How do criminals communicate with each other? Unlike the rest of us, people planning crimes can't freely advertise their goods and services, nor can they rely on formal institutions to settle disputes and certify quality. They face uniquely intense dilemmas as they grapple with the basic problems of whom to trust, how to make themselves trusted, and how to handle information without being detected by rivals or police. In this book, one of the world's leading scholars of the mafia ranges from ancient Rome to the gangs of modern Japan, from the prisons of Western countries to terrorist and pedophile rings, to explain how despite these constraints, many criminals successfully stay in business.
Diego Gambetta shows that as villains balance the lure of criminal reward against the fear of dire punishment, they are inspired to unexpected feats of subtlety and ingenuity in communication. He uncovers the logic of the often bizarre ways in which inveterate and occasional criminals solve their dilemmas, such as why the tattoos and scars etched on a criminal's body function as lines on a professional résumé, why inmates resort to violence to establish their position in the prison pecking order, and why mobsters are partial to nicknames and imitate the behavior they see in mafia movies. Even deliberate self-harm and the disclosure of their crimes are strategically employed by criminals to convey important messages.
By deciphering how criminals signal to each other in a lawless universe, this gruesomely entertaining and incisive book provides a quantum leap in our ability to make sense of their actions.
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"Codes of the Underworld persuasively answers new and provocative questions raised from Gambetta's extensive experience in the study of criminal behavior. He introduces and illuminates a vast field of strategic communication where trust cannot be taken for granted. There is nothing comparable in print, and the book's interpretations will carry well beyond the field of conventional crime."--Thomas C. Schelling, Nobel Prize-winning economist
"This innovative book shows Gambetta's nimble and subtle mind at its best. He combines striking analytical insights with rich ethnographic descriptions."--Jon Elster, Columbia University
"Codes of the Underworld looks at the fascinating array of signals that criminals use to recognize each other, validate their claims of toughness, and induce trust or fear. This comprehensive picture of underworld communication will make a serious impact on further studies of organized crime."--Marek Kaminski, University of California, Irvine
Diego Gambetta is Official Fellow of Nuffield College and professor of sociology at the University of Oxford. He is the author of "The Sicilian Mafia: The Business of Private Protection" and editor of "Making Sense of Suicide Missions".
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