An Italian Studies Scholarly Blog
Since the end of the Cold War order and the rise of a globalized network of international relations, matters of cultural identity have been brought to the fore of the cultural and political debate. In fact, culture, religion – and nationality – are often considered the main sources of identity in an increasingly complex world.
But is a national identity – or any identities whatsoever – the result of the inner essence of a social group or is it the consequence of a history of relations with the outer context? Is it a matter of deep culture or an issue of historical phenomenology?
The 2012 Sis Interim Conference (University of Reading, 13 and 14 July) offered many reasons to assess how the Italian national identity has been constructed through the interplay between Italy and its various counter-party Nations. One of the most characteristic features of the conference was the presence of scholars used to measure their research on a global scale of events and thus to ‘dissolve’ the nature of phenomena in the network of relations that constitute their context of appearance.
Donald Sassoon, the first of the four keynote speakers of the conference, has taken on the theme of Italian anomaly by showing how its pretended exceptionalism has a close correspondence with the cycles of European history. According to Sassoon, if an Italian anomaly exists in the 21st century, this has more to do with its high level of organized crime and its economic structure made of small and technologically backward enterprises than with any sort of deep culture.
Gisele Sapiro has gone through the history of the European intellectual and its public engagement. The figure of the intellectual was born in the context of the 18th century ‘Republic of letters’ based on the autonomy of reason, against religion and political power. After passing an era of increasingly political and national commitment through the 19th and 20th century, since the 1990s intellectuals have gradually returned to a phase of international mobilization based on the intertwining of national cultures.
Nic Havely and Vittorio Coletti have respectively addressed the problems of the reception of Dante in England and the function of 19th century Italian opera in the construction of a public opinion in favour of the Risorgimento. Nick Havely has shown how Dante’s works reached Britain via the London merchants of the 15th century. Vittorio Coletti has challenged the idea of the Risorgimento as a movement of political elites. In his talk he has demonstrated that the Italian opera shaped the public opinion and transmitted to the masses the ideas of Nation conveyed by the ideologists of the Risorgimento.
The general sense encompassing the relations presented at the 2012 Sis Conference is that Italian identity owes its features to its ‘transnationality’ as much as to its national characters. Its refusal of any ‘essentialist’ approach and its phenomenological perspective on the themes of Italian cultures seems to be one of the most important teachings of the conference.