The best applications of social network analysis (SNA) offer new insight into complex behaviors, challenge previous assumptions, or explain apparently contradictory behavior by illuminating constraints that operate via social networks. In contrast, less successful applications tell us things we already knew using other methods (albeit with visually pleasing graphs) or leave readers with an understanding of the structure of social relations but little insight into their texture. Chris M. Smith's
Smith brings an enormous set of primary and secondary sources together to produce a deep analysis of organized crime—and the place of women in it—in Chicago from 1900 to 1933. Physical and online archives documenting criminal cases throughout the period are paired with contemporary and historical narratives to better characterize Chicago organized crime networks as well as provide texture to the lives of some of the women involved in it. Notably most of the original sources are focused on the most visible of Chicago crime members—that of Al Capone—but Smith uses these records to render visible the role women played throughout the period. The result is a triumph, detailing “3,321 individuals and their 15,681 relationships” (p. 141) over the course of three decades of Chicago organized crime.
As Smith highlights, the challenges of studying women in archival research are steep as “archives are not neutral spaces” (p. 18). Women overall merit less mention throughout the Capone database and often go unnamed; careful sleuthing across multiple sources was required to make decisions about the nature and form of each actor's ties to the broader network and this was especially challenging with respect to women. SNA is, in Smith's words, deployed as a “logic of discovery for a particular set of events, group of people, and historical moment more than as a logic of proof” (p. 41). It is of course possible that the visibility of women in the Chicago crime syndicate simply declined because of Prohibition-era enforcement practices while involvement persisted at similar levels. This reviewer doubts it however, because Smith marshals a broad array of compelling evidence and clear prose to describe both her own theory of syndicate women as well as the most likely challenges to this narrative.
The result is a wonderful book, suitable for undergraduates and experts alike, and offering both theoretical insights that are core to the study of crime and gender and a successful example of mixed methods research. For all audiences, the network analysis does not dominate the prose in the book but rather fades into the background, forming the foundation for an analysis centering the people, laws, and social context at hand. The result is an accessible read with the potential to revive work on gender and crime with a new way of seeing the role of women in organized crime. In short, there is something for everyone here.
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