The Public Interest

The Mafia and the web of kinship

Francis A. J. Ianni

Winter 1971

One of the most extraordinary sociological puzzles of the times is the contrasting conceptions about the Mafia that have persisted for more than two decades, with seemingly no way of resolving almost diametrically divergent conclusions. On the one hand there are criminologists such as Donald Cressey, a consultant to a President's Task Force on Law Enforcement who talk of "a nationwide alliance of at least 24 tightly knit Mafia 'families' which control organized crime in the United States," the extent of which is estimated "at $50 billion per year with $15 billion in profit." On the other hand, there are writers, most recently Norval Morris of the University of Chicago Law School and his colleague, a visiting Australian criminologist, Gordon Hawkins who scoff at the evidence and the figures and, while readily admitting the presence of Italian-Americans in crime, are skeptical of the existence of a national crime syndicate or cartel. Government officials over the years have talked of the Black Hand, The Unione Siciliana, the Mafia, and, within the last decade of La Cosa Nostra, though the latter name was never used publicly before the disclosures of an Italian mobster, Joseph Valachi.

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