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.
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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).