22. Ethnography of the italian inner areas

Enrico Mariani – Phd Student in Humanities, Department of Communication Sciences, Humanities and International Studies (DISCUI), University of Urbino Carlo Bo

Giulia De Cunto – Phd Student in Urban Studies, Department of Sociology and Social Research, University of Milan Bicocca.

Convenors Bio
Enrico Mariani is currently a PhD student in Humanities at the University of Urbino at the Department of Communication Sciences, Humanities and International Studies. After the Master Degree in Semiotics, accomplished at the University of Bologna, he conducted research on the relationship between ethnography, semiotics and practice theory. Based on an extensive ethnography, his doctoral project concerns the relationships between housing, spatial practices and public discourse in central Italy after the 2016-2017 earthquakes. He is collaborating with the group of researchers on Central Apennines post-earthquake “Emidio di Treviri”.

Giulia De Cunto is a PhD student in Urban Studies at University of Milano Bicocca, Department of Sociology and Social Research. She graduated in architecture-urban design with a thesis on changings in place identity and people’s sense of place during post-disaster reconstructions. Her doctoral project works on schools in inner areas and their value for local communities through ethnography and laboratory methodologies to work on children’s perception of their life places. 

To identify a genesis in the “question” of inner areas in Italy, we should go back to the definition “pulp and bone,” in which Manlio Rossi Doria (1958) captured the first social and territorial effects of the Agrarian Reform. In the 1950s the processes of marginalization – pauperization and crisis of territorial welfare, abandonment of resources, socioeconomic and anthropological transformation – were still in their infancy (Varotto 2020). The category of “inner areas” was institutionalized in 2012 in the the National Strategy for Inner Areas (Barca, Casavola, Lucatelli 2014), which identified 72 areas defined by their distance from service-providing poles, such as education, health and mobility. To date, the debate on inner areas is characterized by a convergence of issues, perspectives and categories, with a diverse set of actors taking the floor (Cersosimo, Donzelli 2020, Society of Territorialists 2020). The movement of returnees who, with different resources, motivations and goals decide to leave the city, was already the focus of a strand of studies (Corrado, Dematteis 2016, Viazzo, Membretti, Kofler 2017). However, during the pandemic the debate accelerated. Spatial and temporal otherness towards the urban is reconfigured in light of a discourse that emphasize the hamlet, the rural, the outdoor, and the quality of living (Bindi 2021). What is at stake in this debate actually represents one of the central issues of the contemporary: namely, how to live in relation to the environment, resources, relationships, and accessibility of services. With respect to these questions, inner areas are configured not as “voids” to be filled (Viazzo, Zanini 2014), but as “full” of resources (Pazzagli 2021), marked by heavy socio-territorial inequalities. At the same time, it is necessary to pay attention to the instrumental use of territory and the spread of representation-bound economic devices based on the economics of enrichment (Boltanski, Esquerre 2017).

This panel aims to stimulate reflection on the contribution of ethnography in the analysis of such processes. Indeed, field research is necessary for a reflection on dwelling that can connect specific instances with systemic and multi-sited issues. In regards to inner areas, often invested by visions of “urban” futures, ethnography is able to question the researcher’s gaze and positioning, opening up interesting issues for methodological reflexivity. At the same time, processes of co-production of ethnographic knowledge can contribute to the elaboration of analysis and the construction of situated, conscious and transformative proposals.

Barca F., Casavola P., Lucatelli S., «Strategia nazionale per le Aree interne: definizione, obiettivi, strumenti e governance», Materiali UVAL, 31, 2014.

Bindi L., «Oltre il ‘piccoloborghismo’. Comunità patrimoniali e rigenerazione delle aree fragili», Dialoghi Mediterranei, 48, 2021.

Boltanski L., Esquerre A., Enrichment: a critique of commodities, Polity Press, 2020.

Cersosimo D., Donzelli C., Manifesto per riabitare l’Italia, Roma, Donzelli, 2020.

Corrado F., Dematteis G. (a cura di) «Reinhabiting the mountains», Scienze del Territorio, 4, 2016.

Membretti A., Kofler I., Viazzo P.P., Per forza o per scelta. L’immigrazione straniere nelle Alpi e negli Appennini, Torino, Aracne, 2017.

Pazzagli R. Un paese di paesi, Firenze Edizioni ETS, 2021

Società dei Territorialisti/e, Manifesto di Camaldoli per una nuova centralità della montagna, https://www.societadeiterritorialisti.it/2020/04/12/manifesto-di-camaldoli-per-una-nuova-centralita-della-montagna/ 

Rossi-Doria M., La polpa e l’osso: scritti su agricoltura risorse naturali e ambiente, Napoli, L’Ancora del Mediterraneo, 2005.

Viazzo P.P, Zanini R., «Approfittare del vuoto?», Journal of Alpine Research, 102-3 | 2014, http://journals.openedition.org/rga/2476 

Varotto M., Montagne di mezzo. Una nuova geografia, Torino, Einaudi, 2020.

Open questions

  1. What is the role of academic, media, and other actors in the production and dissemination of dominant discourses and visions about inland areas? How can field research measure the actual impact of these discourses on the territories? Can ethnographic research contribute to the emerging and diffusion of alternative inner areas vision, more anchored to local dimension?
  1. How can ethnography help to analyze and articulate frictions towards the enhancement devices that insist in inland areas?
  1. What questions arise for researchers regarding positioning? How does ethnography contribute to problematizing the “urban” gaze toward inland areas? How is the relationship between the field researcher and the inhabitants articulated? What problems does the researcher’s housing placement within contexts pose?
  1. What methodological, and therefore political, challenges does the problem of inland areas pose? How is research activity articulated with respect to the instances emerging in the contexts? Through what tools/practices/strategies can the field researcher contribute to transformative processes towards territorial inequalities?

inner areas, ethnography of dwelling, repopulating the hamlets, public discourses, territorial inequalities, local development strategies, dispositif of exploitation, methodological reflexivity

Fields of study
Rural studies, Territorial and Environmental Sciences, Regional Sciences, Environmental Humanities, Social Theory, Discourse Analysis, Socio-anthropological Studies of Dwelling

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