Over Pressure: Grassroots-driven Transformation of (militant) Organizations
Margaret Foster (Duke University)

Abstract : Why might a clandestine or militant organization not take advantage of an upswell of potential recruits who would increase group strength and resilience? I argue that when resource constrained organizations grow quickly, their leaders face the choice of balancing short-term organizational survival with long-term mission focus. This leads to an under-theorized mechanism through which an organization's grassroots create internal constituencies that pressure leaders to incorporate their preferences for strategy and operations. I develop this mechanism through a simple formal model, and illustrate the logic and outcome via the example of al-Qaeda in Yemen (AQAP) before and after the introduction of the American War on Terror. I look for evidence of mission drift in AQAP through a multi-pronged empirical strategy the uses text analysis of AQAP communiques and messages on the one hand as well as machine learning classification of reports of local conflict events.

Stationary Bandits in the Streets: Gangs, Illicit Market Fragmentation, and Social Order in Chicago
Bradley E. Holland (Ohio State University)

Abstract : While street gangs are prevalent in many urban areas, their impact on social order has been under-theorized and rarely subject to systematic analysis. Building upon political economic theories of organized violence, this paper highlights the role of fragmentation in gang markets and organizations in driving patterns of predatory violence. When gangs have consolidated control of local markets, they are more likely to promote social order in order to reap the long-term benefits of more robust illicit markets. In contrast, by increasing the potential for competition and hampering the ability to solve principal-agent problems, market and organizational fragmentation make gang members less likely to invest in social order and more likely to prey on residents. Analyzing this theory using fine-grain data from Chicago, the paper finds the fragmentation of gang territory and shocks to the organization of local illicit markets to be associated with higher levels of predatory violence like robbery.

Bankers or Bandits? Courts and the Making of Organized Crime on the Frontier
Jonathan Obert (Amherst College)

Abstract : Despite the myth of the “Wild West,” state-organized legal institutions were in actuality quite pervasive in many areas in the mid-nineteenth century U.S. frontier. At the same time, these frontier areas — marked by high levels of physical mobility, social ambiguity, and institutional change — were the the scene for the construction of some of the first large-scale organized criminal efforts in American history. This paper shows how an interconnected confederation known as the “Banditti” active in the midwest in the 1830s and early 1840s exploited the local nature of frontier courts, advances in physical mobility, and the creation of a national market, to establish an extensive trade in counterfeit bank notes and stolen horses. By providing scarce resources to other settlers and exploiting the anonymity of frontier life, members of the Banditti were able to forge powerful alliances with political notables, and were frequently protected by a court system in which local standards of jurisprudence trumped abstract law. Contra arguments that banditry often substitutes for a weak state, in other words, this paper contends that, in unsettled contexts, highly local forms of state-building and legal development can actually reinforce the growth of organized predation.

Prison Life for Women, Gay, and Transgender Prisoners: the Role of Fictive Kinships and Pre-prison Social Networks
David Skarbek (Brown University)

Abstract : How does prison social order vary across time and place? This paper examines the informal institutions that exist in two different types of confinement. First, in California, women prisoners often form fictive kinships to organize their social and economic interactions. So-called “prison families” are a source of intimacy, friendship, mutual support, and protection. However, unlike other informal prisoner institutions, membership in prison families is not permanent, mutually exclusive, or highly restrictive. Based on a review of research dating back to the 1950s, it also appears that this type of informal institutions has always existed. This stands in contrast to substantial changes in the operation of prisons, the informal changes in men’s prisons, and broader cultural change. Second, this paper compares women’s prisons to life in the Gay and Transgender prison in the Los Angeles County Jail for men.