Triads, Social Capital and Organized Crime in Hong Kong

Project: Research

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There are various approaches in studying organized crime, such as hierarchical approach, patronclient relations approach, entrepreneurial/market approach, and social network approach. In the literature of triad organized crime, the hierarchical approach has been often adopted. Within this approach, there exist two major perspectives in describing the internal structure and activities of triad society: “structural perspective” and “disorganized perspective”. From the “structural perspective”, triad societies are regarded as cohesive criminal organizations with a hierarchical structure and strict control mechanisms for enforcing norms, such as punishments and rewards for undesirable and desirable behaviors of members and the approval of senior members for organizational decisions, in order to maintain cohesiveness and to commit organized crime in systematic ways. On the other hand, the “disorganized perspective” contends that triad society is not centralized and centrality is restricted to the faction at area level rather than throughout the whole triad society. Internal conflicts and violence against members within the same triad society are commonly found, and group cohesiveness, members' loyalty and righteousness have weakened. Rituals, such as promotion, recruitment and communication, no longer follow the triad tradition and have failed to maintain cohesiveness, leaving senior members incapable of exercising full control over their sub-branches. However, neither the “structural perspective” nor the “disorganized perspective” has sufficiently addressed the connections between triad structure and the operation of organized crime. The “structural perspective” looks at the triad society as a whole in crime operation, while the “disorganized perspective” reveals the involvement of individual triad members, not the whole triad criminal organization, in the operation. Simply relying on the “structural” and “disorganized” perspectives is insufficient to resolve the disjunction between the triad hierarchical structure and organized crime. To fill this research gap, it is necessary to go beyond the façade of the present perspectives and investigate “social capital” as a mediating factor between triad societies and organized crime. Against this background, the present study attempts to investigate the role of triad societies in facilitating the development of social capital of triad members, and how triad members utilize their social capital in the operation of organized crime. This study would strengthen existing triad literature and provide theoretical insight into how triad societies develop social capital, and how triad-related social capital functions in organized crime. The findings would help law enforcement agencies to develop intervention strategies against triads and organized crime.


Project number9042301
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/1615/05/19

    Research areas

  • triad society,criminal gangs,organized crime,social capital,