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Political scientist Juan Masullo awarded LUF grant for research on anti-mafia culture

Political scientist Juan Masullo receives a grant from the Elise Mathilde Fund (Leiden University Fund) to conduct his research project ‘Forging an Anti-Mafia Culture: Observational and Experimental Evidence from Italy’. Masullo aims to find out what ordinary Italians think of organised crime and to generate insights as to how to foster an anti-mafia culture.

Juan Masullo (Ph.D., European University Institute) is Assistant Professor in the Institute of Political Science at Leiden University. He is also Research Associate at the Changing Character of War Centre at the University of Oxford. His research sits on the intersection of comparative politics and international relations and explores complex social dynamics in settings of political and criminal violence.

Read more about Juan Masullo

Social and cultural acceptance

Mafia organisations continue to thrive worldwide. Despite their attractiveness in popular culture, the consequences for ordinary civilians are devastating. Organised crime does affect societies in many harmful ways. Think of shop owners forced to pay large sums of extortion money, youths being recruited as hitmen, and innocent civilians getting killed in mafia wars across the world.

In response, various grassroots associations have emerged to resist criminal activity, create awareness of the costs imposed by the mafia, and promote an anti-mafia culture. This, in turn, could help to curtail the mafia’s hold on society. As is well established, social and cultural acceptance is one of the crucial factors explaining the mafia’s survival and success.

Impact of anti-mafia campaigns

Less is known, however, about what ordinary people actually think of mafia organisations. Also, little research has been done on the impact of anti-mafia campaigns. Political scientist Juan Masullo will address both questions in his research project Forging an Anti-Mafia Culture: Observational and Experimental Evidence from Italy. As prime investigator Masullo will be joined by three research assistants (both in Leiden and in Palermo, Italy). The project will span two years (up until September 2024).

Masullo & his colleagues will conduct a survey among a large sample of Italian residents to map public attitudes towards the mafia and identify what is behind these attitudes. What type of information can help shape citizens’ awareness and opinion of organised crime? This will be a good test of the implicit and explicit assumptions that have thusfar dominated the public debate and scientific literature.

Working together with local grassroots movement

A novel field experiment will assess the impact of an existing anti-mafia awareness initiative in a randomised and controlled setting. How can anti-mafia culture be promoted? Masullo will join forces with Addiopizzo, a local grassroots movement in Sicily. Addiopizzo emerged in 2004 in Palermo to resist extortion by the mafia (the name of the movement means ‘Goodbye Extortion’). Besides supporting hundreds of businesses that refuse to pay protection money, its members organise ‘anti-mafia tours’. On these tours, local visitors and tourists deepen their knowledge about the mafia phenomenon beyond clichés and myths and visit symbolic locations, such as memorials dedicated to victims of mafia violence. 

Through the University of Palermo, Masullo will then recruit last-year high school and first-year university students from Sicily’s capitol and establish whether and how their attitude towards the mafia is affected by being exposed to Addiopizzo’s educational efforts.

Elise Mathilde Fund

The Elise Mathilde Fund was established in 1941 by the van Beuningen-Brain family. It supports non-profit institutions striving towards social, cultural or idealistic goals and targets projects that improve societal cohesion and involve volunteers. The fund is affiliated with the Leiden University Fund (LUF) and in 2016 provided a substantial donation to facilitate academic projects of Leiden University.

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