Bandits populate the legends of the lands around the Mediterranean Sea, often in the guise of saviors of the common people against tyranny. Mafias too, with their characteristic blend of ruthlessness, secrecy, and codes of honor, have worked their way into the collective consciousness, producing ambiguous feelings of rejection, fascination, and admiration. Both have been romanticized, and at the same time represented as aberrant (and abhorrent) actors at the margins of society. But neither of these visions tells us very much about the reality of these phenomena. What exactly is banditry? Why, where and when does it occur? How does it vary across time and space? Why has it been so ubiquitous and persistent in the Mediterranean region? Does it still exist? And how about the Mafia? Are mafia-type organizations a contemporary evolution of banditry, or are they something quite different? Is the mafia synonymous with organized crime? Why do mafias develop in some societies and not in others? Are they a cause or a result of social dysfunctions? Who becomes a bandit, or mafioso, and why? And, what can these forms of criminal activity tell us about the structures, values, and workings of our society?
In this course, students will explore the phenomena of banditry and mafia-style organizations from a sociological and anthropological perspective. They will examine different perspectives to build a theoretical framework with which to interpret and analyze case studies from around the Mediterranean. A central element of the course’s theoretical focus will be that of violence. Why, and when is violence used in society, and what (and who) determines whether it is legitimate or criminal? The students will be introduced to a number of different perspectives, from classical Marxist and Weberian theory, through anthropological approaches, to contemporary analyses, which will highlight the meaning, and the contradictions, of the concept of the state. At the same time, the course will introduce students to some of the overarching themes in Mediterranean history, such as clashes between empires and religions, the modernization of traditional societies, cultural and economic exchanges, and the effects of globalization and the end of communism.
The course is broadly divided into three sections. The first will examine different theoretical perspectives on banditry and will introduce the concepts of power, authority, honor, and legitimacy. The second section will tackle the issue of mafias, with a particular emphasis on traditional approaches to, and recent findings of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, as well as an examination of the newer, post-communist Balkan mafias. It will return to the discussion of power and authority in relation to the problems of establishing democratic states after the collapse of totalitarian enterprises. The final section will ask how the study of banditry and mafias could help us to further understand one of the most worrying aspects of globalization: international terrorism. Parallels will be drawn between the structures of bandit and mafia groups and terrorist cells.