1st Nov 2015: Not The Mafia You Know by Amber Phillips

An alleged member of the 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate is escorted by Italian Carabinieri police officers [AP]

Come along to The Royal Exchange Theatre Cafe at 2pm to listen to Amber’s talk. Enjoy socialising around learning and finding out something new…

Title of talk:

Not the mafia you know

Bullet points of what you would like to talk about:

This talk will be about Italy’s least famous – but most dangerous – mafia, the ‘ndrangheta. First, I’ll explain that Italy has 3 different mafias, all of which are highly active today. I’ll go over some of the myths, and explain that the reality is a lot less glamorous and a lot more frightening. I’ll talk very briefly about my experiences working in Calabria, where the ‘ndrangheta comes from: some stories of ordinary people whose daily lives are affected by organised crime. I’ll then go over the history of the organization, and look into how, and why, people have been denying that it exists for so long.

A few paragraphs on your subject:

People often talk about ‘the Italian mafia’ as a single entity, linked specifically to Sicily. In fact, Italy has at least three very distinct, major criminal organisations (of which the Sicilian mafia is only one). The second big player, and next best known internationally, is the camorra, from Naples (which was made famous by Roberto Saviano’s book ‘Gomorrah’). However, my talk will be about the third, the ‘ndrangheta, which is by far the least studied and the least understood.

This is partly because it originates from Italy’s poorest, remotest region, Calabria. It’s an area which throughout history has been ignored by the country’s government and media. However, in the ‘ndrangheta, it’s managed to produce not just Italy’s most powerful mafia, but one of the wealthiest and most dangerous crime syndicates in the world. Like the other ‘big two’ mafias, the ‘ndrangheta’s origins can be traced back as far as the late 19th century, but up until the 1990s, prominent academics and politicians were still claiming it did not exist. The reasons for this are complex and interesting, and I’d like to look at some of them in my talk.


A few paragraphs about you:

I originally studied French and Italian at university, and qualified as a translator and interpreter in 2011. In 2012, I went to work in Calabria, and became involved with a number of anti-mafia volunteering projects. I was horrified at the extent of the mafia problem in this part of the world, and inspired by the ordinary people who are working hard to fight it, I decided to apply for a PhD on the subject when I returned to the UK. I am now in my third year of my research project, which looks at how the Calabrian mafia has been represented over the last sixty years.


What free internet knowledge resources would you recommend to others if they wish to explore your chosen theme further?

Free educational resources on the ‘ndrangheta in English are unfortunately still quite hard to come by at present.

I highly recommend John Dickie’s twitter feed (@JohnDickie1), and those with library access might want to read his book, ‘Mafia Republic’, which goes into a lot of detail about all 3 mafias. This link takes you to a page about a recent BBC documentary on the ‘ndrangheta, which is well worth reading: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/5sx6yX3pRvL6WlsGK5vqDnv/making-the-mafias-secret-bunkers

This online article also makes some very interesting points which connect quite well with my talk: http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/why-do-we-admire-mobsters

This Radio 4 documentary is also worth a listen; it features some information on Libera, a fantastic anti-mafia organization, and its work in Sicily:



YouTube player

Other twitter feeds which might be of interest are:

  • Aussie ‘ndrangheta (@UCLANRG1): The Australian ‘Ndrangheta Research Group brings together scholars working in different disciplines based in Italy, Australia and the UK focused on this field.
  • Crime and coffee (@crimeandcoffee1): For news and links on European organised crime and terrorism.
    Plus, my own blog and twitter feed.

What are your weblinks?

Blog – notthemafiayouknow.wordpress.com (coming soon)

Twitter – @APhillips44

Public Email – [email protected]


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