What is the mafia" is a cognitive and political pursuit for experts, state officials and the lay public. This panel explores ethnographies of the constitution of the definition, drawing from the political and jural realm and activist circles.
While anti-Mafia investigations are as old as the Mafia itself, the debate about what the Mafia is and how to fight it remains open. This is at once a cognitive and a pragmatic debate, solidifying expert knowledge, implicitly involving state officials, and indeed shaping how common people imagine the social relations that they conceive as central to the operation of the Cosa Nostra and other mafias. For instance, is corruption identified as economic exchange or is it a moment in an ongoing, multifaceted relationship, involving more reciprocity and redistribution than exchange? What relational images do we invoke when we seek to explain to ourselves and to others 'what the Mafia is'? What normativities do such definitions acquire or inspire? This panel will explore how this debate has shaped social, political, legal, cultural and investigative perceptions and representations of the "Mafia" and how it positions anti-Mafia investigators at the heart of the struggle over the relationship between the state and society. The papers in this panel follow investigators, experts, activists and people sharing social milieux with Mafiosi, as they attempt to understand the Mafia, and to convince their peers and the public that they know best what the Mafia is. By examining how sociological imaginaries of corruption, violence and social control, as well as the politics of definition and evidence shape this struggle, we delve into the power dynamics that shape the meaning and the reach of law, politics, and knowledge.