UCLA » College » Social Sciences » Anthropology
January 23, 2020
12:15pm to 1:45pm
352 Haines

Naor Ben-Yehoyada, Columbia University, Anthropology

Co-sponsored with the Center for European Studies

A tension haunts the multifarious Anti-Mafia project in Sicily: the intimate certainty about the Mafia’s persevering ubiquity meets the uncertainty about what the Mafia exactly is and how to produce a sense of certainty about it. The debate about what the Mafia is and how to fight it has historically vacillated between alternative models for characterizing the Sicilian Cosa Nostra: is it an array of multidimensional and potentially ubiquitous power relations, or a bounded criminal organization? Could it be both? The development of Anti-mafia laws and prosecution methods since the 1980s secured a sense of certainty about the Mafia’s existence and actions. Nowadays, the Palermo Anti-Mafia Paradigm – and the organizational model of the Mafia at its core – seem increasingly insufficient to capture the Mafia’s complex dynamics.

To confront this predicament, several legal reform initiatives have recently sought to expand the reach of the Antimafia criminal justice project. Some initiatives promote the criminalization of “deviated” Freemasons lodges and a new framing of corruption: not as the transaction between gain-seeking individuals (mafia-related or not) but rather as an associative crime. This approach expands the anthropological imaginary of the power of ritual brotherhood to oblige persons’ action beyond the strict definition of criminal organizations of the mafia type. While that definition constitutes one of that criminal justice project’s fundamental achievements of the 1980s-90s, it now both inspires and is stretched by the reconceptualization of mafias, masonry, and the relationship (possible, actual, general) between the two.

What are the ways in which magistrates, journalists, scholars, and politicians perceive the making, power, and subversive potential of this variety of ritual fraternity? To examine how these different perspectives interrelated and changed over the years, we begin by following the recent trial regarding the 1988 murder of a journalist who before his death investigated, among other cases in southwestern Sicily, the relationship between the mafia and a deviated Freemasons’ lodge. Through the trial we may examine how the epistemic tensions between magistrates and other actors turn the wider field of Antimafia inquiry into a key moving site of the struggle over the relationship between law, society, and the state.

Naor Ben-Yehoyada (PhD, Social Anthropology, Harvard University, 2011) is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University. His work examines unauthorized migration, criminal justice projects, the aftermath of development, and transnational political imaginaries in the central and eastern Mediterranean. His monograph, The Mediterranean Incarnate: Transnational Region Formation between Sicily and Tunisia since World War II, offers a historical anthropology of the recent re-emergence of the Mediterranean, as an example for the processes through which transnational regions form and dissipate. His current work follows anti-Mafia investigators of different professions and the perpetual debate about what the Mafia is.

Culture, Power, and Social Change is concerned with a broad range of issues in sociocultural anthropology. As the name of the group suggests, we are particularly interested in how the workings of culture, and of different forms of power and inequality, play out in the contemporary world. And behind these two issues are questions of social change, that is, of the ways in which the rapidly changing world of today impacts people’s lives, and in turn, how people in different circumstances seek to bring about change in the world. CPSC I hosts talks by both in-house faculty members and visiting post-doctoral and faculty level scholars; CPSC II hosts talks by advanced graduate students. All CPSC events are open only to UCLA faculty, students, and invited guests.