Sciences Po CSO/CNRS CNRS
Séminaire doctoral / Doctoral Seminar
Diego Gambetta, The trademark 'Mafia': The dynamics of reputation in the underworld
16 Décembre 2005

Diego Gambetta est connu pour ses recherches sur la "signalling theory". En ce moment, il travaille sur l'imitation trompeuse des signaux d'identité. Ce projet, dit-il, représente un nouveau développement de ses recherches précédentes sur la confiance. Parmi ses sujets de recherche, nous citerons : "Les conducteurs de taxi et leurs clients dans les villes dangereuses" et "Les manières dont les criminels communiquent - ou non - entre eux".

Livre à paraître : "Crimes and Signs: Cracking the Codes of the Underworld" (Princeton, NJ. Princeton University Press, 2006).

Résumé des séminaires

9 Décembre - The Value of Incompetence for Criminals, Academics and Aristocrats

The problem of trust faced by everyone in business generally haunts, intensified, the underworld: how does one know whether to trust others, and also how does one persuade others that one is trustworthy (whether this is true or not)? Both are pressing questions for criminals and it is easy to see why. First, criminals operate under greater constraints that can force them to default on their agreements even if they do not want to: they may simply have to run away from the law or end up in jail for previous offences. In this sense they are not so much untrustworthy as unreliable, more likely to have ‘accidents’. Next they have greater opportunities to renege on their agreements. While the secrecy in which they operate is a constraint it can be turned to an advantage as they can vanish more easily. Cheats, furthermore, do not have to fear the law when they dupe other criminals, for these have no legal protection. Third, they are more likely to have the motivations to defect than most ordinary people do as they are driven by selfish goals disregarding the property or even the lives of others. Fourth, they are more likely to have the dispositions to defect, for they are more prone than most to use take risks. They are also less likely to feel bound by norms and deterred by punishment than law-abiding citizens are. Criminal exemplify homo economicus at his rawest.
In this talk I discuss only one of the several ways in which criminals solve their trust problem or rather circumvent it. It is a very odd way in which the criminal-trustee persuades a criminal-truster that it is in the trustee’s own interest to be trustworthy by credibly displaying his incompetence. This strategy reveals some unexpected links with the behaviour of corrupt academics and even that of the aristocracy. Its relevance for the sociology of organisation is that this strategy could explain why certain organisations come to be dominated by what I call a kakistocracy, or the government by the worse.


16 décembre - The trademark 'Mafia': the dynamics of reputation in the underworld
To build and maintain a reputation for the good quality of one’s firm is an essential part of most business activities. Criminal ‘firms’ make no exception. The value of a good reputation increases if, as in the underworld, there are no certifying and enforcing institutions and as the cost of proving the quality of one’s goods increases, as it also does in the underworld. Yet, the uncertainty besetting the underworld makes it hard to advertise one’s products generally and in particular it hinders the extension of a reputation to supra-individual entities such as ‘names’ and trademarks. Criminal reputations remain attached to specific individuals, at best extending to families, contrary to the legal economy in which reputations become attached to trademarks that can have a life which is independent of their founders.
Only protection firms, such as the ‘mafia’, can at times struggle out of these limitations. They have to. For them reputation is a key asset, more so than for all other business whether legal or illegal. How do they do it? This is the question I address in this talk what features are required for an illegal organisation to develop and maintain a reputation that goes beyond the lives of its members. To understand how the mafia really works one needs to understand how its reputation grew, is maintained and is communicated to others. How can one tell a real Mafioso from an impostor?


Homepage de Diego Gambetta