Mamma, Mafia and migration

Journal of Modern Italian Studies - Modern Italy
February 20, 1998

Academic journals in Italian studies have traditionally been linked to linguistic and literary concerns, but in the autumn of 1995 two innovative journals appeared. Of course one could argue that the fortuitous publication of these broader-based journals is coincidental, but there is evidence throughout the Anglophone world of a critical mass of students and lecturers of history, the social and political sciences and cultural studies that could support several journals attached to non-literary Italian studies. Indeed, the boundaries between the literary/linguistic field and the remit of these two journals are collapsing, witness the 1996 publication of Italian Cultural Studies or the series of selection of texts in Italian on contemporary Italy by Manchester University Press that are aimed at language students.

In the United Kingdom there is ample evidence of this broader base of readers for journals of modern Italian studies. More by coincidence than intention, London has witnessed the concentration of at least two dozen Italianists in its institutions of higher learning. The establishment of a seminar in modern Italian history at the Institute of Historical Research in the spring of 1996, the lively activities of University College London's Centre for Italian Studies and the Italian Cultural Institute are indicative of broader and deeper support throughout Britain from which the Association for the Study of Modern Italy has organised a programme of seminars and conferences for the past 16 years.

Modern Italy (MI) remains the journal of ASMI, even though it is now published by Carfax. However, it has a representative sample of major Anglophone Italianists and Italian scholars on its editorial board, as does the Journal of Modern Italian Studies (JMIS), and both journals have also seen a cross-fertilisation of contributors from both sides of the Atlantic and Australia.

Both journals have a similar internal structure: usually three articles, a section with a debate or a essay in literature review and finally book reviews. However, MI devotes one of its issues to a special topic that, so far, has been taken from the proceedings of the annual general conference of the ASMI (Vol 1, No. 1: "The Italian crisis 1989-1994"; the second issue of 1998 will be devoted to the proceedings of the 1996 conference on "Charisma and the cult of personality". The 1999 autumn issue will be devoted to "immigration"). In this respect, although MI has become more of a free-standing academic journal it still retains a close link with the society that initiated its publication.

Although the growth of Italian studies in the past decade has undoubtedly supplied the core readership for both journals, the collapse of the old political order in Italy has certainly increased interest from a broader audience.

The first issue of MI is entirely devoted to the Italian crisis of the early 1990s, while Diego Gambetta and Steven Warner discuss the possible unintended effects of electoral reform in the JMIS. Various aspects of political corruption and judicial politics are also a common theme in both journals. In MI Donatella della Porta traces the startling scandals of the early 1990s back at least two decades and in JMIS Donald Sassoon and David Moss each analyse the grassroots of corruption.

In a recent JMIS, Patrizia Pederzoli and Carlo Guarneri predict that the judicialisation of politics witnessed in recent years will not easily fade away even if political stability seems to be increasing in Italy. The political crisis of the 1990s brought to a head the question of whether Italy was a "normal" liberal democracy and the continuities and discontinuities between the Liberal, Fascist and Republican periods of modern Italian history. In this respect comparativists have increasingly sought an Italian case study in their research programmes because it seems tailor-made for inclusion in studies of the transition from authoritarian or communist regimes to liberal democracy. Many of the best articles so far published in both journals have been implicitly or explicitly comparative. Thus in JMIS Judith Chubb's review essay on the parallel relationships between the mafia, the state and the market in Italy and post-communist Russia is a revelation, while Richard Samuels's comparison of the postwar "one-party-state" democracies of Italy and Japan stretches back to the 19th century and has affinities with controversies usually associated with the debate over a German Sonderweg. Indeed, Costanza D'Elia argues in a review of German accounts of Italian history that a "hidden comparison" of the two nation states was always present among modern German Italianists. And to this extent Raffaele Romanelli's case study of the patricians in late-19th-century Florence deserves to be placed alongside David Blackbourn's analysis of the German provincial middle classes.

Both journals have contributed extremely interesting debates and articles on the politics of identity. These have included multi-faceted arguments about the southern question, regionalism and federalism in MI by Piero Bevilacqua and Anna Bull and in JMIS by Paolo Macry, Francesco Benigno and Paul Corner. For students, these articles and interventions would demonstrate that stereotypes about the Italian family and its impact on modern Italian society should be avoided. These debates reveal the rich diversity of family forms in Italy, the complicated relationships between type of family and agricultural and industrial economy, and the degree to which specific types of family may or may not have deepened the differences between north and south. As a teaching tool the selection is invaluable.

Emigration and immigration have been central to the modern Italian identity. In JMIS, Donna Gabaccia promises to give us an excellent survey of the literature on the history of the great Italian emigrations. Analysis of today's multicultural Italy can be found in Asher Colombo's JMIScase study of chain migration from the third world to Milan and in Judith Adler Hellman's MI comparative study of Italy's extracomunitari.

The transmutation of red and white political subcultures from holistic lifelong experiences to political choices encompassing smaller more sharply defined groups is analysed in MI by Anna Bull in a case study. Andriana Destro's discussion of Umberto Bossi's political manipulation of sacred symbols in order to generate a sense of "Padanian" nationhood in the north is an interesting companion piece in JMIS. But discussion of identity politics has not been left to the postmodern era. In MI Gino Bedani analyses the weak support for a secular state in early postwar Christian Democracy, while in a highly original article, Oliver Logan traces the encounter between secular and Catholic conceptions of Italian identity in the first half of the 20th century. Here, too, students will find much that is new. Not only is Catholic political thought and history under-researched, works in English that compare Catholic identity with Italian national identity scarcely exist.

Historians have not been short-changed by these two journals. Giuseppe Ricuperati gives an assessment of the great historian of the Enlightenment and Russian Populism, Franco Venturi, in JMIS, while in MI David Laven writes a spirited defence of Austria's policy in Italy before 1848, making the revisionist case more accessible to a broader audience. Christopher Duggan previews his forthcoming biography of Francesco Crispi in JMIS by examining the Sicilian statesman's ultimately unsuccessful attempt to promote a policy of national political education in Italy. Histories of the Jews in 19th-century Italy are reviewed by Paolo Bernardini, while Joel Blatt traces the domestic origins of Mussolini's anti-Semitic campaign. It is generally thought that Italy lacked pervasive anti-Semitism until Hitler imported it into the country, but Glenda A. Sluga demonstrates that the extermination camp near Trieste (the Risieria di San Sabba) was never solely a German enterprise. Women's history is also covered in both journals but there is certainly more scope here. Michela De Girogio gives us a valuable survey of feminist historiography in Italy since the 1960s in JMIS. And in a fascinating article, Alice Kelikian argues that positivist medical practitioners, sociologists and criminologists recreated a secular male hierarchy without having to invoke their enemy, the Catholic church. Perry Willson in MI has written a case study of the defence of abortion under Fascism that reveals the ineffectiveness of the regime's pro-natalist campaign.

Finally, cultural studies is also present in both journals. Given the importance of films in Italian culture, it is good that Peter Bondanella has written a thorough review of recent Anglophone and Italian histories (in JMIS). In MI David Ellwood illustrates the limits of Americanisation in the Italy of the 1950s by examining a famous film satire. Stephen Gundle and No llanne O'Sullivan examine the effects of the political crisis of 1992-94 on the reform of the RAI and Nicola White presents an original account of the history of the Max Mara ready-to-wear fashion house.

Both journals certainly need more articles like White's. They need more on the design, arts and crafts, fine art and fashion that are so central to Italian history and identity. We still await articles on childhood, popular culture, sport, cuisine and most aspects of medicine. Housing, architecture and urban history still have not been touched in either journal. Furthermore, more traditional diplomatic and military histories should not be slighted.

Besides the occasional dense English translation, both journals have more than acquitted themselves and there is enough interest to sustain them for the foreseeable future.

Carl Levy is a lecturer in European politics, Goldsmiths College, University of London.

Journal of Modern Italian Studies

Editor - John A. Davis and David I. Kertzer
ISBN - ISSN 1354 571X
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £80.00 (institutions) £26.00; (individuals)

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