An Italian Studies Scholarly Blog
A sound reason conspired in making the overarching theme of the 2012 ASMI Annual Conference, held at the Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies of the University of London on 23 and 24 November, a subject of extreme interest: the multitude of studies published on the Italian Seventies in the last ten years and the amount of work currently being devoted to the ‘era of collective action’ make the theme of social protest – under whatever form and age – a topic of cutting-edge research. However, the recent blossoming of various forms of social dissent throughout Europe makes the treatment of this subject more suitable of being channelled into political polemics, eventually resulting in an expression of factionalism, than of scientific investigation.
Indeed, the main feature of the 2012 ASMI Conference – whose title ‘Basta! Patterns of Protest in Modern Italy’ emphasized the antagonistic significance of many Italian social movements – was to run along the fine line between historical reflection and events of topical interest. Through the many conference speakers, the links between cultural and social developments of modern Italy – on the one hand – and their political expression and interpretation – on the other – have been explored in such a way to shed light on their specific historical significance. In this sense, the conference keynote speakers’ papers deserve a specific mention.
By examining the claims of the protest movements that have shaken Italy in the last few years, Donatella Della Porta has stressed that their disappointment in institutional politics comes along with a request for more participatory forms of democracy. Despite their mistrust for politicians and current institutions, the Italian Indignados desperately seek new public spaces and forms of political agency that may allow them to put issues of social equality back on top of the political agenda.
Reasoning on the developments of contemporary Italian cinema, William Hope has developed a new way in which film directors might avoid political disengagement and bridge the gap between cinema and the socio-economic issues of our age, by using the filter of the personal to draw viewers’ attention towards social reality.
Finally, Lucy Riall has stressed the distance between the traditional representations of protest movements that have acquired a pivotal status within a given political tradition and their real historical meaning. By focusing on the peasants’ riots in the Sicilian town of Bronte in 1860, Lucy Riall has shown the inaccuracy of the classic interpretation of the revolt as a revolutionary impetus of the peasants against the persistent feudal system of the British Duchy governing the Sicilian town. Subsequently, Lucy Riall has demonstrated that the peasants’ revolt was the consequence of an internal conflict between a rising group of local power holders, developed after the economic and social changes fostered by the Bourbons in the first half of the 19th century, and the peasants who aspired to the possession of land.
The keynote talks presented at the 2012 ASMI Conference have been a clear example of how up-to-date issues may provide interesting insights on both contemporary and past-related themes, by opening up new perspectives apt at revitalizing historical and cultural research.