Judge Thy Neighbor

Judge Thy Neighbor

Denunciations in the Spanish Inquisition, Romanov Russia, and Nazi Germany

Patrick Bergemann
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From the Spanish Inquisition to Nazi Germany to the United States today, ordinary people have often chosen to turn in their neighbors to the authorities. What motivates citizens to inform on the people next door? In Judge Thy Neighbor, Patrick Bergemann provides a theoretical framework for understanding the motives for denunciations in terms of institutional structures and incentives. In case studies of societies in which denunciations were widespread, Bergemann merges historical and quantitative analysis to explore individual reasons for participation. He sheds light on Jewish converts' shifting motives during the Spanish Inquisition; when and why seventeenth-century Romanov subjects fulfilled their obligation to report insults to the tsar' s honor; and the widespread petty and false complaints filed by German citizens under the Third Reich, as well as present-day plea bargains, whistleblowing, and crime reporting. Bergemann finds that when authorities use coercion or positive incentives to elicit information, individuals denounce out of self-preservation or to gain rewards. However, in the absence of these incentives, denunciations are often motivated by personal resentments and grudges. In both cases, denunciations facilitate social control not because of citizen loyalty or moral outrage but through the local interests of ordinary participants. Offering an empirically and theoretically rich account of the dynamics of denunciation as well as vivid descriptions of the denounced, Judge Thy Neighbor is a timely and compelling analysis of the reasons people turn in their acquaintances, with relevance beyond conventionally repressive regimes.
Overall, Judge Thy Neighbor is full of rich details and thoughtful observations on a phenomenon that sociologists pay little attention to, despite the prevalence of denunciation in the past and present. * American Journal of Sociology * An important illustration of how much we can learn from combining middle-range theory and comparisons within well contextualized historical case studies. Bergemann skillfully moves beyond the work of historians by forging theoretical connections between denunciation and different forms of social control across space and time. * Social Forces * A terrific book. It greatly improves our understanding of repressive structures and social conflict. It is also an excellent example of comparative thinking, with some very good data, providing fresh insight to historical cases on which a lot of ink has been spilled. * Contemporary Sociology * Social scientists neglect negative interpersonal ties. While lab experiments on the willing assumption of malevolent authority open a window on this topic, Bergemann is the first to examine betrayal and denunciation to the authorities in natural settings, and to theorize the common causes and patterns over the centuries. A fascinating opening into a dark side of human behavior. -- Mark Granovetter, Joan Butler Ford Professor, Stanford University The nastiest feature of living in oppressive regimes is the pressure to denounce other people. But Bergemann shows some surprising patterns. Regimes can be inundated with unreliable information and petty grievances, and some incentives have more costs than others. This history is highly relevant in today' s era of whistleblowers, snitching, and online accusations. -- Randall Collins, author of Interaction Ritual Chains Denunciation is more pervasive than we think, yet remains poorly studied and understood. Using three case studies, Bergemann advances new hypotheses and helps shed light on this intriguing social phenomenon. -- Stathis N. Kalyvas, author of The Logic of Violence in Civil War Research on deviance typically focuses on those who violate prevailing norms. Bergemann turns the camera around: What if the real deviants are the accusers, not the accused? By applying alternative theoretical models to three historical cases, Bergemann identifies the viral strains in epidemics of denunciation, with stunning new insights. This exquisitely crafted study is a must-read not only for students of social control but for anyone who wonders if law enforcement should be crowdsourced. -- Michael Macy, Goldwin Smith Professor of Arts and Sciences, Cornell University There have been case studies of the Inquisition and lots of work on the Gestapo, but the explanations in all of those are ad hoc and make no effort to generalize beyond their single cases. Judge Thy Neighbor offers a theory that I expect will both transform future work on these and other cases of denunciations and influence broader social-science analyses of group dynamics, social movements, and microsocial relations. -- Richard Lachmann, State University of New York at Albany
Patrick Bergemann is assistant professor of organization and management at the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine.