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Accepted Paper:

Being sperto, the performance of mistrust in a Sicilian fish market  
Brigida Marovelli (Trinity College Dublin)

Paper short abstract:

This paper argues that mistrust is not only culturally coded, but it can be performed as a culturally appropriate way to acquire status and legitimacy in specific settings, such as a Sicilian fish market.

Paper long abstract:

My argument will draw on ethnographic material collected during an extended fieldwork in a Sicilian fish market, La Pescheria, Catania. The interaction between vendors and buyers was articulated though a unique

set of practices, in which customers, regarded themselves as insiders, engage in a series of competences, in which mistrust plays a fundamental role.

At the market, in fact, the terms in use to define people are sperto, which stands for furbo, or being shrewd; and babbo, which indicates the fesso, or naïve. Customers have to demonstrate their belonging to the category of sperto customers, the ones who are able to perform mistrust without being disrespectful.

This discussion is placed in the context of cheating, screwing and being smart in Catania, practices crucial to performing smartness. I also introduce codes of behaviour, related to friendship and honour, which have already featured prominently in anthropological literature about Sicily, and that are deeply related to the performance of mistrust. Both seller and buyer want to be sperto, that's the reason why mistrust is perceived as an appropriate practice. The buyer needs to be sperto too, making sure he/she gets the best buy.

Finally, I will analyse the different functions of mistrust, to highlight that in such a context the process of gaining trust can almost be described as a self-imposed justice system, in which the underlying assumption is that society is unjust and the state is not helping people, so there is the need to self-regulate through practices such as "scambio di favori" (Gambetta).

Panel P061
The anthropology of mistrust
  Session 1