The term social institution means a wide set of organized beliefs and rules that establish how society meets its basic functions. These set of beliefs and rules are very important to human life as they provide a structure for human life to base its coexistence upon. More academic research and scholarly expansion on the topic has come up with better definitions of the term. Recently, social institution was taken to mean an organized system that consists of roles, norms and values, in which members of a community coordinate, operate and relate with one another. So it is evident that social institutions satisfy the society’ basic needs and at the same time defining social behavior as well as patterns of behavior.

All societies consist of social institutions, but some vary more than others. For example, the social institution of the family enables us to bring up our kids while providing for them and protecting their development. However, in the current Western set up, the caregiver – whoever the individual is – is the head. In ancient Rome, the father was the head of the household whatever the circumstances. This shows a stark contrast in how the two periods ran families as units of society.

Studying social institution assists us in better understanding the individual roles of family members as part of the society’s core unit in relation to their interactions with other members of the society. There are many types of social institution, for example, family, government, mass media, economic and healthcare. In this paper, we shall dwell more on the effects of social institution on organized crime and less on a deeper explanation of the different types of this crucial element of social development.

Social institution and organized crime

The relationship between members of normal a social institution and organized crime is very obvious. Both are headed by a single figure that has a premeditated objective. Both act a leader and boss in different circumstances. In case a member of their organization goes astray, this leader acts as the boss and exacts a form of punishment that is deemed commensurate with the mistakes. In case of group activities that require input from several members of the groups or all of them, he/she acts like the leader and guides his group in accomplishing its goal. Sometimes the leader is not able to partake in any of these activities, instead choosing to delegate the same to a select group of members who have his trust and have proven themselves as capable of the task.

As mentioned earlier, a normal social institution’s members and those of cartel or any other group involved in organized crime are objective (Liddick, 1999). They have a common goal. The normal institution’s members are governed by its role in society. A family supports each other while raising its children, a mass media social institution support each other in the collection and dissemination of information in a timely, unbiased and easy-to-comprehend manner. On the other hand, organized crime members are involved in various illegal and/or criminal activities that include drug trafficking, prostitution, human trafficking, arms trade and smuggling and others. This shows a good relationship between social institution and organized crime as both are object-oriented.

Another relationship between social institutions and organized crime if their area of focus. Members of some social institutions focus on one area, as exemplified by the Girl Guide and Boy Scout movement. These are existent all over the world but each group focuses its activities in its home area providing assistance to outside regions only in times of need. Organized crime groups operate in a similar manner. Rabin (1979), supports the understanding that “these groups are very territorial and invasion into other’s territory often leads to gang wars and murders or torture” (pg, 236-251). Both groups focus their energies in their own regions and strengthen the group to avoid its falling apart.

Empirical and Speculative theories applicable to organized crime

Theories are explanations that consist of clearly defined, interrelated, and measurable propositions that try to explain an occurrence or problem. In trying to understand organized crime, the following theories have been forwarded.

Alien Conspiracy Theory

This is the most widely held theory among scholars and specialists that try to understand the emergence and prevalence of organized crime among many parts of the world. In the US, the images of smartly dressed men of foreign descent, wielding machine guns and riding in sleek cars, is blamed for the rise in organized crime rates during the period characterized by Mafia activity and after.

Although ethnicity is the key to this theory, many empirical scholars argue that its heavy reliance on the same overstates the role of ethnicity in organized crime. Desroches (2005) found that criminals of one ethnicity often engaged in crime as a unit but not exclusively. Albanese (2010) summed up on this observation using his study of Lansky and Capone’s organized crime activity by saying, “organized criminals who wished to survive and prosper relied more on business sense and logic than on kinship and ethnicity” (p. 25)

Rational Choice Theory

In trying to understand how man conducts himself the way he does in the current circumstance, theories have come up to explain organized crime that seem to justify its existence as a mere result to rational thinking. Sometimes, individuals find themselves in positions that demand a more critical look into bettering their circumstances. A bank teller who is experiencing financial difficulties might see sense in defrauding the very bank he works in. A distraught husband might decide to kill a man if he discovers that he has been sleeping with his wife. Such actions seem justified from their perpetrators’ perspectives, but the law cannot be subject to rationale. Potter & Jenkins point out the viability of this theory as the driving factor in many of the current organized crime groups as the existence. Loopholes in the constitution and corruption make these individuals come together to exploit gray opportunities since they know they have a way out.

Deterrence Theory

Some scholars believe that the existence of deterrence measures drive some criminals into organizing themselves into large groups in order to increase their powers of resistance against authorities and the law. Larger groups mean more resources which in turn mean the ability to intimidate authorities and bribe the morally sensitive ones. In addition, the best lawyers are sought since finances are no longer an issue in addition to ties with powerful political figures. Gandhirajan (2004) states,” criminals are more willing to commit crimes since courts have recently embraced a policy of correction rather than punishment, and with their vast resources they can better fight these” (p. 513).


Albanese, J. S. (2010). Organized Crime in Our Times. Burlington: Elsevier Science.

Desroches, F. J. (2005). The crime that pays: Drug trafficking and organized crime in Canada. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.

Gandhirajan, C. K. (2004). Organized crime. New Delhi: A.P.H. Pub. Corp.

Liddick, D. (1999). An empirical, theoretical, and historical overview of organized crime. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press.

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