Gangsters As Go-Getters

by Dish Staff

Malcolm Gladwell mines the anthropologist Francis Ianni’s 1972 book A Family Business: Kinship and Social Control in Organized Crime for insights into social mobility in the underworld:

By 1970, Ianni calculated, there were 42 fourth-generation members of the Lupollo-Salemi-Alcamo-Tucci family – of which only four were involved in the family’s crime businesses. The rest were firmly planted in the American upper middle class. A handful of the younger members of that generation were in private schools or in college. One was married to a judge’s son, another to a dentist. One was completing a master’s degree in psychology; another was a member of the English department at a liberal-arts college. There were several lawyers, a physician, and a stockbroker.  …

The moral of the Godfather movies was that the Corleone family, conceived in crime, could never escape it. “Just when I thought I was out,” Michael Corleone says, “they pull me back in.” The moral of A Family Business was the opposite: that for the Lupollos and the Tuccis and the Salemis and the Alcamos – and, by extension, many other families just like them – crime was the means by which a group of immigrants could transcend their humble origins. It was, as the sociologist James O’Kane put it, the “crooked ladder” of social mobility.