Filippo Sabetti

Stationary Bandits. Lessons from the Practice of Research from Sicily



Drawing on the author's earlier publications, the paper retraces the emergence, evolution and collapse of the Villalba mafia and antimafia in a historical, "before-after," perspective, providing an in-depth analysis of the effects of the abolition of feudalism in 1812, the unification of Italy in 1860-61, and subsequent regime changes on village politics in Sicily. The paper shows that rational choice institutionalism can be productively extended to the study of Italian history and political economy to do several things: to integrate the abstract and the concrete, to dig deeper than previous studies about what, when, how and why the business of protection actually manifested itself, and to overcome "the great antinomy" between ideal types and real types about the mafia and Sicily. Drawing on his many years of field work experience, the author calls for a shift in the way social scientists think about the Weberian state, the paradox of power, principal-agent relations, the ontology of the mafia and the various government wars on the mafia so as to formulate better conceptions and more powerful research designs.


  • Sicily
  • mafia
  • research practice
  • collective-action dilemmas
  • organized crime


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