Monday, November 10, 2014 - 12:15pm to 2:00pm
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Room 100F, Pierce Hall, 29 Oxford Street

STS Circle at Harvard

Naor Ben-Yehoyada (Harvard, Center for Middle Eastern Studies) on "'I can feel the mafia but I can’t see it': An Anthropology of Forensic Knowledge"

Sandwich lunches are provided. Please RSVP to by Wednesday at 5PM the week before.

Abstract: While anti-mafia investigations are as old as the Sicilian Mafia itself, the debate about what the Mafia is and how to fight it has remained unresolved. The current shape of Antimafia criminal justice formed since the 1960s, when two “Mafia Wars” and assassinations of magistrates, politicians, and investigators triggered the short-lived civic outrage, a perennial parliamentary investigative commission (est. 1963), and periodic legal reforms. The successful prosecution of leading mafiosi during those years relied on a forensic paradigm that constructed the mafia as a hierarchical and unitary criminal organization, according to which “everything is connected” in the intersection of politics, economy, and social relations.

The paper follows the trajectory of this forensic paradigm from the 1980s Palermo maxi-trial to present-day magistrates’ dilemmas regarding investigative conceptions and technologies: how to construct the mafia and prosecute mafiosi using justice collaborators, wiretapped conversations, and evidentiary narratives. Magistrates’ current efforts have recently reopened the debate about what the mafia is. On the one hand, Palermo Antimafia magistrates hold that “the Mafia won,” that it survived because of a secret “pact” with the country’s highest-ranking officials. On the other hand, historians and legal scholars claim that enforcement efforts have dismantled the Mafia’s dominance in Sicilian politics, and accuse those who still think that “everything is connected” of conspiracy theories. By studying this particular forensic paradigm and the legal and political dilemmas it generated for the magistrates, I argue that the interaction between the mafia and anti-mafia strategies to construe and fight it contributed to the forensic co-production of organized crime and political institutions.  

Biography: Naor Ben-Yehoyada (MA, Tel Aviv University, 2005; PhD, Harvard University, 2011) is Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, Research Fellow in Social Anthropology at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge (currently on intermission), and Associated Researcher at the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Istituto per l’Ambiente Marino Costiero in Mazara del Vallo, Sicily. He specializes in maritime, political, and historical anthropology, specifically the maritime aspect of Israeli-Palestinian history and post-WWII region formation processes between Sicily and Tunisia.

Research Areas: 

Harvard University
Center for the Environment

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