RUB Research School

Understanding Organizational Resilience - The Development of Organizational Resilience within the Gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) in Central America and on the US East Coast

The Research Project

Why are certain gangs and criminal organizations seemingly “immortal”? How is their organizational resilience constituted and which factors and processes play central roles? My dissertation addresses these research questions through a case study of the transnational gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13). Today, spanning over North and Central America, the MS-13 is one of the largest street gangs in the world, poses a significant threat to public security, and pushes large-scale refugee streams, especially in Central America.

From the perspective of organizational sociology, I study the development of MS-13's resilience over the 40-year period of its existence and reconstruct phases of organizational resilience. I conduct research in Central America and the U.S. through document analysis and interviews with (former) gang members and experts.

I argue that MS-13's organizational resilience is not a static organizational quality understood as a set of specific capabilities, but rather an unceasing process that is continually fed by the experiences and adaptations of previous resilience processes. Accordingly, I understand the organizational environment as a central element of the constitution of MS-13's resilience. In this regard, my dissertation contributes not only to a better understanding of MS-13 in particular, but also to organizational sociological theory in general.

What I need the IRB for

The IRB enables me to conduct field research in the U.S. and Central America. My object of study, gangs, requires a high degree of personal flexibility. Precisely this flexibility makes the IRB so beneficial to me. I have the freedom to decide on the timing and location of my research and can respond to short-lived opportunities. The IRB not only facilitates my research but improves it.