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.
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.