Status and Fraternization Contracts

Letizia Paoli

in Mafia Brotherhoods

Published in print June 2008 | ISBN: 9780195157246
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199943982 | DOI:

Series: Studies in Crime and Public Policy

Status and Fraternization Contracts

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Cosa Nostra and the 'Ndrangheta gain much of their strength through reliance on a premodern contractual form. On entering a mafia family, the new member underwrites what Max Weber called a “status contract,” which is also a “fraternization contract,” as the members of a mafia cosca are obliged to consider themselves brothers. The key value of the mafia subuniverse of meaning—that set of cultural codes, rituals, and norms through which mafia associations justify their existence and impose a new status on their associates—is honor. The ceremony of mafia initiation is comprised of the three phases making up a rite of passage: “separation,” “transition,” and “incorporation.” Mafia initiation rites are not only rites of passage. By solemnly staging the stepping over of a line establishing a fundamental division in the social order, the ceremonies of mafia affiliation are also “rites of institution.” Though real life is often very different, relationships among Cosa Nostra and 'Ndrangheta associates are prescriptively a form of communitas.

Keywords: Cosa Nostra; 'Ndrangheta; status contract; fraternization contract; rites of passage; rites of institution; communitas; initiation; rituals; mafia

Chapter.  17161 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Theory

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