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COURSE NAME: "Contemporary Italian Society"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2019

INSTRUCTOR: James Schwarten
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 11:30-12:45 PM

This course introduces students to the complexities of contemporary Italian society, taking a primarily ‘bottom-up’ social science approach by examining a wide variety of contexts and exploring the ways in which Italians express, negotiate and transform their cultural and social identities. By drawing on a growing body of anthropological and sociological research, it provides students with the tools to question rigid and dated assumptions about Italian social life and enables them to analyze its multifaceted, dynamic and often contradictory forms and practices, focusing primarily on the last two decades. Students are first introduced to key theoretical and methodological approaches in the sociological and anthropological study of contemporary Italy. We then examine local identities in urban contexts, how families and gender roles are transforming, and the pressures produced by the current economic crisis, as well as exploring why increasing numbers of Italians are returning to rural livelihoods. Next, we discuss life in the Italian work-place and the effects that de-industrialization, technological development and precarious work contracts are having on professional and class identities. We analyze the rising appeal of populist and ‘anti-political’ discourses and figures and then focus on how Italy’s strong civic movements are struggling to improve social life ‘from below’. Among the issues tackled are ones traditionally relegated to the private domain, such as disabilities and sexual identities. Lastly, we examine how migration is changing social and cultural life as the country becomes increasingly multiethnic, how religious (and secular) identities are expressed, and the effects that Italy’s dramatic brain-drain is having within the country.

The course primarily focuses on social dynamics and identities in Italy as they have emerged in the last two decades and continue to transform in the present, although each topic is contextualized within a broader explanation of social change in the post-World War 2 era. Students are first introduced to the main theoretical and methodological approaches adopted in the sociological and anthropological study of contemporary Italy. We then examine the ways in which local and community identities are expressed and transformed in Italy’s primarily urban society, how families and gender roles have developed since the 1970s and the pressures produced by the current economic crisis, as well as the reasons and processes by which increasing numbers of Italians are re-developing rural activities and livelihoods. Next, we discuss life in the Italian work-place and the effects that de-industrialization, technological development and precarious work contracts are having on professional  and class identities. Inevitably, these new identities are also expressed in the political arena and we therefore examine the rising appeal of populist and ‘anti-political’ discourses and figures and the extent to which traditional parties are able to respond to these demands and challenges. Italy’s strong civic movements are also innovating and struggling to improve social life ‘from below’ and we explore various forms and expressions of this civic engagement and protest. Issues that have been traditionally relegated to the private domain – such as disabilities and sexual identities – are increasingly being represented in the public sphere and we explore the way the fight for rights and recognition is evolving. Lastly, we examine Italy as a multiethnic society and the increasingly transnational identities that are developing as people move into and out of the country. We discuss how immigration is changing social and cultural life and how the growing number of ‘hyphenated Italians’ express their identities. Religious (and secular) identities and practices are profoundly connected to these processes and we explore the social role of Catholicism and other religions today. We also investigate why Italy is suffering a dramatic brain-drain and the influence that young Italians abroad are having on their society of origin.

The course will include at least one fieldtrip within Rome. Various classes will also require students to carry out field observations and interviews with Italians for homework in order to encourage experiential learning. In addition to participating in lectures, class discussions and doing the assigned readings, students will be expected to attend guest lectures offered by John Cabot and to watch a number of documentaries and films about contemporary Italy in their own time.

Student Responsibilities:

Students are expected to:

- arrive punctually for the start of class
- not leave the classroom once class has begun
- not use electronic devices during class
- submit assignments on time (late submissions will receive a grade of zero)
- complete assigned readings on their due dates
- take exams on their scheduled dates


The assessment criteria listed below refer to all assessment methods in the course.


By the end of the course, students should be able to:

·         Explain the main methods and rationale of anthropological and sociological inquiry as it pertains to Italy

·         Refer to theoretical debates concerning identities, performativity and tensions between agency and structure

·         Identify the main periods of social change in post-war Italy and analyze today’s phenomena within those contexts

·         Outline the main demographic and population changes of recent decades and explain their causes and  consequences on social interactions and identities

·         Discuss the main economic developments in Italy since the 1980s especially as they concern the labor market and the workplace

·         Discuss debates concerning the body and the public sphere: gender, sexualities, and disabilities

·         Identify the main forms and expressions of grassroots action and protest and their reasons

·         Outline Italy’s recent history of in- and out-migration and discuss why people decide to migrate and how this relates to processes of identity formation

·         Explain the changing role of Catholicism in Italy and the increasing importance of secularism and alternative religious identities

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary ItalyMammone, A., Parini, E., & Veltri, G. (2015).Routledge1138589578  

Midterm ExamStudents critically engage with the materials and debates presented in class lectures, discussions and readings20
Final ExamStudents critically engage with the materials and debates presented in class lectures, discussions and readings25
Research PaperWrite an essay based on a problem/issue in contemporary Italy. Debate its dynamics, impacts and possible solutions, drawing from scholarly research. The assignment is organized in two parts: 1. the topic, presentation of research question, bibliography, and outline of the main points and structure of the paper. 10% (Guidelines will be provided) 2. Final paper, incorporating feedback on outline. 20%30
In-class presentationStudents will prepare a presentation based on the research paper. Guidelines and rubric will be provided.15
Class ParticipationParticipation is graded based on the student's comments, questions, active note-taking and general active engagement in class discussions and activities. Students will receive half the grade at mid-term (5%) and half at the end of the semester (5%)10

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


Letter grades and corresponding percentages for this class

94 – 100 points = A

90 – 93.99 pts = A-

87 – 89.99 = B+

83 – 86.99 = B

80 – 82.99 = B-

77 – 79.99 = C+

70 – 76.99 = C

60 – 69.99 = D

59.99 – 0 = F 

You are expected to not miss any classes. If you do, for example for health reasons, I will accept a maximum of three absences, after which I will deduct 3% from your final grade for each class missed.

You cannot make up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean's Office. The Dean's Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will miss an exam must notify the Dean's Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Indivisual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up the work that will be missed. The final exam period runs December 9-13.
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.




Session Focus

Reading Assignment


3 Sep

Introduction to the course               



5 Sep

Introduction to the study of contemporary Italian society:

Imagined Italy and multiple Italies

Theoretical and methodological approaches               



10 Sep

Overview of Italian social change and identity: 1861-1990s

Castellanos, E. (2010). The Symbolic Construction of Community in Italy: Provincialism and Nationalism. Ethnology 49 (1), 61-78.


12 Sep


Mignone, M. Italy Today: Facing the Challenges of the New Millennium, Introduction (pp. 13-28)


17 Sep

Mignone, M. Italy Today: Facing the Challenges of the New Millennium, Chapter 5 (pp. 131-156)


19 Sep

Italian youth since the 1990s
Argentin, G. “New generation at a crossroads: decline or change? Young people in Italy and their transformation since the nineties” The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Italy, Ebook pp. 77-88


20 Sep

Social change in urban Italy since the 1990s

Tintori, G and M. Colucci “From manpower to brain drain? Emigration and the Italian state, between past and present” The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Italy, Ebook pp. 37-48


24 Sep

Local and global identities

, E. (2011). What a Marvelous Event: The Ever Becoming of an Italian Village. The Journal of Mediterranean Studies 20 (1), 13-25. 


26 Sep


Trabalzi, F. (2014). Marginal Centers. Learning from Rome’s Peripheries  in Global Rome, Changing Faces of the Eternal City, pp. 219-231


1 Oct

Changing families and gender roles

Ruspini, E. “Role and perceptions of women in contemporary Italy”, The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Italy (ebook), pp. 64-76

Gender Gap Report Italy


3 Oct


Hipkins, D. “‘Whore-ocracy’: Show Girls, the Beauty Trade-Off, and Mainstream Oppositional Discourse in Contemporary Italy. (2011). Italian Studies 66(3), 413-430.


8 Oct


Guano, E. Respectable Ladies and Uncouth Men: The Performative Politics of Class and Gender in the Public Realm of an Italian City. (2007). Journal of American Folklore, 120 (475), 48-72.

UN Report on Gender Violence in Italy


10 Oct

The body and the public sphere: sex, sexualities and disabilities

Capuano, S., Simeone, S., Scaravilli, G., Raimondo, D., & Balbi, C. (2009). Sexual behaviour among Italian adolescents: Knowledge and use of contraceptives. European J. of Contraception and Reproductive Healthcare, 14 (4), 285-289.


15 Oct

Mid-term exam


17 Oct

Uncivil society: Mafias (introduction)


22 Oct


Europol. Italian Organized Crime Threat Assessment


24 Oct

Antimafia activism Partridge, H. (2012). The determinants of and barriers to critical consumption: a study of Addiopizzo. Modern Italy, 17 (3), 243-263.


29 Oct

North-South divide and civil society movements

Chambers, I. “The ‘Southern Question’ . . . again”, The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Italy, (Ebook) p. 13-22 


31 Oct

Hajek, A. (2013). Learning from L'Aquila: Grassroots mobilization in post-earthquake Emilia-Romagna. Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 18 (5), 627-643.



5 Nov

Populisms and changing media

Fabbri, M. & Diani, M. “Social movement campaigns from global justice activism to Movimento Cinque Stelle” The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Italy, Ebook  p 225-236


7 Nov

Fabio Bordignon & Luigi Ceccarini. (2013). Five Stars and a Cricket. Beppe Grillo Shakes Italian Politics, South European Society and Politics, 18 (4), 427-449.


12 NOV

Religion and secularism

Lopreino, D. “Religion and the state” The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Italy Ebook pp. 145-154


14 Nov



Pace, E. (2007). A peculiar pluralism. Journal of Modern Italian Studies 12 (1), 86-100.


19 Nov

Immigration, the “refugee crisis” and second generations

Musarò, P., & Parmiggiani, P. (2017). Beyond black and white: the role of media in portraying and policing migration and asylum in Italy. International Review Of Sociology, 27 (2), 241-260.


21 Nov


Arnone, A. (2011). Talking about identity: Milanese-Eritreans describe themselves. Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 16 (4), 516-527.


26 Nov

Student presentations




3 Dec

Student presentations


5 Dec

Student presentations

FINAL EXAMS: DEC 9-13 (The Final Exam is cumulative)