Italy's Southern Question: Orientalism in One Country

Italy's Southern Question: Orientalism in One Country

Italy's Southern Question: Orientalism in One Country

Italy's Southern Question: Orientalism in One Country


The 'Southern Question' has been a major topic in Italian political, economic and cultural life for a century and more. During the Cold War, it was the justification for heavy government intervention. In contemporary Italy, a major part of the appeal of the Lombard League has been its promise to dissociate the South from the North, even to the point of secession. The South also remains a resonant theme in Italian literature.This interdisciplinary book endeavours to answer the following:¿ When did people begin to think of the South as a problem?¿ Who - intellectuals, statisticians, criminologists, political exiles, novelists (among them some important southerners) - contributed to the discourse about the South and why?¿ Did their view of the South correspond to any sort of reality?¿ What was glossed over or ignored in the generalized vision of the South as problematic?¿ What consequences has the 'Question' had in controlling the imaginations and actions of intellectuals and those with political and other forms of power?¿ What alternative formulations might people create and live by if they were able to escape from the control of the 'Question' and to imagine the political, economic and cultural differences within Italy in some other way?This timely book reveals how Southern Italians have been affected by distorted versions of a complex reality similar to the discourse of 'Orientalism'. In situating the devaluation of Southern Italian culture in relation to the recent emergence of 'anti-mafia' ideology in the South and the threat posed to national unity by the Lombard League, it also illuminates the world's stiff inter-regional competition for investment capital.


Jane Schneider

In Italy, and in Italian studies, the "Southern Question" evokes a powerful image of the provinces south of Rome as different from the rest of the peninsula, above all for their historic poverty and economic underdevelopment, their engagement in a clientelistic style of politics, and their cultural support for patriarchal gender relations and for various manifestations of organized crime. This tenacious catalogue of stereotypes includes, as well, the notion that southerners, by dint of their very essence, or at least their age-old culture and traditions, possess character traits that are opposite to the traits of northerners. Passionate, undisciplined, rebellious, intensely competitive, and incapable of generating group solidarity or engaging in collective action, they were and are, as the cliché, would have it, unable to build the rational, orderly, civic cultures that, in the North, underwrote the emergence of industrial capitalist society.

This volume is an interdisciplinary effort to understand how and why the forceful rhetoric of North versus South took hold in Italy, becoming an everyday symbolic geography for northerners and southerners alike. In addition, it further addresses the problem of generating alternative representations of the South. The timing is propitious. A regionalist movement rooted in Lombardy and the Veneto, the Lega Nord (Northern League), has challenged national unity through a surprising show of electoral strength in the 1994 and 1996 elections. Although many observers have been reluctant to take seriously the movement's flamboyant, theatrical leader, Umberto Bossi, they have nevertheless been shaken by the unexpected resonance which his anti-southern (as well as anti-immigrant) stance has evoked in the North.

Reminiscent of neo-liberalism in other industrialized countries, the Lega has attacked the national government for over-taxing the productive economy of Northern Italy and then over-spending on welfaristic infusions of capital and social services in the South. Given the inherently corrupt practices of southerners, it is argued, such investments have not transformed, but only reproduced, a backward system. Policy-makers were right, therefore, when in 1992, in the context of Italy's first budgetary restrictions preparatory to entering the European Monetary Union, they terminated a range of programs that dated back to 1950, when the national . . .

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