Accepted Paper:

Mafias and contraband capitalism  

Authors:

Jane Schneider (CUNY)
Peter Schneider (Fordham University)

Paper short abstract:

One approach to the question “What is the Mafia?” is to analyze what it might seem to be, but is not. This paper argues for disaggregating the historical processes that generated the world’s mafias from processes that generated what might be called the world system of contraband capitalism.

Paper long abstract:

One approach to the question "What is the Mafia?" is to analyze what it might seem to be, but is not. This paper argues for disaggregating the historical processes that generated the world's mafias from processes that generated what might be called the world system of contraband capitalism. Crucial to the latter has been the dialectical contradiction, in the United States, between prohibitionist law, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, an expansive and determinedly unfettered market culture. United States hegemony in the twentieth century meant that this dialectic (which we nickname "purity and the production of danger") expanded globally, setting off a very high capacity for capital accumulation through contraband. This capacity, which is not intrinsic to mafias, has dramatically transformed them, just as it has transformed all manner of criminal organizations, from small-scale smuggling rings and territorial youth gangs to rogue para-militaries. We will discuss how the Sicilian Mafia changed, as entrepreneurs of contraband drugs (some mafiosi among them) galvanized its leaders for a role in one of the world's most lucrative commodity chains: the illegal traffic in heroin.

Panel P049
What are we talking about when we talk about the Mafia? Futures of a contested term