Vincenzo Scalia- Anglia Ruskin University

From the octopus to the spider’s web: the transformations of the sicilian mafia under postfordism

To my father, a Sicilian who told his son about the mafia


The fall of the Berlin wall marked a watershed for organised crime. New criminal groups, such as those groups from Russia, broke out onto the stage. New routes for illegal traffic, as well as new markets (nuclear weapons, human beings and organs) were created. New patterns of organisations took shape, more suited to the opportunities provided by globalisation.

The Italian criminal organisations, in particular the most famous of them, the Sicilian mafia, or Cosa Nostra (CN), were deeply affected by these changes. The current idea is that CN is undergoing a deep crisis (DIA, I semester 2008). Firstly, the arrests and the frequent cases of pentiti (turncoats) would have weakened its organisational fabric (DIA, II semester 2008), by dissolving the once-centralised organisation relying on the Cupola (Dome), or the executive body of CN and thus making room for a new, smaller, weaker local organisation. Secondly, both the attention of the media towards the mafia and the reaction of civil society would have caused a loss of criminal hegemony of the territory that CN once held firmly (La Spina, 2005). Thirdly, the attention of Italian public opinion in these later years has focused mainly both on the Neapolitan camorra and on the Calabrian ‘ndrangheta, which, as well as their Apulian criminal fellows of the Sacra Corona Unita (Massari, 1995; Becucci-Massari, 2001), would control the new international routes of drugs, human trafficking, weapon smuggling, and toxic waste dumping. Finally, the implementation of anti-mafia policies by the Italian government, mainly those focused on the confiscation by the State of the private properties of the Mafiosi, would make it difficult for Sicilian organised crime to run its business. Such an analysis is purported both by such institutional sources as the Parliamentary Commission on the Mafia (2008) and by such popular fictions as Gomorrah (2006) by the Neapolitan writer Roberto Saviano. It is also endorsed by the frequent police raids, which recently gave way to the arrests of some of the most prominent figure of the organisation, like Bernardo Binnu Provenzano and Salvatore Lo Piccolo. CN would be still a danger for Italian and Sicilian society, but it would have been ousted by other Italian mobs (DIA, II semester 2008).
This article rejects this view, and will try to demonstrate that, despite the fact that CN is no longer a leading organisation in many illegal markets, its force remain the same. My view is that the idea of a decline by CN is more related to the narrow-ranged theories used to interpret the phenomenon of Mafia, than to reality. In particular I will show how the most popular academic views are restricted either to the mere economic domain (Gambetta, 1993), or to the idea that mafia belongs to an archaic world, wherein primeval rituals and behaviours prevail, meaning that CN is a backward group (Paoli,2000). Using the works of Umberto Santino (2006) and its paradigm of complexity and by the ideas put forward by Vincenzo Ruggiero (1996) about the dirty economies as the standpoints for a new theoretical approach, I will argue that CN must be analysed under the lens of Postfordism.
I will argue that CN must be interpreted as an organisation which has been active mainly in different domains, such as the economic, the political and financial, since its birth at the beginning of the 19th century. I will thus evidence how CN is a multi-faceted actor, strongly influencing culture and society. The changes it has undergone recently must be related to the Postfordist (Amin, 1994) transformations Western affecting societies since mid 1970s. As a Post-fordist organisation, CN has a more flexible structure, with less members (downsizing), and operates in a wide network wherein people who are not in its ranks are involved, in particular politicians, businessmen and State officers (Policemen, Civil Servants). I will show that CN has withdrawn from more risky businesses but its links to the territory are the basis for either a national or an international role, related to its political and cultural force that remains strong in Sicily. I will demonstrate that the accumulation of political, economic and financial power and knowledge were used to operate in activities other than the illegal ones. I will not argue that the latter ones no longer account among CN interests, but rather that their role has come to be increasingly marginal. I will by this token offer an alternative interpretation of the mafia. For this purpose, I will also use some interviews I conducted in Palermo.

Between industry and brotherhood: the short-range theories

There has always been massive disagreement between academics when the nature of CN was to be defined. This is for different reasons. Firstly, the existence of a criminal organisation was doubtful until the 30th of January 1992. In that date, the Italian Supreme Judicial Court (Corte di Cassazione) confirmed the sentence issued by the Court of Palermo at the end of the big trial against the mafia that followed the enquiry of judges Falcone and Borsellino and relied on the confessions of the former boss Tommaso Buscetta (AA.VV.1991). It was finally ascertained that there existed a criminal organisation, hierarchically organised, and actively involved in the pursuit of power and profit through the use of illegal means. This belated assertion is a consequence of the strong political influence CN has wielded over the Italian political balance of power since the country became independent (1860). Other authors, such as Leopoldo Franchetti (1876,1995), had already tried to stress the existence of the organisation, but their analysis was instrumentally neglected for more than a century.

Secondly, the uncertainty about the existence of a criminal organisation in Sicily, gave way to two different kinds of interpretations: the first one could be called nativist, and it relates to the explanation that Sicilian ruling classes gave of the phenomenon, both to justify the homicides and to hide the mafia from Italian public opinion. This interpretation (Santino, 1995), insisted on the mafia as the attitude of Sicilian people to put family, honour and friendship first, so that they did not develop civic virtues and tended, because of their Mediterranean genes, to over-react when conflicts broke out. Many Sicilian prominent intellectuals, such as Luigi Pirandello, Giovanni Verga and Luigi Capuana, shared this view. The second interpretation, that we could call colonialist, groups all the interpretations of Sicilian history and society elaborated by non-Sicilian intellectuals. Their views, as different as they could be, share the idea that Sicilians are a backward population, devoid of any civic virtue, which indulge either in the creation of rebel organisations (Hobsbawm, 1962) or of private groups defending their own honour (Hess, 1982). Only Anton Blok (1971) gave an original interpretation of the mafia when he portrayed the Mafioso as a mediator between the local and the national community. The mistake he made consisted of his focusing on the mafia man as a single person, as at the time when the book was published it was not certain that a criminal organisation existed.
After 1992, most of the academics did not take the chance they had, so that the new theories that developed integrated the new knowledge about the mafia both with the colonialist and nativist approach. This is the case of Diego Gambetta (1992), whose work on the Sicilian mafia is considered to be influential by many authors, though it has indeed many flaws. Gambetta took advantage of the scientific vacuum about the mafia as an organisation, to propose a theory of organised crime mostly inspired by his rational choice background. Gambetta considers the mafia as an industry of private protection, whose birth and development should be related both to the lack of trust characterising Sicilian society and to the backward economic conditions of the island, which had never known the development of a real market economy. The need for private protection, according to Gambetta, derives from the lack of trust which has been affecting Sicilian society since the sixteenth century.
This analysis, as fascinating as it has been for many academics, proves to be unsubstantial at the end of the day. Firstly because it draws on the stereotyped representations of Sicily, which is portrayed as a backward, underdeveloped and immobile society. This is just not the case, as market economy had developed in the island since the end of the eighteenth century, and mafia developed in relation to the growth of capitalist transformations of Sicilian agriculture (Santino, 2000). These changes gave rise to manifold social and political movement who fought and lost their battle against the mafia from the end of the nineteenth century to early 1950s. Secondly, as Gambetta focuses on protection, he forgets that mafia mostly protects by itself (Catanzaro, 1987), as it is the Mafiosi who threaten ordinary citizens and extort entrepreneurs. By this token, protection, is not a mere product of the demand-supply cycle, but rather the consequence of the authoritarian and threatening power the Mafiosi wield over Sicily. Thirdly, as the many judicial enquiries prove, CN has acted as a crucial actor of Sicilian economy, both in its agricultural stage, and in its industrial and financial transformation, so that some scholars pointed at an entrepreneurial mafia in early 1980s (Arlacchi, 1982). Fourthly, if we consider protection as the core activity of CN, we remain entangled in an economy-centred analysis, thus neglecting all the other important aspect of the mafia hegemony, which also encompass politics and social relations. Finally, a monistic interpretation of the mafia, also relying on the assumption that it thrives on an immobile society, is flawed in as much as it ignores or misunderstands the dynamic aspects of CN, whose structure, members, aims, power, interests and value have survived across different changes occurring in the society, culture and politics.

On the trail of the interpretation of Gambetta, other authors (Varese,2001) have used the concept of private protection to describe the rise of other criminal organisations in the domain of global criminal markets, taken for granted that the Sicilian mafia has lost his prominence as the main criminal organisation of the world. Although it is hardly possible to deny that globalisation has also affected organised crime, I have doubts that the latter can be portrayed as a uniform phenomenon, following the same trends and developing the same characteristics apart from the social and economic context wherein it grew. For example, if we compare the Sicilian CN to the USA one, we find remarkable differences that can be traced back to the spatial and temporal environment wherein the two different organisations develop. As Alan A. Block (1983; 2003) correctly argues, when we deal with organised crime we must address it as a fluid, changing and multifaceted reality. Schemes, as useful as they can be for social scientists, must be flexible and wide-ranging.

Letizia Paoli (2000; 2005) tries to give an alternative view of the Sicilian mafia, as she prefers to emphasise the cultural aspects underpinning its existence and reproduction. Paoli adopts the Weberian concept of status contract to analyse both the Sicilian and the Calabrian organised crime as brotherhoods whose members are tied together by the rituals and the secret, which provide them with a peculiar and exclusive identity. As both the mafia and ‘ndrangheta members give importance to status, this shows they belong to a primeval and backward culture which is a product of the underdevelopment of Southern Italy. Status-oriented bonds yet tend to be overrun by modernisation and its stress on the individual as the main actor of contemporary society. As a consequence of this transformation, both the mafia and the ‘ndrangheta are bound to face an irreversible decline, and more modern criminal organisations will take over.

Paoli shows to have drawn on what we called the nativist interpretations of the mafia, as she connects status to the social and cultural peculiarity of the Sicilian and Calabrian context. Also this interpretation of the mafia is in our opinion weak and unapt to both understand and analyse the mafia. Firstly, because Paoli makes a mistake similar to Gambetta when deciding to single out culture as the peculiar essence of the mafia. The sharing of this essentialist approach by social scientists, as well as being an obstacle to the understanding of the complexity of a phenomenon, also derives from the mistaken attempt to adapt reality to theories. What Gambetta did with the rational choice, Paoli does with her Weberian approach. A more accurate analysis of Sicilian and Calabrian organised crime, suggests how instrumental the values to the Mafiosi are. For example, judicial enquiries prove that killings of children, betrayal of friends and relatives are common among the members of organisations who claim to have family and friendship as their capital values. Secondly, Paoli makes an even bigger mistake when she insists on the primeval aspect of the mafia identity, which makes her doubt about the survival of the two organisations after the fast changes brought about by modernity. Nowadays ‘Ndrangheta is considered as an organisation on the rise (Carlucci-Caruso, 2009), and CN, as we will see in the next paragraphs, has proven to be capable of both intercepting and using modernity for its own purposes. Finally, both Gambetta and Paoli commit a decisive mistake: they isolate CN from “legal” society, politics and economy in order to focus on its nature as a criminal organisation. By doing this, it is consequential to think that the Sicilian mafia is declining, as its relational skills are neglected and an emphasis is posed over a criminal hard-core which, as well as being often out of focus (such as in the case of private protection) proves to be reductive if we want to see the complexity of mafia.

The third group of advocates of the decline of CN come from the institutional sources, such as the Direzione Investigativa Antimafia (DIA;, an investigation task force set up by the Italian Ministry of the Interior in 1992 under the pressures made by the judge Giovanni Falcone. The analysis of DIA is accurate to the extent that they reflect the repressive work of the Police on the territory: the number of arrests, reports and violent crimes occurring every year in the regions of Southern Italy wherein criminal organisations are based. As important as these figures might be, they are insufficient to understand the mafia because they neglect all those crimes which would require deeper enquiries, such as money laundering, loansharking, the perception of mafia by the local population and the network of relationships linking the mafia to politics. Judicial enquiries, but also a more accurate observation of territorial dynamics are absent from the DIA analyses.
All these academic and institutional interpretations of the mafia are insufficient or even inadequate toolkits to describe and analyse the mafia, let alone to understand its transformations, either because they focus on just one aspect of Sicilian organised crime, or because they just look at the latter with a wrong perspective. What we need is hence a different theoretical and methodological approach, allowing both to describe mafia as a complex social phenomenon and to achieve an articulated analysis of it, as well as a closer link between the theory and the aspect of reality it refers to . In the next paragraph, I will demonstrate that it is possible to reach this aim by using the concept of Postfordism.

A way out: paradigm of complexity, dirty economies and Post Fordism

Two interpretations of organised crime and of mafia in particular, seem to be particularly fit to readdress our topic. The first is the paradigm of complexity, worked out by the Sicilian sociologist and anti-mafia activist Umberto Santino (1995; p.131). He defines mafia as a cluster of criminal organisations, the most important of which, though not the only one, is CN. Such organisations operate within a wide and articulate relational context, shaping a system of violence and illegality aimed at accumulating capital and gaining power, through the use of a cultural code and the enjoyment of social consent. The approach of Santino is more wide ranged, both because it encloses the political and cultural dimensions other authors neglect, and because he refers to the relational dimensions, such as that of social context, thus not making the mistake of isolating CN from the rest of reality.
The Sicilian mafia, as historians have proved (Cancila, 1989, Lupo, 1995), developed as an informal structure of political and economic management of big estates (latifondo) belonging to absentee landlords. It evolved later into an “industry of violence” owned by middle class members (Franchetti, 1876, 1995), which proved to play a capital role in the passage of Sicily from the Bourbon monarchy to the Italian state. As episodes such as the Notarbartolo affair prove ( Lupo, 1995; Dickie, 2005), CN could embed into the Sicilian and Italian society thanks both to its political connection and to its entrepreneurial role as Sicily grew to be an important corn-exporting area (Santino, 2000).

At the same time, the political and economic hegemony of the mafia, made it possible for the organisation to interact with the local society (Chubb, 1982; J. and P. Schneider, 1989), and to manipulate such typical Sicilian values as friendship, honour and respect to consolidate its power. Had it been isolated from the social and cultural network, or devoid of any political and economic support of the so-called “mafiosa bourgeoisie” (Mineo, 1955), CN would have remained a local mob. The argument put forward by Vincenzo Ruggiero (1996) proves by this token to be correct when underscoring how “dirty economies” are not isolated from the rest of society, both because their organisation reproduces that of legal enterprises and because the borders between legal and illegal markets are quite blurred. Ruggiero provides us with the second toolkit to analyse the complexity of mafia. As economics-oriented as his theory can be, it is yet grounded on a relational approach that keeps the social context into account, rather than isolating organised crime from the official and legal society.

The analyses of Santino and Ruggiero, are the basis for a new focus on CN. My view is that it is possible to merge the paradigmatic approaches set forth by these two authors to develop the concept of Postfordist mafia. If the Sicilian mafia is part of a wider economic, political, and cultural context, wherein the borders between legal and illegal are uncertain, then CN is not in crisis, but rather followed the wider social transformations of the last 30 years to evolve into a post-fordist organisation. I am not using this concept to theorise that since contemporary society is characterised by post-fordism, therefore also CN followed this path. It would be too naïve a statement, as well as devoid of any empirical basis. My point is rather that post-fordism, as different authors have demonstrated (Harvey, 1992, Amin, 1994), in reshaping the relations of production of contemporary capitalism, has deeply influenced society. Flexible accumulation, network structures, the emphasis on relational aspects rather than on the instrumental ones, the outsourcing of economic activities and the downsizing of the personnel, as key instrument to understand contemporary social relations, prove to be a suitable toolkit also to understand the transformations of the Sicilian mafia.

It could be argued that the use of an economic category, at the end of the day, might engender a new interpretation of the mafia as an enterprise, thus making useless the effort we have been trying to make up to now, to reject one-sided approaches. It is not like this, because the entrepreneurial view put forward in particular by Gambetta relies on a rational-choice oriented approach, whereas I am proposing to adopt an analytical viewpoint based on relations of production who affect society as a whole (Harvey, 1992; Jameson, 1978). As Negri (2001) argued on the trails of Karl Marx’s Grundrisse(1998), post-fordism is based on the general intellect of society, or the accumulation of social knowledge, cooperation and practices which are “put at work” to ensure profits and power. In the next paragraphs, I will demonstrate how post-fordism reflects the transformations of the Sicilian mafia with respect to structure, politics and economy.

Octopus or network? CN after the Cupola

The popular culture fuelled by the media tends to represent the mafia as an octopus, whose big head and tentacles hold a firm grasp over Sicily and Italy. Tommaso Buscetta (Biagi, 1987), when it was revealed that CN consisted of a hierarchical structure with an executive branch and manifold peripheral articulations, had endorsed this view, whose influence goes far behind public opinion. The arrests of such mafia leaders as Totò Riina, Binnu Provenzano and Salvatore Lo Piccolo, allowed journalists, scholars, policemen and politicians to speak of a beheaded Octopus, getting weaker and weaker day by day (DIA, I semester 2008). A hierarchical structure, deprived of its summit, is hardly supposed to be as efficient as it was before these arrests.

If one looks back at the historical transformations CN underwent during its history, it will come to the fore that its organisation pattern has been dynamic, adapting the structure to the social changes occurring from the origins of the organisation, in early nineteenth century, until the present day. On the one hand, CN has always had a permanent, hierarchical configuration, ranging from the ordinary Mafioso, or soldato (soldier) to the capomandamento (county-chief) ruling over a plurality of “families” located on the territory. On the other hand, the executive committee or cupola it is just a recent creation (Biagi, 1987; Calderone, 1988), dating back to 1970’s to govern the conflicts rising around the growing opportunities for business and profits both in the drug and in the construction sectors. The collegial structure of the cupola, in early 1980s, would have evolved into a de facto dictatorship of the Corleonesi led by Totò Riina.

From the 1990’s onwards, other significant organisational changes occur. The arrests of the Riina and Provenzano, the growing number of turncoats, the rising of other criminal organisations, pave the way for radical changes in the articulation of CN. The recent enquiries Gotha and Grande Mandamento ( show how the attempts to reconstruct the cupola carried out by the Palermo-based groups are indeed counterbalanced by a growing tendency towards a decentralised organisation, wherein charismatic young bosses of such as Matteo Messina Denaro, Gianni Nicchi and Mimmo Raccuglia are increasingly respected, but are far from acting as legitimised leaders of CN. A network of alliances, economic partnerships and political collaboration is still on, but a centralised direction no longer exists. These two enquiries show that the recruitment of new members is lower than in the past (downsizing), and that street activities such as extortions, are carried out by young mobs who are not Mafiosi, but whose activities are controlled by the mafia. An old retired lower rank mafia man stated:

“I am off. I spent twenty years in jail, I came back to my district and found out that things have changed. The youngest just want to make money, they ignore respect. And there is nothing one can do about it, if those who set the rules endorse it. OK, if they are arrested they won’t tell much because they don’t know, but we are also running the risk of losing respect. I don’t want to hang out with this can’I mannara (meaning ‘cattle dogs’, a Palermitan insult).”

The changing of long-term rules seems to worry both the Mafiosi and their relational network, but they are at the same time accepted as the sign of changing times. The owner of a sportswear shop in the city of Palermo stated:

“I had never paid the” pizzo”(extortion money) in 50 years, thanks to my two Mafiosi brothers. Everybody knew who I was. Then, last week, two oldmen I have known for a long time came to me and said: we are sorry, mr C., we remember who you belong to, but guys just don’t care, because they don’t know and don’t want to know. We just can offer you a little discount. Times change…yes, they do, unfortunately.”

Younger generations of racket boys work independently. The mafia supervises them, receives the money they collect, but cannot help breaking the old traditions. Independent mobs have a cost, but this is the price to pay for the survival of the organisation. Rackets were once managed by mafia members only, but both the repressive action by the police and judges, and the growing attention of public opinion to this activity, have made CN change its organisational strategy, which involves the outsourcing of racket activities. In this way, the arrested will not be member of the mafia, and will not know enough of the organisation, its, structure, its business. Moreover, a downsizing of the membership, restricting to just a few and trustworthy members the knowledge of strategies and aims, also lowers the risk of turncoats.
The structural transformations of CN also result in the creation of different networks. As new criminal Italian and international groups grow, it is no longer possible to operate in such profitable illegal markets as drug trafficking, as an hegemonic organisation. For this reason, such Mafiosi as Messina Denaro and Laudani (DIA, II semester 2008), operate in partnership with camorra and ndrangheta, thus also lowering the risks of the enforcement of repression by the police and judges. The networks between the mafia and the legal world, such as politics and economics, are even more important, as the survival of CN depends precisely on the existence of these relationships.
Some leading historians (Renda, 1997), for instance, have analysed the role of mafia during the Fascist regime, as they strove to understand the reasons why, in spite of the ruthless repression Mussolini exercised over the organisation through the command of Cesare Mori, CN reappeared stronger than ever after the collapse of Fascism. The reason is that, as efficacious and harsh as repression can be, it will prove to be useless to the extent that it does not destroy the network of economic and political relationships which support and legitimise the existence of CN. In 1945 it was the persistence of absentee landlords, political patrons and exportation entrepreneurs, or the Mafioso bourgeoisie to embed CN in a network of mutual protection, exchange and partnership. Nowadays the Sicilian mafia is far from declining because it is enshrined in a powerful political and financial network whose influence reaches far beyond Sicily. The enquiry about the relationship between Berlusconi and CN through his manager Marcello Dell’Utri (, 2005) shows how it is not necessary to be a member of the mafia, but rather to develop an active and long lasting collaboration with the latter for the mafioso entrepreneurship and politics to develop and thrive. Giovanni Falcone (1989) called this network between mafia and elites as terzo livello. It was for this reason that the crime of concorso esterno in associazione mafiosa (external cooperation with the mafia) was created by the Italian legislators. It is not necessary either to swear an oath of allegiance or to kill someone to be part of the Mafioso block of power. The creation and development of partnerships suffices. In a global, postfordist society, the network is designed to be as lean, flexible and pervasive as possible, in order to exploit the opportunities provided by the new social pattern. CN seems to have learned the lesson well, as its organisation ranges from a local to a global context, also including pre-modern elements, such as the oath of allegiance and the pizzini Provenzano used to communicate with more sophisticated relationships and instruments.
Another enquiry, concerning the relationship between the former governor of Sicily, Salvatore Cuffaro, and some prominent mafia members follows the same patterns. I will analyse these enquiries more accurately in the following paragraphs, in which I will also analyse the economics and politics of postfordist CN. It is by now clear that the ‘Octopus’, if it existed at all, has given way to a network-like structure.

The economic network of Cosa Nostra

Economy is a crucial aspect in the existence of CN, though not the only one. In order to understand the relationship between the mafia and the economic sphere, it is necessary to unwind an articulate analytical approach, by which on the one hand it can be possible to see the transformation of the Mafioso economic activities and interests, on the other hand it becomes possible to expose the blurring borders between legal and illegal activities.

Under the first aspect, it is necessary to emphasise that CN did not start as an organisation involved in illegal markets. Unlike other criminal organisations, such as the camorra (Sales, 1987; Barbagallo, 1993) the Sicilian mafia was born, and developed as, an informal structure delegated by the absentee noblemen to run the agricultural economy based on the cultivation of big estates (Renda, 1997). At the same time, the military force, the control of the territory and the social consent the organisation enjoyed within the Sicilian context, facilitated the promotion of illegal business, such as receiving illegal goods, robbing, theft, homicide, and extortion. The connection with the legal world was never severed, resulting both in the running of legal business such as trade and industry, and in the development of strong political connections with politics, economy and finance. The homicide of the MP and former chief executive of the Bank of Sicily Emanuele Notarbartolo in 1893, and the role MP Raffaele Palizzolo played in the affair, tells us of a crime syndicate whose reach has gone far beyond the underworld to enter the white collar domain.

After World War II, CN moved to the city, organising the construction business that led to the “sack of Palermo”, managing to control the flow of public expenditure through political patronage and, for the first time in its history, massively investing into a profitable illegal business such as drug trafficking. This flexible, dynamic and multi-layered entrepreneurship set the basis for the development of a “Mafioso enterprise” (Santino-La Fiura, 1989) which, taking advantages of the banking autonomy Sicily enjoyed because of its semi-independent status, entered the international financial circuits, also thanks to the work of such bankers as Michele Sindona (Stajano, 1990), and had its way to promote the birth and development of such modern enterprises as Italian private televisions (Travaglio, 2004) which were soon to wield a prominent influence over Italian politics. The financial role of CN it is still prominent, mainly developed through the international network developed by the Sicilian born businessman Vito Palazzolo, who cannot be arrested and tried because he took Namibian citizenship. The judges of Palermo, yet, keep insisting that the “financial mafia” is the most dangerous nowadays (la Repubblica, 2008).

The second aspect, related to the border between legal and illegal activities, can now be developed more easily, in relationship with my proposed analytical frame of postfordism. As far as illegal markets are concerned, it is by now evident that CN has lost its prominent role in drugs, both because the judicial repression of the early 1990s and because of the rise of new criminal organisations. The consequence of this is not that the mafia is retiring from the drug market. Firstly, as the Old Bridge enquiry proves (la Repubblica, 2008), the new leading figures of CN have been trying to re-establish international connections with the USA branch of CN, and also they still rely on strong international links in Venezuela and Canada, where the Caruana and Cuntrera mafia groups are still operating in a prominent position. Secondly, because the already cited reports both by the DIA and by the Antimafia Parliamentary Committees (2006; 2008), describe CN as being still active in drug dealing, though in partnerships with other criminal organisations, mainly the camorra and the ndrangheta. On the basis of this information, we can assume that the Sicilian mafia has changed its working pattern in the most profitable illegal market. Both repression and competition provoked the end of 1957 agreement between the Sicilian and the American mafia, which gave CN the national and European monopoly over the drug market. But since drugs are still a profitable market, the Sicilian mafia has developed a postfordist strategy of partnership and networking. Being no more possible to act as a monopolist actor, joint ventures with other groups are signed, thus ensuring a lesser risk, as repression can destroy a piece of the network but not the whole structure and the persistence of business. Moreover, the absence of an executive committee makes it difficult for the enforcers to implement as an efficacious repressive action as it had been between the 1980’s and 1990’s. Enquirers at the moment have evidence concerning the activities of groups from Trapani and Catania in the drug market, but it might be possible that also other “families” share the business.

The blurring of boundaries between legal and illegal activities, and their postfordist characteristics can be traced also in other sectors, such as money laundering and loansharking, as well as in extortion. Traditionally these activities consisted of the active involvement of mafia members, who became the owners of a legal business, or loaned personally money and extorted to claim the territorial lordship of their family. Both repression and the growth of the anti-mafia movement have made CN change its strategy, thus producing a new way to run business (La Spina, 2005b). As far as money laundering is concerned, the Mafiosi cannot appear anymore as the owner of legal business, because of the anti-mafia laws requiring a clean criminal record for an entrepreneur to start its business. The mafia has chosen to adopt another means, like that of creating partnerships with persons without a criminal record who officially act as the owner of the business, but who are indeed laundering the money of CN. A Palermo tradesman, in telling the story of a wholesale shoe shopkeeper, says:

“Do you remember Mr G? 10 years ago it seemed like he was on the verge of bankruptcy, and there was much concern about his shops closing down and more than 150 workers left unemployed. Now he is on track again, and his shops are thriving more and more. How would you explain this?”

The view of the tradesman is also endorsed by a policeman:

“Palermo relies on the mafia money. Take them away, and the economy will run more wrecked than it is now […].So one day a guy turns up and tells them: I know you are having problems, but if you want to do business with me, problems will be over at once. How could you refuse such an offer? Bankruptcy would mean the end of your activity, as well as a loss of status. You can’t run this risks, too many people, too many things besides economy are involved.”

Similar strategies are adopted in loansharking, an activity wherein CN has chosen to avoid the risks of losing the monies lent by taking over the activities, and also in the sector of public contracts, as well as in new emerging business such as the building of shopping malls and the creation of call centres. A prominent member of the Chamber of Commerce of Palermo says in this respect:

“Sure the mafia is active, but how can you prove it? […] Now you need to be more intuitive, so you might wonder why there are so many call centres and shopping malls being built in Palermo, but especially you have to wonder why the contractor fragments its job into many subcontracts to be given to many small local sub-contractors, or you should wonder why these new activities are built in certain areas[…]. ”

These interviews tell us how CN has changed its modus operandi and developed new strategies. Like a postfordist corporation, the Sicilian mafia differentiates between a wide range of activities, either legal or illegal. It is in this way possible to face either a sudden crisis of a market, or a police raid. The organisational and economic risks are also avoided by operating in legal markets through the legal actors, who are just circulating the monies CN provided them with. The mafia, like a major corporation organising the production of small scale enterprises on the territory, provides the financial engine designed either to start on new businesses, such as shopping malls and call centres, or to keep under control such economic sectors as public contracts. In both cases, the economic fabric of Palermo (and of many parts of Sicily) is shaped by the entrepreneurial strategies CN puts forward and by the money coming from financial investments whose roots can be traced far away from Sicily. The enhancement of financial activities is also another aspect making the Mafioso enterprise similar to a postfordist corporation. And finally, CN is part of a wide network of both legal and illegal activities, and its relationships rank from the local shopkeeper who launders the mafia money, to the financial broker investing in international markets. We are facing different levels of connections and responsibilities, different kind of members and accomplices, whose core is still the parasitic, violent and arrogant power of the mafia. These being the transformations, it is no longer necessary for CN to seek out for the monopoly of illegal markets, as its wide ranged interests cover different sectors, all of which can ensure conspicuous profits to the organisation. Such organisational and economic changes, which also prove the flexibility of CN and its adaptability to the new global economy without losing the grasp of the local territory, are also reflected in the development of new political strategies.

The new politics of mafia

The relationships between politics and the Mafia have always been close-knit. It was the political protection and support provided by the Sicilian noblemen and politicians to allow CN to survive under cover for many years (Franchetti, cit.; Santino, 2002). On the other hand, the administration by the mafia of the estates belonging to noblemen through a de facto political and military control of the territory (Cancila, 1988) granted the social and political order in Sicily.

As controversial as the role CN played to help the Allied forces landing in Sicily in 1943 (Lupo, 2008; Santino, 2006), it is yet certain that many Mafiosi were appointed majors by the Allied forces (Casarrubea, 2002) and that the mafia took advantage of its fierce anticommunism to become a strong political subject within the Italian power network. The Cold War years tell us of a politically active CN, either supporting those political forces (mainly the Christian Democrats) which promote its interests, or by repressing all those social movements who would like to change the power balances on the island. Moreover, the mass patronage Judith Chubb (1982) analysed deeply, constituted a source of the Mafioso political hegemony over Sicily. The bosses intervened to make a decision over the allocation of the public funds the Italian government sent to Sicily (Tranfaglia, 1992), or acted on behalf of their protégés, who ranged from the unemployed youth to the entrepreneur who wanted to win a contract.

The fall of the Berlin wall produced important changes in the Mafioso political pattern. Though losing its importance as an anticommunist bulwark, CN still relies on its economic and structural force, as well as on its political and military control of Sicily, whose strategic importance at the centre of the Mediterranean sea is far from declining (Limes, 2009). Moreover, CN has long-lasting relationships with important branches of state apparatus, such as the Carabinieri and the Secret Services. The most recent judicial enquiries show how we are no longer facing an organic connection between mafia and politics, but rather a flexible power network within which different interests converge.

The first enquiry is locally based, and involves the former governor of Sicily, Salvatore Cuffaro, who was tried, sentenced, and forced to resign. The private health tycoon Michele Aiello, at the beginning of 2000’s, based his business on conspicuous public funding provided by the Sicilian regional government. He was also a business partner with the leading mafia boss Filippo Graviano, a doctor himself. When the police decided to put a few bugs in the offices of Aiello and Graviano, a general of the informed Cuffaro of this. The governor decided to inform his tycoon friend, since he was aware of Aiello’s dangerous relationships. As the enquiry went on, despite the bugs, it became evident that Cuffaro and most of his leading party colleagues were perfectly aware of the fact they were part of a Mafioso network, which they deemed natural (, 2008). Neither Cuffaro nor Aiello were members of CN, but the former had nothing to say about his friend and business partner being in such close relationship with a mafioso. Moreover, Cuffaro accepted and looked for the political support of the Graviano family. That was later to prove to be crucial in the regional elections. Cuffaro also knew that Aiello bribed two leading Carabinieri – that is, members of one of the two Italian police forces – to obtain information about possible enquiries against him. Finally, also the two policemen considered their behaviour as part of their job. This case demonstrates how CN does not intervene in politics directly, either by organising a party or by using its military force. It has grown to become the focal point of a network of political relationships involving politicians, professionals, entrepreneurs and policemen, who run their business in the Mafioso way and seem not to feel any ethical scruples about it. They do not kill or extort, neither do they adopt primeval ritual. They just make business together.

The enquiry about the relationship between the manager and politician Marcello Dell’Utri and CN also shows the multifaceted character of this organisation, as well as its skills to develop a network of alliances and partnership encompassing individuals and groups having different backgrounds. This enquiry is important because it focuses on the relationships between mafia, politics and economy from the1970’s to the present time, that is in the period when the postfordist transformation took over. Dell’Utri, a Sicilian bank clerk, in the early 1970’s was invited by his former university colleague Silvio Berlusconi to join the new Fininvest group. He accepted the offer, and turned into the powerful manager of key branches of the new group. Thanks to his long term relationships with such bosses as Gaetano Cinà and Vittorio Mangano, Dell’Utri ensured the Fininvest group both the protection against other criminal groups, and a lasting business partnership that is supposed to have influenced the development of the largest Italian communication group, as well as the birth of the leading centre-right party Forza Italia. The first degree sentence of the Palermo court (2005) declared Dell’Utri guilty of concorso esterno, like Cuffaro. Despite this sentence, Dell’Utri is still a Senator of the Italian Republic, standing out as one of the leaders of the discontented South of Italy who is about to create a pro-Sicily to contrast the growing force of the Northern League within the currently ruling centre-right coalition. Given the relationships of Dell’Utri, we can assume that CN is abandoning Berlusconi.

This two cases, albeit briefly analysed, show how the Sicilian mafia has developed grassroots and long-lasting political relationships that, unlike the camorra and the ndrangheta, allow CN to behave as a political actor capable of influencing national politics. The political network, like economy, ranges from the local politicians to the prominent members of political parties and state apparatus (police, secret services). The post- cold war context might have changed the nature of relationships, but not their density. CN chooses its own political partners from time to time, and embeds them into a wide-ranging network involving other powerful actors. Its crisis is not a political one.


In this work I have offered an alternative view of the Sicilian mafia. I have argued that CN is not in crisis, both because it is everything but a backward organisation, and because it does not operate only in illegal markets, but also its activities are not restricted to economics. I tried to relate my thesis to practical examples, such as the judicial enquiries and the interviews I made. It would have been useful to have developed some aspects of this essay in more depth, but, for brevity’s sake, it was necessary to summarise key points.
My concept of postfordist mafia can be a useful tool for social scientists, to the extent that they also decide to adopt a different and multifaceted approach to study such a complex social phenomenon. As postfordism relies on the existence of a network, this new conceptual tool will enable the scholars engaged in the study of mafia to analyse it through its connections both with the legal world and with economy, society and politics. If one keeps focusing either on culture or on economy, then the idea that the mafia is declining can follow, thus producing a mistaken understanding of the dynamics of CN. It would also be misleading to evaluate the trend of criminal organisations just by counting the numbers of crimes and arrests recorded by the official statistics, as in this way we fail to have a more accurate, deep and articulated analysis of organised crime. Postfordism therefore opens new conceptual and methodological chances for researching into organised crime. Under the former aspect, it will be possible to use the complexity of mafia as a social phenomenon as the starting point of any description and analysis of its crimes. Under the latter aspect, it must be pointed out that the empirical focus on complexity requires the adoption of a qualitative methodology, which must rely on the research on the field, in which the observation and interpretation of social phenomenon must prevail over the framing attitude.
If the mafia has adopted itself to postfordism, I think there are breaking consequences both for criminologists and for the enforcers. The former could get rid of the underworld analyses which keep the mafia in the ghetto of the illegal underworld. Their research and interpretation should focus more on the relationships with finance and politics. It would thus become possible for judges and policemen to enquire in a more efficient and efficacious way into the context of organised crime.
Last but not leasr, the postfordist approach could give social scientists the chance to emphasise the growth and the development of the antimafia movement. Since 1980s, a network of antimafia associations, involving civil society, entrepreneurs and politicians have been active in Sicilian society. They operate in different domain, which range from the opposition to the pizzo to the antimafia communication and propaganda in schools and society. This is an important aspect to underscore, as it would finally show that Sicilian society has not accepted mafia passively.


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