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.