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Mafia, Media and Myth: Representations of Russian Organised Crime

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This article examines the portrayal of Russian organised crime in the Western and Russian media and how these representations reaffirm orthodox interpretations of the ‘mafia’, particularly those produced in the US. The influential Kefauver Committee hearings in the early 1950s limited the notion of organised crime to ethnicity and conspiratorial syndicates, while Hollywood films helped to disseminate this interpretation universally. Although generally discredited by criminologists from the 1970s, this populist notion of ‘mafia’ has been given a new lease of life through the emergence and proliferation outside the former Soviet Union, of Russian organised crime. Already conversant with Cold War rhetoric and the simplistic dichotomy between capitalism and communism, the media offers an equally prejudiced and simplistic interpretation of the Russian ‘mafia’ and threatens to obfuscate and consequently exacerbate the actual dangers presented by its proliferation.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Centre for Comparative Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Wales, Bangor

Publication date: 1998-11-01

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