Agency and the micro-foundation of network resilience: Insights from “Mafia Capitale” (2012-2015)

Francesca Capo, Elisa Operti, Riccardo Maiolini, Francesco Rullani


An extensive body of research has developed in the last decade on how networks evolve and change over time (Ahuja et al., 2011). The need to account for time and change in the study of social structures has led to several contributions shedding light on how network properties evolve, including examinations of brokerage (Quintane and Carnabuci, 2016), multiplexity (Operti et al., 2019) and small-world structures (Gulati et al., 2012). The need to embrace a more dynamic conceptualization of social structures sparked an increased interest towards the concept of network resilience (Gao et al., 2016). Research in this area has typically considered resilience as an emergent and systemic property of social systems, with researchers treating the ability to maintain effectiveness in the face of shocks as a result of the structural features of the original network (Dujin et al., 2014). However scant attention has been given to the role of agentic individual-level mechanisms in determining network resilience. In particular, there is limited evidence explaining how individual actors embedded within networks react to shocks and what strategies they may purposefully undertake to restore network’s efficiency in the face of disruption (Brennecke et al. 2019). This gap is surprising, especially in light of the everlasting challenge of identifying and explaining agentic behaviors in networks (Emirbayer and Goodwin, 1994). Notwithstanding several studies calling attention to the interplay between agency and structure (Gulati and Srivastava, 2014) agentic responses to external events that impose churn in social networks remain an overlooked area of inquiry within the network field. In this paper, we intend to address this challenge through a longitudinal case study of the evolution of a political, economic and criminal network involved in a scandal known as “Mafia Capitale” and happened in Rome, Italy’s capital, between 2012 and 2015. In June 2013, Rome’s city council witnessed a sharp political turn with the election of a new Mayor, Ignazio Marino. As an outsider to the local political scene, Marino posed severe threats to the ongoing infiltration of a criminal syndicate into the political and business networks. We analyze the type-wires included as part of the related judiciary investigation and produced by the criminal police department of Rome, a report produced by a commission assessing the degree of criminal infiltration in the capital city, and data on the public procurement contracts assigned by the departments of the municipality of Rome involved in the scandal in the related period (2012-2015) to investigate how the central players in the network – i.e., the leaders of the criminal syndicate – reacted following the interventions devised by the new Mayor that disrupted the existing network. Our preliminary analysis points to the existence of specific mechanisms (e.g. twostep influence, multi-party encirclement) that actors can strategically leverage to restore network effectiveness. In the coming months, we plan to deepen our qualitative and quantitative data triangulation to provide further insights. We hope that these findings will contribute to advance our current understanding of the role of agency in network dynamics and resilience.

← Schedule