Dec 24, 2011

Familism and Particularism

I just published an essay upon how Northern European and American Scholars have interpreted the Italian society and culture: "Il particulare italiano da Guicciardini a Banfield. Tra l’auto- e l’etero-riconoscimento"Below the abstract.
In 1958 Edward Banfield’s The Moral Basis of a Backward Society generated an intense debate among Italian and foreign sociologists. The dispute centered on “amoral familism”, the key explanatory concept of the work.  The debate remains open. The American scholarly interpretation of primigènius is in all likelihood a mistake. Expanding the analytical focus, similar explanations for the Italian social, economic and political backwardness can be traced far earlier: the “land of self-interest” by Leon Battista Alberti; or the particulare by Guicciardini. The representation of the Italian structural (cultural?) absence of civicness developed over the centuries and it first belongs to the identity self-recognition given by Italians themselves. Only afterward, with the travel notes of those taking the Grand Tour, this depiction becomes part or the Italian hetero-recognition operated by Northern Europeans and North Americans. When an identity features acquires a “double recognition” for such long historical time, it becomes a tòpos, a cardinal point of the individual and collective representations of a people. Those who defend different and contrasting theses other than Banfield face another obstacle: the rhetorical power of the expression “amoral familism”. Constructing new and equally effective synthetic phrases, obviously as the result of good theoretical interpretations, seems the only hermeneutical path to take. To this end, it is necessary to “fight” in the same research field: a questionnaire will never undermine the narrative devices constructed through the ethnographic observations of a researcher who goes into the field — and remains there for a year. If it is clear that one can do better than Banfield, it is also clear that he/she must try to do so. There is an additional barrier for those who intend to propose alternative readings of the Italian modernization process: the “weight” of the Italian social reality, experienced both firsthand and through the media, tends to reinforce the familistic-particularist interpretation. Melding together the structural and cultural approach — avoiding any neurotic repression mechanism — seems as the only escape for half a century of theoretical impasse.

Mario Monti Prime Minister and the "Save Italy" decree

Mario Monti is our new "technocrat" prime minister and his "austerity package" was approved by our Senate. It's a €30 billion ($39 billion) package of tax hikes and pension changes, see "Monti Wins Confidence Vote in Italy’s Lower House". Besides numbers and analysis, yesterday I was walking into the center of Florence, and I've never see so few people walking in the streets (without packages). Monti says that now a "second phase" of reforms is going to start. They are meant to unblock the medieval Italian socioeconomic particularistic structure and foster more modern and universalistic competition. Usually in Italy such a second phase is always announced. But the government always falls before the start of the second phase. Let's see-hope. Particularism  is an old Italian problem (see next post).

Nov 7, 2011

In the name of God, Italy and Europe, go!

Having reached €1,900bn, Italy’s public debt is so high that its potential to destabilize the world economy is way above that of Athens. Italy has agreed to the structural reforms asked by Europe. The problem is that nobody trust Berlusconi. The closing passage of the Financial Time article is: “After two decades of ineffective showmanship, the only words to say to Mr Berlusconi echo those once used by Oliver Cromwell. In the name of God, Italy and Europe, go!”
Below Oliver Cromwell Speech - Dissolution of the Long Parliament, House of Commons, 20 April 1653; here the closing speech by Richard Harris.

"It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.
Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter'd your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?
Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil'd this sacred place, and turn'd the Lord's temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress'd, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors.
In the name of God, go!".
In the meantime, Berlusconi latest album "TrueLove", is about to be released – later than expected, because of the financial crisis. Apicella (coauthor, and Silvio’s good friend) reassures the market, the CD will be out November22: “The CD is ready for the shops right now. At the moment, we’re trying to work out whether to organise a launch party. I don’t know yet”. Here a short clip.

Genoa flooding

Nine people were killed and several others were missing after a violent storm struck Genoa in northwest Italy. A disaster: see the video and check some articles: Stormshit Italy's GenoaRescueworkers in Italy search through mud for survivors of stormHugedamage revealed in Genoa as floodwaters recede.
Investigations into possible negligent homicide are under way in Genoa. In particular, Genoa’s Mayor Marta Vincenzi has been criticized for not closing local schools on Friday, despite severe weather warnings. They justify themselves saying that kids would be better in school rather than running free on the streets (?). The disaster happened when students where leaving their schools.

Oct 25, 2011

Gheddafi, political leaders and prominent scholars: degrees of semiotic and intellectual contradictions

Last spring semester, we held the Interdisciplinary Session of the GIF Social Science Track “The Quest for Freedom in Middle East and North Africa (MENA)”. Here the slides of my lecture: Degrees of semiotic and intellectual contradictions. You can carry out a semiotic analysis of the pictures, check the project of a book in the name of Muammar Gaddafi (with an accompanying programme of visits by 'leading international thinkers'); Saif Gaddafi awarded with a Ph.D. by the London School of Economics.

Merkozy, Berlusconi and the Bella Vita

The French and German leaders – now dubbed 'Merkozy' – exchanged glances and smiled when asked if they were confident Berlusconi would come up with reforms, prompting a gale of laughter from journalists: see the CLIP
Leading daily Corriere della Sera , which has criticised Mr. Berlusconi for delaying the economic stimulus package demanded by Europe, called the behaviour of Dr Merkel and Mr Sarkozy “excessive” in a front-page editorial, adding: “For an Italian it was not great, and it matters little if you are pro- or anti-Berlusconi.” “No one is authorised to ridicule Italy, even after Berlusconi’s obvious and embarrassing delays in tackling the crisis,” said Pier Ferdinando Casini, the head of the opposition UDC party, adding: “I didn’t like Sarkozy’s sarcastic smile.” It seems that Germany and France have their own problems too: DebtBurden Falls Heavily on Germany and France; anyhow: Italy's DownwardSpiral Accelerates and the Bella Vita lifestyle seemsto fall apart.
Let's finish with some exploits of Berlusconi: Does not understand English; I need to pee; Humiliating Merkel; Obama is tanned; with Bush; Queen Elisabeth; Best Moments; and a couple of the statesman Sarkozy: Drunk, with Hilary.
Check the slide "Berlusconi, TV, Education and Italians".

Oct 17, 2011

Rome Exception: Indignados and Black Blocks

Rome has been the worldwide exception; the indignados protest of October 15 has been hijacked by the Black Block. Read some related articles: The Vandals Occupy Rome, Briefly: How a Demonstration Was Hijacked; Rome violence exception to peaceful global ‘Day of Rage’; Stashes of Gas Masks and Clubs Prepared Days Before Rome Riots; In Italy, Rioting Leads to Recriminations. Here some images of an assault, the sequence of a caress by a police officer to a girl and a video.

2minutes@twilight: Florence Phone Film Festival

ASAUI, Comune di Firenze, in collaboration with Corriere Fiorentino and SNCCI – tuscan group present a short film contest open to all students of the Università di Firenze and to university students enrolled in any other university program in Florence. Every film (in English, Italian, or both) could have as a topic any aspect regarding the city of Florence and its life, culture or experiences; it must last two minutes (including credits) and must be filmed in Florence at twilight, and shot entirely with a smartphone. Films should be copied on miniDV (PAL) or as an AVI file (DV compression, frame size 720x576) on a CD-Rom. Videos on NTSC format will not be accepted. All films entered will in no way be returned. Deadline for all entries is no later than November 25, 2011. The final awards evening will be on December 7 2011, when the prizes will be awarded to the winners: 1st place: iPhone 4 32Gb; 2nd place: iPad 32 GB WiFi + 3g; 3rd place: iPod Touch 32. GB
To enter the contest: download the entry form and the disclaimers from the ASAUI webpage,, fill them out and send together with the video to:

Oct 15, 2011

I don’t feel Italian

Recently an Italian singer, Daniele Silvestri, made a cover of the song Non mi sento italiano (I don’t feel Italian), by Giorgio Gaber, singer-songwriter, actor and playwright, (groundbreaker of the musical genre known as teatro canzone (song theatre). This is one passage  of the song: "Excuse me, President," sings Gaber, "It's not my fault,/ But this country of ours,/ I don't know what it is./ Excuse me, President/ If I am so impudent/ As to say that I don't feel/ Any sense of belonging,/ And despite Garibaldi/ And other glorious heroes,/ I don't see any reason/ to feel proud." Below an English translation of the lyrics by Cristina Caimotto.
I do not feel Italian
I was born and live in Milan.
I do not feel Italian
but thankfully or unfortunately I am.
Excuse me President
It’s not my fault
But I dont' know what it means
to have patriotic feelings.
Maybe I am wrong
Maybe it’s a good idea
But I fear it may turn into
An ugly poem.
Excuse me President
I don’t feel the need
Of the national anthem
Of which I feel a bit ashamed.
As for football players
I don’t want to judge
Our players do not know it
Or maybe they have more decency.
I do not feel Italian
but thankfully or unfortunately I am.
Excuse me President
If I'm impudent enough
To state that I do not feel
Like I belong to anything.
Apart from Garibaldi
And other glorious heros
I don’t see any point
In being proud.
Excuse me President
But I have in mind the exaltation
Of black shirts
At the time of Fascism.
From which one fine day
This democracy was born
And you need a lot of fantasy
In order to praise it.
I do not feel Italian
but thankfully or unfortunately I am.
This wonderful Country
Full of poetry
Is well pretentious
But of our western world
It is the outskirt.
Excuse me President
But this Government of ours
That you represent
Seems to me a bit wrecked.
It is even too clear
For people to see
That everything is calculated
And nothing works.
It’s maybe that Italians
By long tradition
Are too keen to engage
in any kind of discussion.
Even in parliament
The atmosphere is incandescent
They slit each other’s throat
And then nothing changes.
I do not feel Italian
but thankfully or unfortunately I am.
Excuse me President
You must admit
That we should talk about
The shortcomings we have.
But apart from defeatism
We are what we are
And we also have a past
That we do not forget.
Excuse me President
But maybe us Italians
to other people are only
spaghetti and mandolini.
Then I get pissed off
I’m proud and I show off
I throw in their faces
What the Rinascimento stands for.
I do not feel Italian
but thankfully or unfortunately I am.
This wonderful Country
Is maybe not too wise
It has confused ideas
But had I been born in other places
It could have been worse.
Excuse me President
Now that I’ve said so much
There’s something else
That I believe is important.
Compared to foreigners
We believe less
But maybe we have understood
That the world is a puppet theatre.
Excuse me President
I know you’re not too happy
If people shout “Italia, Italia”
Only at a football match.
But in order to survive
Or maybe as a joke
As we’ve made Europe
Let’s make Italy as well.
I do not feel Italian
but thankfully or unfortunately I am.
I do not feel Italian
but thankfully or unfortunately
thankfully or unfortunately
thankfully I am.

Sep 24, 2011

Stay in touch with everyday life

I would like to reiterate the invitation I made in class: try to be in touch with the ongoing Italian (and European) social, cultural, economic and political life. Here you can find the links to a selection of news: 

Reading online newspapers articles — see the section “News Europe-Italy” of the blog — is an simple way to construct a better and updated interpretative framework for our course (and your experience abroad in general). The risk to remain trapped in a partial representation of Italy and Italian people is, in fact, very high. Since the Grand Tour, the leading themes of the foreigner experience in the peninsula are connected with a dreamy, and to a lesser degree intellectual, approach towards “Italy without Italians”. Such romantic coup d'oeil “Under the Tuscan Sun” may conduct to an illusionary, alien-ated experience of Italian and Florentine social reality.

According to Roland Barthes (Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972) “identification” is one of the key figures of the rhetoric of myth regarding other people and cultures. The identification process reveals the inability to “imagine the Other”: in the experience of confrontation otherness is thus reduced to sameness. Shortly: the foreigner projects his/her images (acquired through the media and the ongoing social discourse) on the other. The recognition dialectic is therefore blocked, crystalized around some stereotypes. This does not mean that the Other — in our case Italians and Florentines — is a “victim” of the touristic gaze; we make profits, we sell and we are active protagonist of this play. As social scientists, we need to reconstruct the script of the play, to identify the frontage and the backstage (Goffman).

Sometimes, when the other cannot be reduced, there is a rhetoric figure for such an emergency: exoticism. “The Other becomes a pure object, a spectacle, a clown” (Barthes, 1972, 152). Another mechanism identified by Barthes is the “deprivation of history”. Italian anima locus (soul of a place) is usually composed by the following features: art, history, wine, olive oil, fashion, dolce vita, passion, etc. All these themes are surely part of the Italian identity, but they do not exhaust it: there is more to say and the representation needs to be updated. For instance, the image of the Italian extended family that gathers everyday around the dining table, with several children running around the house, is false: we have one of the lowest fertility rate in the world.

Italians are often “deprived” of (at least) 150 year of their history. It is obviously impossible to grasp “who we are” bracketing out: how we became a republic, two world wars, the fascism, the strongest communist party in the west, our compressed modernization process, and so on. And even if the interpretation of the natives is primarily made adopting the Renaissance framework — “the” myth of Florence shared by people all over the world, through which one legitimately decides to see our reality — the aesthetic appreciation of art is perhaps the main facet guiding people’s expectations in their encounter with our cultural reality. Some other (and very important) social, political and philosophical aspects of Renaissance, and their relation to the present, are overshadowed.
According to W.I. Thomas (The Unadjusted Girl. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1923) “If men define things as real, they are real in their consequences”. It is the “self-fulfilling prophecy” (R.K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure. New York: Free Press, 1968).
Italo Calvino in the novel Invisible Cities (1972, 44) indicates a possible way to escape the “hall of mirrors” and enhance the awareness of oneself and of the cultural other.

“You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours… Or the question it asks you, forcing you to answer, like Thebes through the mouth of the Sphinx”.

Jul 15, 2011

Classical Sociology Beyond the Nation-Sate? The Quest for Today's Europe

The conference Classical Sociology Beyond the Nation-Sate? The Quest for Today’s Europe will take place at the University of Salerno, 6-7 October 2011
The purpose of this conference is to reassess the way classic sociology looked at society between 1871 and 1945, when the nation was at its apogee, and try to shed light on the possible ways of using some of its ideas to understand the ongoing changes in today’s Europe; the conference will try to pursue such aims by addressing issues such as: the relationship between the ‘nation’ and ‘society’ according to classic sociologists; the relationship between the ‘national society’ and ‘European society’ in the works of these authors; the way their analysis can help develop a sociology of global society capable of understanding today’s Europe”.
The speakers of the first plenary session From Nationalism to Cosmopolitanism are David Inglis, Vittorio Cotesta, Austin Harringhton, Dimitri D’Andrea.  I will present a paper (below title and abstract) in the second plenary session Classical Sociology Beyond The Nation.

Simmel’s Double Boundary and the Cosmopolitan Experience in Europe: Strangers, Wanderers and Blasé Individuals
An interpretation of Simmel’s double boundary dialectic — human beings are boundaries, and only who stands outside his/her boundary knows it as such — can shed sociological light on the discourse about National, European and Cosmopolitan identity. The difficulty to define oneself as “European” stems (also) from what could be named the “Double Other” (intra- and extra-European) diachronic recognition process. The possible/impossible cosmopolitan meta-synthesis can be investigated depicting some traits of the cosmopolitan experience in Europe. Even in this case the reference to Simmel’s social types (strangers, wanderers, blasé individuals, etc.) and to his theory of fashion and distinction (compared to Veblen and Bourdieu viewpoints) can assist us in the effort to grasp the mentality of the Cosmopolitan in Europe as well as the European Cosmopolitan. Furthermore, some reference to the aesthetic and romanticized representation of a “Europe without Europeans” might help us recognize that travelling to or within the Old World does not necessarily mean to cross social and cultural boundaries; thus, a “cosmopolitan globetrotter” might not be the best “broker of knowledge” in our globalized world. As for the mental life of the metropolis represented by Simmel, even the socio-psychological life in a G-world might degenerate into a series of defensive mechanisms, where boundaries become the walls of an overinflated self — a social actor who fails the mediation between objective  and subjective culture.  Finally, Simmel’s argument that people are attracted for free-playing sociability, a kind of  pure interaction as an end in itself,  will be seen as another solid conceptual bridge to seize some meanings given by young people to their studying abroad  experiences in Europe: playing as the reality.

Feb 15, 2011

Italian Cultural History - CET, Florence, Spring 2011

I was a bit worried for the Japanese tourist who was taking the picture...
He blocked the traffic to have the right distance

Jan 30, 2011

MENA (Middle East North Africa) Turmoil

The protest started in Tunisia, then:  Libya, Algeria, Jordan, Yemen, Albania, Lebanon and Egypt. You can find more detailed information in the article “A region in upheaval”. The world is now concentrated, for the geopolitical and strategic importance, on Egypt. One thing is sure, for the first time in decades the theme at stake is not religion, terrorism or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some interpret the protest as “Yearning for Respect, Arabs Find a Voice”. Internet (Facebook and Twitter in particular) are playing a key role in spreading the voice and articulating the protest. Some commentators describe the chain of upheavals as “Tunisian's Domino Effect”, some other call it the “North Africa 1989”. The unspoken rule “Better a loyal dictator (who serves my interests) than an unstable (not so easy controllable) democracy” is trembling.

Jan 29, 2011

Sociology of Italian Culture, Gonzaga, Fall 2010

Well, yes: I like to take and post class pictures (the one I have). Last semester I was lucky: I had two great classes. Unfortunately I do not have the Identity & Culture class picture (International Studies Institute). Each time I proposed to take the picture some students did not want to, because of the hair, the make up etc. It is a pity and in the future I will be more authoritative for the picture, almost despotic!

Great Students

Jan 17, 2011

Surviving Finland: Confessions of an Underachiever.

This is the only occasion I have to share a treasure with all of you. I have many thoughtful autobiographical essays written by my students over the years. And, of course, I keep them all for myself, enshrined. Danielle, who was enrolled in my class Identity and Culture: A Narrative Approach, in the Research Master in Social Sciences (University of Helsinki) published the autobiographical essay in her blog. At the end of the story she writes: I would like to add a special thanks to Professor Pierluca Birindelli.  It was his assignment to write this autobiographical essay. Thank you, it was better than therapy”. There are many important themes she faces with her beautiful English: self-identity, achievement, cultural differences, etc. I’ve talked and wrote her back, but this is going to remain between the two of us. Let me just say: thank you Danielle! And here you can find her autobiographical essay: Surviving Finland: Confessions of an Underachiever.

Berlusconi Faces Inquiry in Prostitution Case

What’s the top news in Italy this week? The economical crisis? The unemployment rate (30% among young people)? The ongoing Tunisia revolution (30 minutes fly from Sicily)? No. Everybody is, again, talking about Berlusconi. And, again, is a sex scandal. Our prime minister is facing an investigation in a prostitution case involving an under-age nightclub dancer. You can read about this in the New York Times Global Edition. In November Berlusconi denied doing anything improper during one of his parties at his house, and defended himself saying: “It’s better to like beautiful girls than to be gay