action, accumulated through long periods of conflict, is in this
respect paramount. Repertoires consist of a legacy, made of
cultural and political resources, available to political groups.
They contain sets of action and identity deriving from shared
understandings and meanings, they are cultural creations that
take shape in social and political conflict.
Some of the techniques of neutralisation identified in crimi-
nology may well describe the ideological process whereby vio-
lent political groups come to terms with the effects of their acts.
The denial of the victim is operated through the perception of
the victim as wrongdoer, the condemnation of the condemners
through their association with immorality, and finally the ap-
peal to higher loyalties through the appropriation of the ideals
and practices of one’s political or religious creed. Techniques
of neutralisation, however, seem to belong to an ex-post reper-
toire of motivations mobilised by offenders in order to fill the
moral void they presumably experience. They are, in sum, a
defensive device which may temper moral disorientation. Po-
litical violence, instead, combines defensive and offensive
strategies, a combination without which action could hardly be
triggered. Such strategies may include ways of overcoming a
presumed moral disorientation, but must provide, at the same
time, strong, unequivocal orientation for individuals and groups
to act. This combination of strategies coalesce in the form of
collective identity, which transcends pure role or group identity,
in that it refers to shared self-definitions and common efforts
towards the production of social change. Collective identity
offers orientation in a moral space and gives rise to a sense of
self-esteem and self-efficacy; it also prompts what is worth
doing and what is not in organisational terms, leading indi-
viduals to appreciate their capacity to change the surrounding
Political violence, therefore, is one of the outcomes of or-
ganised identity and entails high degrees of subjectivity, so that
some features of social life are no longer seen as part of mis-
fortune, but of injustice. Along with techniques of neutralisa-
tion, political violence needs to elaborate an interpretive ‘frame
alignment’ with the activists it intends to mobilise.
Against the backdrop of control theories, political violence
could be examined as the result of a lack of attachment, com-
mitment, involvement and belief. On the contrary, most armed
organisations possess all of these in exceeding measure. In turn,
adopting ‘propensity event theory’ may prove problematic, as
the violence of the organisation does not reveal a deficit in
self-control and an inclination to impulsivity, but an extremely
developed ability to postpone gratification (the perfect social
system to come) and an equally patient capacity to plan actions.
In brief, in political violence what is ‘organised’ is not crime
or behaviour, but identity. And yet one may opine that organ-
ised crime and political violence could still be analysed jointly,
because both require scientific investigations and interpreta-
tions of their structure, their internal make up, their external
interactions, their targets and their changing physiognomy. The
sociology of organisations, in this respect, could well be mobi-
lised for such a joint examination. But this specific branch of
sociology is certainly useful for the analysis of other organisa-
tions, for example, universities, companies, bureaucracies, and
so on. Why then limit our joint analysis to organised crime and
terrorism? One could propose that, say, the next edition of the
Oxford Handbook of Criminology contains a chapter on ‘Or-
ganised Crime and Universities’, or ‘Fundamentalist Violence
and the Post Service’.
Arena, M.P., & Arrigo, B. A. (2006). The Terrorist Identity: Explaining
the Terrorist Threat, New York: New York University Press.
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