Mafiacraft: How to do things with silence

Deborah Puccio-Den


How to construct an ethnography about such a phenomenon as “the mafia,” shrouded in silence? What methods might anthropologists use to investigate silence and understand the denied, the unspeakable, the implicit, and the unspoken? The ethnographer can begin by indexing the conjectures and speculations surrounding this mysterious entity, describing the social, judicial, or graphic acts made in the attempt to break up the silence in and around this secret phenomenon, and exposing the manifold issues at stake regarding its indeterminacy: impunity, invisibility, unrepresentability. The methodological assumption is that “the mafia” is not a social fact fixed once and for all, available for being studied or “exposed,” but a cognitive event shaped by silence. In the process of producing an ethnography of what has been said or written on this secret and uncertain phenomenon, one comes to realize the imaginative power of silence, giving consistency to special kinds of social facts which draw substance from their indeterminacy. Hence, the need to coin a neologism, mafiacraft, which I discuss as an inverted paradigm of witchcraft: while the latter emphasizes the power of words, the former highlights the strength of silence: how does it resist, fight, or capitulate to the strength of words or to the force of law?


mafia, silence, state, witchcraft, mafiacraft, responsibility, law, moral economies, ontology, knowledge, politics

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/706546