Module LXI-3022:
Italian mafias

Module Facts

Run by School of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics.

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1 & 2

Organiser: Dr Rossella Merlino

Overall aims and purpose

Italian organised crime is known all over the world, to the point that the term ‘mafia’ is now used to refer to different types of criminal organisations outside Italy and Europe. The vast literature existing on the subject and ranging from history, sociology and criminology, to literature and cinema, has undoubtedly contributed to a better understanding of the phenomenon over time. However, the image of the mafia emerging from these diverse approaches and particularly from its portrayals in popular culture has not always been consistent with reality, having profound effects on both the external perceptions of the phenomenon and on the self-representation of mafia members themselves. This module aims to explore the interplay between cultural representations (particularly cinema and literature) and the reality of the Italian mafias emerging from judicial investigations, testimony of state-witnesses and recent academic analyses. Aims include:

• To provide students with an overview of Italian organised crime, its history and cultural representations, with a specific reference to the Sicilian mafia.

• To develop an understanding of the political, social, and economic developments in Italian history since Unification that have contributed to the emergence and development of the mafia phenomenon.

• To provide students with an overview of main theoretical debates and interpretative paradigms on the mafia, and with interdisciplinary analytical tools to examine these theories in the context of literary and cinematic representations of the mafia.

• To encourage students to challenge enduring stereotypes on the mafia and on Southern Italy as a whole.

• To foster independent study and analytical skills through use of different primary sources and theoretical approaches

Course content

This module is designed to provide students with an in-depth understanding of Italian organised crime, with a specific focus on the Sicilian mafia, Cosa Nostra, its history, methods and cultural representations. Using an interdisciplinary theoretical framework, this module will address the interplay between the reality of organized crime in Italy and its representations through a broad set of primary sources (literary texts, films, judicial and parliamentary documents, and historical newspaper articles). This will entail a systematic contextualisation within the wider history of Modern Italy since the Unification (1861). Students will thus become familiar with the specific historical, social and cultural factors that lie behind the mafia’s consistent ability to adapt its structure and activities to changing times, whilst maintaining part of its modus operandi, “moral” codes and ritual practices largely unchanged for over a century and a half. Students will then examine selected primary sources to identify which themes recur in mafia representations, the extent to which these have changed through time, and whether these themes are consistent with judicial and scholarly reconstructions of the criminal organisation.

Finally, the course will provide an overview of the other two most powerful criminal organisations in Italy: the Neapolitan Camorra and the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta, to determine the extent to which Italian mafia groups, notwithstanding their differences, share crucial characteristics and features, including the way they have been portrayed in popular culture. These comparisons will enable students to identify mechanisms of emergence, persistence and change thereby gaining an overall understanding of the current impact of mafia-type organised crime in today’s society.

Topics discussed in this course:

• Sicilian mafia, Cosa Nostra: history, structure, and political ties • The mafia as a “Southern Question” in post-Unification Italy • Mafia interpretations and representations : merits, pitfalls and effects • Gender roles • Mafia, religion and the Catholic Church • The Antimafia movement • Cosa Nostra, the ‘Ndrangheta and the Camorra today.

Assessment Criteria

excellent

Excellent grasp of key issues around Italian organised crime; solid understanding of debates and themes around the Italian mafias; excellent understanding of theoretical perspectives. Clear ability to analyse and understand issues in the context of modern Italian history, drawing on its socio-historical and ideological background, as well as a variety of visual and textual media. Students will demonstrate originality in their work, as well as full competence concerning academic conventions.

threshold

D- - D+: Basic grasp of key issues around Italian organised crime; basic understanding of debates and themes around the Italian mafias; basic understanding of theoretical perspectives. Limited ability to analyse and understand issues in the context of modern Italian history, drawing on its socio-historical and ideological background, as well as a variety of visual and textual media. Students will also show an awareness of accepted academic conventions.

good

Good grasp of key issues around Italian organised crime; good understanding of debates and themes around the Italian mafias; good understanding of theoretical perspectives. Some ability to analyse and understand issues in the context of modern Italian history, drawing on its socio-historical and ideological background, as well as a variety of visual and textual media. Students will also show familiarity with accepted academic conventions.

Learning outcomes

    1. Demonstrate a mastery of basic study skills, such as the ability to follow course reading material, making effective use of notes and secondary sources.
    1. Display an understanding of the key issues surrounding Italian organised crime and be able to critically assess primary sources related to the history and representations of the phenomenon.
    1. Generate sustained and structured arguments in presentations, informal debates, and essays supported with literary, cinematic and historical evidence.
    1. Display an understanding of the socio-historical background of Modern Italy since the mid-1800s.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
Oral Presentation 20
Assessed Essay 30
Assessed Final Essay 50

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Hours
Lecture

One hour-classes per week for 22 weeks. Will involve lecture-type teaching and seminar-type activities such as discussions, debates and student presentations:

  1. One-hour lecture weekly

  2. One-hour seminar weekly (starting from week 3)

22
Private study 178

Transferable skills

  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Resources

Resource implications for students

In relation to primary sources, DVDs will be made available in the library. Students will need access to a DVD player and should make their own arrangements to view films prior to dedicated lecture/seminar. Shorter texts from literature on the mafia, extracts from judicial and parliamentary documents, and articles from historical newspapers will be provided as photocopied material or as part of the electronic course reader.

Talis Reading list

http://readinglists.bangor.ac.uk/modules/lxi-3022.html

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: