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The dark side of social capital: crime, development, and social regulations in Southern Italy

Dark side, Aesop Naples 2007

Although one could expect a growing interest in the influence of the several mafia organizations on spatial phenomena, little attention has been paid to the permeability of land use planning to illegal business. Instead, the control of space, and thus of spatial development, is a central feature of organized crime. The analysis of such powerful criminal organizations challenges common wisdom on the legitimacy of public regulatory power.

This paper sketches an initial review of mafia-like criminal organizations in Southern Italy, through the recent flourishing academic and investigative literature, and offers some insights into a situated social analysis and the collective construction of negotiated space.

Criminal organizations have been fighting for years against the state in order to prevail in controlling the ‘territory’, i.e. space, movement, and local societies. The Sicilian Mafia and the Camorra in Naples, in particular, have always been claiming for themselves the control of space, in competition with the legal system of democratic jurisdiction.

Scholars have used the theoretical perspective of social capital to conceptualize local communities’ acquiescence of organized crime. From this perspective, the paper investigates the implications of crime on social ties, and the extent of ‘dis-regulating’ processes in spatial development.

The control of space emerges as a main feature characterizing the crucial challenge between crime and society. In particular, the paper pinpoints three more general remarks: space being the product of social processes, even criminal networks contribute to shape it, and to the setting of distorted spatial regulations; social capital acts ambiguously in such processes, being in part captured by parochial interests, and supporting multiple layers of dis-regulatory processes; as well as space, ‘legality’ is a social product, but it is also the levelling field of admissible conflicts.

This finally leads to the conclusion that the defence of ‘public space’ is the crucial starting point of all public policies against crime.

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