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Cultures and Representation of the Mafia

Option coordinator: 
Dr Giuliana Adamo (Department of Italian) 

The students will learn the fundamentals about Italian original mafias and current international mafias (USA, Russian, Mexican, Japanese, etc.) and the anti-Mafia legal methods and strategies for contrasting it. They will be able to distinguish between the main mafias in Italy and in the rest of the world. The students should be able to understand the actual and current complexity, seriousness, danger and pervasiveness of the Mafia as a global phenomenon literally affecting each of us beyond our own awareness. The student should become familiar with different theories and critical instruments in order to deal with such a complex problem. They should develop a sense of criticism and a civil and social conscience about the problem learning the basics of different cultural theories.

Module Title 

Mafia and Anti-Mafia. History, Methods, and Strategies

Module Description  

  • the aim of the module 
  • the structure of the module 
  • the style of delivery 
  • the assessment 

(200 words max) 

This module aims to provide students with specific instruments necessary to have a better knowledge of the complexity, danger and pervasiveness of the Mafia global phenomenon. A spectrum of different methodologies and approaches is used including history, religion, sociology, ethics, anthropology, cinema, literature, rhetoric, persuasion, reception theory, languages, codes, symbols, law and investigation techniques, economics and global financial market. Each week focuses on a specific problem and explores its various aspect through analysis of some given texts (history books, essays, literary works, laws, trial materials, cinema, TV, adverts, videogames, musical songs). The module is assessed by a final  essay (3500-5000 words)

Indicative Module Structure: 
titles only 

Week 1 

Historical and theoretical introduction

Week 2 

The four Italian mafias: Cosa Nostra, Camorra, ‘Ndrangheta, Sacra Corona Unita

Week 3 

From Sicily to US: the Italian and American Mafia

Week 4 

Mafia and Antimafia in war: the recent and current situation in Italy. Reflections on Mafia and Politics 

Week 5 

Fiction and reality: the (mis-)representation of Mafia in the collective international imaginary through the media

Week 6 

Mafia and literature

Week 7 


Week 8 

Dismantling the Mafia popular myth: are they honorable men? On Mafia women

Week 9 

 On Mafia children

Week 10 

Women in the Mafia world

Week 11 

Mafia: economics and the global financial market

Week 12 

 Conclusive points and class discussion

Set text(s) 
If you set a textbook, please name it. If you use journal articles or your own materials, please describe them very briefly (e.g. journal articles supplied / module handbook) 

Each week, various materials (articles, essay, etc.) will be supplied to students. 


WEEK ONE: Historical and theoretical introduction

Lecturer: Prof. Giuliana Adamo (Department of Italian, TCD)
This initial class offers a historical overview of the origin of Mafia in the second half of XIXth century in Southern Italy parallel to the accomplishment of the Risorgimento process that led to the geographical and political unification of Italy in 1861. This class will also focus  on the word ‘mafia’, its etymology and meanings. The concept of ‘mafia’ will be introduced, defined and explained in terms of: mirror of a traditional society, enterprise, organization, juridical system. Some historical, anthropological, sociological, linguistic approaches are used. The purpose of this class is to equip students with a broad awareness both of the chronological, historical and geographical contexts in which the phenomenon was created and with theoretical tools with which to engage with the texts offered in bibliography.

Selected texts:

Dickie, John,  Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia (Hodder Paperbacks: 2007)

Nicaso, Antonio, La mafia spiegata ai ragazzi (Mondadori: Milano, 2010)
Films: 1860 (1934) by Alessandro Blasetti and  Il gattopardo (The Leopard) (1963) by Luchino Visconti (both on the Risorgimento and its achievement of the unificationf of Italy in 1861). In nome della legge (In the name of the Law) (1949) by Elio Petri (on local mafia and the juridical system.) 

WEEK TWO:      The four Italian mafias: Cosa Nostra, Camorra, ‘Ndrangheta, Sacra Corona Unita
Lecturer: Prof. Giuliana Adamo
This class offers an historical, anthropological, sociological overview on the four Italian mafias respectively set in Sicily, Campania, Calabria and Apulia. The Sicilian mafia, or Cosa Nostra, is far from being Italy's only dangerous criminal fraternity. The south of the country hosts two other major mafias: the camorra, from Naples and its hinterland; and the 'ndrangheta, the mafia from the poor and isolated region of Calabria that has now risen to become the most powerful mob of all. Furthermore from Apulia comes the younger of Italian mafia: Sacra corona unita. Each of these brotherhoods has its own methods, its own dark rituals, its own style of ferocity and corruption. Their early history is little known; indeed some of it has been entirely shrouded in myth and silence. Until now. Differences and continuity amongst them are explored in  relation to their respective rituals of initiation and affiliation, territory and population control, power, violence, secrecy, symbolic codes and behaviors. Problems related to the importance of family, maternity and the role of women in the male-centered Mafia systems are considered in some details. Some lights are also  cast on the relationship between mafia and religion, and on the nature and function of the godfathers. Some reflections are devoted to Machiavelli's lucid analysis of the workings of power and of the necessity to understand and use them may help to examine the political logics of Mafia power.

Selected texts:

Dickie, John,  Mafia Brotherhoods: Camorra, mafia, 'ndrangheta: the rise of the Honoured Societies, (Sceptre, London: 2012)

Machiavelli, Niccolò, Il principe. Trattato politico (1513), disponibile on line (vedi: Progetto Manuzio Engl. Trans.:  The Prince, available on line (see:

Nicaso, Antonio e Nicola Gratteri, Fratelli di sangue  (Mondadori, Milano: 2009)Saviano, Roberto, Gomorra  (Mondadori: Milano, 2006). Engl. Trans., Gomorrah: Italy's Other Mafia (Pan; Media tie-in edition: 2011)
Films: Salvatore Giuliano (1961) by Francesco Rosi; Giovanni Falcone (1993) by Giuseppe Ferrara; Placido Rizzotto (2000) by Pasquale Scimeca; I cento passi(One Hundred Steps) (2000) by  Marco Tullio Giordana; Gomorra (Gomorrah) by Matteo Garrone (2009).

WEEK THREE:  From Sicily to US: the Italian and American Mafia
Lecturer: Prof. Giuliana Adamo
This class offers an historical retrospective on the exportation, germination, blooming and development of the Sicilian mafia in U.S. from the origin to the present state. Magnates, bandoleers, politicians, drug traffickers, clerics, and public figures populate the history of the Sicilian Mafia. This class shows  and analyzes that beyond than merely being an amalgamation of episodes of organized crime, the history of the Sicilian Mafia is dense with political and social implications. Analyzing historical documents, this class examines the criminal processes that originated in Italy and, through formal and informal alliances, have spread to the international community. Differences and continuities, alliances and wars between mafias are discussed and also the anti-mafia ways for contrasting them.
Selected texts:
Bonanno, Joseph A Man of Honor. The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno (1983) (now: Mass Market Paperback – Reprint). Also available on line (free download)
Nicaso, Antonio and Lee Lamothe, Global Mafia: The New World Order of Organized Crime (Macmillan: Toronto, 1995)
Schneider, Jane and Peter Schneider. "Mafia, Antimafia, and the Question of Sicilian Culture", Politics & Society June 1994 22: 237-258.

WEEK FOUR:    Mafia and Antimafia in war: the recent and current situation in Italy. Reflections on Mafia and Politics 
Lecturer: Prof . Giuliana Adamo
This class examines the war in  the last decades of the XXth  between the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and the Italian State culminating with the assassination of the two most popular antimafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992. Those killing proved to be the the starting-off  of  a change, in their afterward, of an Italian massive popular collective reaction against mafia. This class will also examines some          of the antimafia laws promulgated  (still valid nowadays) by the Italian Parliament, their  realization achieved by the Italian magistrates, and the Police investigation strategies and  techniques. This class also focuses on the relationship between mafia and politics.

Selected texts:

Santino, Umberto, Mafia and Antimafia: a Short History (I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd: 2015)

WEEK FIVE:      Fiction and reality: the (mis-)representation of Mafia in the collective international imaginary through the media (cinema, tv, advert, videogame, musical songs)
Lecturer: Prof. Giuliana Adamo
Selected texts:
Puzo, Mario, (crime novel) The Godfather (G.P. Putnam’s Sons: 1969)
Renga, Dana, Mob Movies: A Reader (Toronto, UP: 2011)
Renga, Dana  Unfinished Business: Screening the Italian Mafia in the New Millenium (Toronto, UP: 2013)

Films: The Godfather (1972)  and The Godfather. Part II (1974) by Francis Ford Coppola; Scarface (1983) by Brian Di Palma; Goodfellas  (1990) and Casinò  (1995) by Martin Scorsese.
TV Series: The Untouchables (1959-1963), The Sopranos (1999-2007)
Adverts: Dolmio food, Dolce and Gabbana

WEEK SIX: Mafia and literature
Lecturer: Prof. Giuliana Adamo
This class will focus on how the Mafia phenomenon is discussed and
(mis-)represented in some very well known literary texts both Italian and not.

Selected texts:
Sciascia, Leonardo,Il giorno della civetta (1961. The Day of the Owl, Engl. Trans., by Archibald Colquhoun.
Lamothe, Lee and Adrian Humphreys,The sixth family. The Collapse of the New York Mafia and the Rise of Vito Rizzuto (ed. Harpercollins Canada, 2008) (free reading available for Kindle).



WEEK EIGHT: Dismantling the Mafia popular myth: are they honorable men? On Mafia women
Lecturer: Prof.  Giuliana Adamo.
The novel The Godfather (1969) and the movie of the same name (1972) entrenched the myth of the Mafiosi as valiant knights, men of honor, and defenders of the traditional concept of family. This class demystifies this image by dismantling the code of honor that Mafiosi live by, including its attendant symbols, rituals, and the lifestyle that it demands.
This class traces and decodes the origins, history and success of the mafia in the U.S., bringing a better, and more accurate understanding of this ultimately brutal, violent, and corrupting “family business.” A special focus will be paid on the situation and condition of women in the Mafia world.

Selected texts:
Eco, Umberto, Trattato di semiotica generale (1975). Engl. Trans. A Theory of Semiotics (1976)
Nicaso, Antonio and Marcel Danesi, Made Men, Mafia culture and the Power of Symbols, Rituals, and Mith (2013).

WEEK NINE: On Mafia children
Lecturer: Prof. Giuliana Adamo
The ndrangheta is based on a strit familiar blood tie. This class will cast a light on the situation and condition of children born in powerful ndragheta families: their upbringing, their education, their destiny of violence, prison and/or early death. The class will explore what presently Antimafia is doing against such an aberration. A particular foxus will be paid on the current action undertaken by Mr Justice Roberto Di Bella, President of the Juvenile Court in Reggio Calabria. 

WEEK TEN: Women in the Mafia world
Lecturer: Prof. Giuliana Adamo
This class will focus on the history and current condition of women in the Mafia universe. Particular attention will be paid to the current Antimafia laws and procedures in their favour.

Selected texts:
Merico, Marisa and Douglas Thompson, The Mafia Princess: They ‘re Lawless. They’re Criminal. They’re Family, Harper, 2010
Longring, Clare, Mafia Women, Vintage, 1998

WEEK ELEVEN: Mafia: economics and the global financial market.
Lecturer: Prof. Gaia Narciso

Selected texts:
Nicaso, Antonio, Angels, Mobsters and Narco-Terrorists: The Rising Menace of Global Criminal Empires (2005),
Nicaso,Antonio, Organized Crime & Money Laundering: The Globalization Revolution - A Business Reference for the 'New Economy' (2001).

WEEK TWELVE: Conclusive points and class discussion Lecturer: Prof. Giuliana Adamo
This class focuses on some anti-mafia recent and current experiences. From the exemplar case of Libero Grassi, to the creation of the  Anti Racket and Addiopizzo movements. This class also indulges   on the courageous activities of two current anti-mafia magistrates: Nicola Gratteri working in the Reggio Calabria tribunal against ‘ndrangheta and Antonino Di Matteo working in the Palermo tribunal against Cosa nostra. Furthermore this class hints to the action of some valuable priests (particularly Don Ciotti and his anti-mafia association Libera).