#ScholarSpotlight with Luciano Pollichieni

Luciano Pollichieni completed his doctoral research in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham where he is affiliated at the Centre for Conflict Security and Terrorism. His PhD project on "Islamist Mafias" investigated the phenomenon of the crime-terror nexus with a special focus on the activities of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Haqqani Network. He obtained a BA in Political Science and an MA in International Relations at LUISS Guido Carli University and a second MA in Geopolitics and Global Security at "La Sapienza" University of Rome. He is interested in terrorism and political violence and the crime-terror nexus. 

In this chat with Global Policy: Next Generation, Luciano discusses his research on the intersection of terrorism and organized crime, his personal connection to the topic, and must-read works for those interested in field.


What is the focus of your research? 

I study why and how terrorism and organized crime interact. I try to make sense of the logic behinds these rapprochements. I’m also interested in understanding how criminal organizations exploit geographical spaces for their aims, so occasionally my research is closer to geography and geopolitics rather than the “classic” terrorism studies. 

Why is your research important to you? 

It’s a mix between personal and strictly intellectual reasons. Concerning the firsts, I grew up in Calabria, South Italy, were unfortunately the grip of organized crime has oppressed my community for decades. Both my parents were anti-mafia activists, so I always had a clear understanding of what organized crime is and how it works. I see my research as way to contribute to the emancipation of my community even if sometimes it is difficult to make people understand this. Concerning the purely intellectual side of the issue, I hope that my research will help practitioners and the people in general to understand the harms and the threats that these organisations produce in our societies. I am happy that the debate on issues such as corruption, drug trafficking, and more recently human slavery is now becoming the more and more discussed in public, thanks also to the work of scholars, journalists and activists, perhaps I think we still have a long way to go to make people fully aware of the importance of these.

Which academics’ work has inspired some of your key thinking?

I’m in debt intellectually to a lot of scholars. I was always inspired by the research of Alex Thurston, Victor Asal, Benjamin Lessing and Vanda Felbab-Brown to mention a few. More recently, I have been influenced by the work of Katharine Petrich, Joana Cook and Aisha Ahmad. Concerning my intellectual “pillars”, I have to mention Michel Foucault, Yves Lacoste (the father of the French school of geopolitics) and Gilles Kepel. 

What issues do you see your field being focused upon in the next several years?

I think I will probably conduct some research more geographically focused. I would like to analyse the relationships between urban spaces and radicalization and the strategies of criminal organisations in relation to the key nodes of global trade.  

How does your research link to or have an impact on global policy issues?

As I’ve said before there is still a long way to go to make people and governments understand how criminal organizations are affecting our daily life in a negative way. Personally, I hope that my research could make some impact on the most evident global issues of our time: gender equality, racial discrimination and economic gaps. In fact, I believe that criminal organisations (be they terrorist or evidently criminal) are built on racist and misogynist creeds and they tend to use violence in order to implement and preserve poverty in certain communities, if we deconstruct these aspects of their actions and behaviour we can find ways to defeat them…and to create a better society. 

What is the one piece of advice you wish you had been given when starting your academic career?

Give due weight to other people’s opinion. As scholars we are under constant scrutiny by basically everybody (journals, colleagues, reporters and so on). If you focus exclusively on achieving admiration from the others you will hardly produce any original research in my opinion.

What is one must-read book/ article for scholars not in your field?

Pardon my impetuosity but I will go with three: 1) Aisha Ahmad’s book “Jihad & Co”; 2) James Cockayne’s “Hidden Power”; 3) The groundbreaking article of the godmother of the study of the crime terror nexus, Tamara Makarenko’s “The Crime-Terror continuum”.