Ethnography of predatory and mafia practices

Convenors: Marco De Biase (Université Libre de Bruxelles) & Lucio Castracani (Université de Montreal)

pescatori_Session DeBiase

Violence, illegality and predatory practices have played a fundamental role in the processes of wealth accumulation and in the development of social elites (Marx 1872; Wallerstein 1978; Braudel 1979). Today, these particular economic practices of capital accumulation have found a new strength and have spread within the increasing relationships between legal/illegal and formal/informal dynamics, characterizing capitalist market economy (Harvey 2005). The most of scientific literature concerning this kind of economic practices has frequently linked these mechanisms of predation to the role of mafia or criminals organizations. These studies did not allow to understand a wide range of economic practices of wealth accumulation, the fragmentation and violence of some paths of social mobility, proposing to analyse these practices as the result of mafia activities that bypass the normal functioning of the capitalist market (De Biase 2015 Allum 2014; Santino 1994; 2007; Braudel, 1988).

Indeed, these activities have many similarities to a series of economic dynamics commonly described as mafia practices, but they are rarely analysed as endogenous forms to capitalist mechanisms of wealth accumulation (Sanfilippo and Palidda 2012; Santino 1994; 2006; Vercellone and Lebert 2001; Briquet and Favarel-Garrigues 2008). The aim of this panel is to investigate different economic activities and entrepreneurial careers that base their success and social mobility on the use of violent methods of accumulation and specific strategies of social relations. For this reason, we will address to rethinking the affirmation of predatory practices in the contemporary processes of accumulation, in the extraction of value from workforce, in the monopolization of new markets and in the regulation of competitive relationships. Our objective is to study, trough an ethnographic approach, different economic sectors in order to identify the main factors that ensure entrepreneurial success on the capitalist economic market.

More specifically, we are looking for original ethnographic contributions which explore the role of predatory practices in the processes of capital accumulation, privileging – to some extent – the studies regarding the food chain (from production to distribution and consumption). We maintain, indeed, that the food chain – which has always been marked by the use of violent practices to manage and discipline the workforce, to monopolize economic market and to control commercial trading – represents one of the core sector to understand contemporary world (Moulier-Boutang 1998 Mezzadra 2006).


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