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The Imaginary of a Sect: Literature, Politics, and the Nineteenth-Century Origins of the Camorra

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Francesco Benigno*
University of Teramo


This article reconsiders the so-called “dangerous classes” by focusing on the historical origins of the Neapolitan camorra, one of the world’s major criminal organizations. In the Bourbon Kingdom of Naples, the term camorristi referred to marginalized individuals and extortionists who operated in prisons, gambling halls, and brothels. During the turbulent period of Italian unification, such figures were increasingly seen as belonging to a legendary, omnipotent, and influential sect: the camorra, an organized secret society with its own hierarchy, customs, and jargon. This image eventually permeated Italian society. This article examines the reasons behind this evolution by focusing on the (mainly literary) texts and (essentially political) dynamics behind it, which reveal a process of criminalization and folklorization. Such a discursive transformation had a major impact on the Italian collective imagination, one that persists today.

Political Cultures in Italy, from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century
Copyright © Les Éditions de l’EHESS 2013

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47. Recently published by Marcella Marmo, these reports can currently be consulted in Il coltello, 35-47.

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84. Forni, Dei criteri, 58.

85. Bolis, La polizia, 685.

86. Ibid., 737.

87. Ibid., 676.

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