Social Organization. Sicily has long had a stratified social system. A small minority of the population controls material resources and the allocation of employment. The most salient factor in the lives of the majority of the population is lack of work. Most families pool earnings from agriculture, salaries, and wage labor, or emigrate in an attempt to better their condition. Recently, even some working-class families are turning to university education as a means of economic advancement.
Political Organization. Sicily is an autonomous region of Italy with an elected parliament, which elects a cabinet and president. The island is divided into provinces and communes, which are the local administrative units. Communes hold elections for mayor and other administrative officials. The political parties control access to a large percentage of employment possibilities and to other necessities of life. Formal political authority lies almost exclusively in the hands of men.
Social Control. Police forces and the judiciary, as well as public opinion with its mechanisms of gossip and ridicule, help maintain order. In addition, the dependence of the majority of the population on assistance from those in control of resources in order to survive creates vertical patron-client ties, which exert pressure against challenging the status quo.
Conflict. Western Sicily in particular is known for the existence of associations engaging in violent activities, often called "mafia." The origins of this phenomenon are often attributed to the important role played by intermediaries Between the absentee large landowners and the dispossessed population, in the absence of other effective government. Organized crime has moved from its traditional rural base into urban, national, and international activities.