Social Capital In Action!

by Henry Farrell on September 25, 2007

I’m doing some research on Italian mafia-type organizations at the moment, and came across this “great article”: (PDF) by Federico Varese on the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta and social capital. Those that have read Robert Putnam’s _Making Democracy Work_ will be familiar with his claim that the main reason for the differences between crime-infested and economically and politically underdeveloped Southern Italy and the relatively advanced North is their respective levels of social capital. Varese asks what happens when the ‘Ndrangheta tried to expand its operations from the low social capital South to the high social capital areas in the North. He finds that the ‘Ndrangheta has been more successful in transplanting its networks than social capital theory would suggest, but documents one case in which a ‘highly civic’ town – Verona – managed to repel mafioso drug dealers who were trying to infiltrate the city. The Catholic Church, the local Communists, and various social groups went into action to boot them out, and to get rid of officials and politicians who had taken bribes from the mafia. The end result of their successful efforts – a resurgent local heroin market run by vibrant community networks.

operators in the market belonged to the same social milieu that had given rise to a flourishing economy and adopted the same entrepreneurial spirit and straightforward commercial practices that characterized the legal sectors of the economy. Transactions in the illicit drug market took place according to shared rules of fair bargaining, and punishment took the form of exclusion from future exchanges and refusal to offer credit and discounts. In addition, a significant level of barter and individualized exchange existed in this market, and no third-party mechanism to punish defectors existed.

This did lower the rates of violent crime. Even so, I suspect that it’s not going to get prominent discussion in the Communitarian Newsletter anytime soon. Varese’s “book”: on the Russian Mafia is also an excellent read – his description of the sociology of the _vory_ in Russian prison camps reads like something from Dostoevsky.

Jon Pike (Open U) has emailed me about an initiative he has launched to get the question of whether or not there should be an “academic boycott” of Israel put to the entire membership of the union. As CT readers will know, I’m opposed to the academic boycott. But even if I weren’t, the idea that this issue should be decided by a small group of activists strikes me as absurd and undemocratic. So I urge all British academics who are members of the UCU to support Jon’s initiative and “sign the petition”: .

UPDATE: It turns out the whole question is moot, as the UCU has “acted”: on advice that any boycott would be illegal.

Getting students to speak

by Chris Bertram on September 25, 2007

Here we are, at least in this part of the world, at the beginning of a new academic year. Teachers everywhere are facing the prospect of groups of sullen silent students, or groups composed of the cowed majority plus one ignorant loudmouth who you can’t shut up. And then there’s the group which works absolutely fine but when those ten file out, and another ten sit down, and you do exactly the same thing but nothing happens, long silences, etc. And then there’s the temptation to overcompensate and turn those seminar groups into a mini-lecture where _you_ do all the talking. I’ve just been discussing these problems with a friend and suggested I try an open thread on the subject here at CT.

Teachers, students: what are your hints and tips for small group teaching? What works and what doesn’t? What’s the optimal size? Do sex ratios in groups make a difference to the dynamic? And what are the other pathologies that I haven’t even mentioned?

Killer App

by Kieran Healy on September 25, 2007

Radioshift from Rogue Amoeba. Because I am addicted to listening to BBC Radio 4 and Radio 7 on my iPod before I go to sleep, I already use their Audio Hijack Pro application to do effectively what this does, except more cumbersomely. This way you can subscribe to live radio broadcasts and treat them as if they were podcasts. Fantastic. Harry Brighouse take note.