Bridging the parochial divide: Outsider brokerage in mafia families

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How do groups maintain internal solidarity and closure without compromising their access to diverse networks? A long line of previous research suggests focusing on the boundary-spanning activities of “brokers” who bridge gaps in social structure. In many contexts, however, brokers are viewed with suspicion and distrust rather than rewarded for their diversity of interests. This article examines groups in which the theoretical deck is seemingly stacked against brokerage and toward parochialism: American-Italian mafia families. Through an institutional analysis of the mafia organization, I trace how ethnic and organizational closure led marginalized actors to seek alternative paths to enrichment beyond the family-controlled networks and industries. Using a historical network data set, I document a division of network labor in which ethnic outsiders— more than other actors—benefited as bridges between parochial organizations. This illuminates a broader paradox of social organization: while social closure is typically thought important because it increases the group's power over individual members and reinforces boundaries, it can also undermine those same boundaries by pushing marginal actors to seek opportunities and connections outside the group.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102913
JournalSocial Science Research
StatePublished - Aug 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science

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