Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo

By Jane C. Schneider; Peter T. Schneider | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 2
The Genesis of the Mafia

To place the article “the” before the word “mafia, as in “The Genesis of the Mafia, is to risk attributing a misplaced concreteness to an elusive phenomenon. There is, however, another risk that must also be considered: underestimating the institutional energy and coherence of Sicilian organized crime. This does not mean that the mafia is an age-old institution. There is a growing historiography of mafia formation, all of which points to a relatively shallow time frame. The mafia dates to the second half of the nineteenth century, when it emerged out of the “transition” from feudalism to capitalism in (especially western) Sicily, and out of the politics surrounding the fall of the ancien régime of the Bourbons and its replacement by the Italian nation-state. This very history is a brief for defining the mafia as inherently ambiguous—both more of a “thing” than it appears, yet less of one than numerous authorities have made it out to be. An overview of bandit and criminal formations in other times and places reinforces the central argument about ambiguity. The chapter concludes with a preliminary assessment of what, in spite of necessary caution, we think the mafia “is” at this point, a sketch that will be amplified in the chapters to follow.


INCIPIENT MAFIA FORMATION: 1815 TO 1859

Sicily entered the nineteenth century as a vice-royalty of the Bourbon Kingdom of Naples but ended up in British hands when southern Italy

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