The Mafia (also known as Cosa Nostra) is a criminal syndicate that emerged in the mid-nineteenth century in Sicily, Italy. It is a loose association of criminal groups that share a common organizational structure and code of conduct, and whose common enterprise is protection racketeering. Each group, known as a “family”, “clan”, or “cosca”, claims sovereignty over a territory in which it operates its rackets – usually a town or village or a neighbourhood (borgata) of a larger city. Its members call themselves “men of honour”, although the public often refers to them as “mafiosi”.
According to the classic definition, the Mafia is a criminality originating in Sicily.However, the term “mafia” has become a generic term for any organized criminal network with similar structure, methods, and interests.
The Mafia proper frequently parallels, collaborates with or clashes with, networks originating in other parts of southern Italy, such as the Camorra (from Campania), the ‘Ndrangheta (from Calabria), the Stidda (southern Sicily) and the Sacra Corona Unita (from Apulia). However, Giovanni Falcone, the anti-Mafia judge murdered by the Mafia in 1992, objected to the inflation of the use of “Mafia” to organized crime in general:
While there was a time when people were reluctant to pronounce the word ‘Mafia’ … nowadays people have gone so far in the opposite direction that it has become an overused term … I am no longer willing to accept the habit of speaking of the Mafia in descriptive and all-inclusive terms that make it possible to stack up phenomena that are indeed related to the field of organized crime but that have little or nothing in common with the Mafia.
The American Mafia arose from offshoots of the Mafia that emerged in the United States during the late nineteenth century, following waves of emigration from Sicily. There were similar offshoots in Canada among Italian Canadians. However, while the same has been claimed of organised crime in Australia, this appears to result from confusion with ‘Ndrangheta, which is generally regarded as more prominent among Italian Australians.