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New research into the Mafia, Antimafia, and the plural cultures of Sicily

University of Chicago Press Journals

Thanks to movies like The Godfather, Sicily is synonymous, at least within the popular imagination, with organized crime. New research in the August/October 2005 issue of Current Anthropology uncovers a more complex and multi-layered Sicilian society than popular culture has depicted.

Sicily has long been represented in literature, and in historical and social texts, as a place that is burdened by cultural values and practices that resist modernity: clientelism, corruption, familism, patriarchy and a general lack of trust are said to condemn the island to backwardness. Sicily's association with the mafia only adds to these negative images, conflating criminality with Sicilian culture in general. As a result, there has been the tendency to present these characteristics as essential traits--as though there is a homogenized Sicilian identity that reproduces itself through time.

Instead, Jane Schneider (City University of New York) and Peter Schneider (Fordham University) insist that complex historical processes produce differentiated socio-cultural forms over time in any given location. They trace the differentiated histories of the mafia and the antimafia in Sicily and analyze the contrasting values and practices that are specific to each. In the end, their research uncovers a Sicily that is culturally plural, and they create a framework for combating the common tendency to criminalize entire populations believed to share a common culture. As well, they reveal the capacity of the Sicilians to organize democratically for community goals and to challenge established views.


Sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Current Anthropology is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. Communicating across the subfields, the journal features papers in a wide variety of areas, including social, cultural, and physical anthropology as well as ethnology and ethnohistory, archaeology and prehistory, folklore, and linguistics. For more information, please see our website:

This paper was delivered as the Eric R. Wolf Lecture on October 11, 2004 in Vienna, Austria, and was sponsored by the Wittgenstien award to André Gingrich, Austrian Academy of Sciences (2000); the Department for Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna, and the International Center for Cultural Studies in Vienna (IFK).

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