Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Futures Lost: Nostalgia and Identity among Italian Immigrants in Argentina. (Book Reviews: Social Anthropology)

Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Futures Lost: Nostalgia and Identity among Italian Immigrants in Argentina. (Book Reviews: Social Anthropology)

Article excerpt

SCHNEIDER, ARND. Futures lost: nostalgia and identity among Italian immigrants in Argentina. 343 pp. maps, tables, diagrs, illus., bibliogr. Oxford, Bern: Peter Lang, 2001. [pounds sterling]33.00 (paper)

This book is about people in what used to be one of the world's greatest immigrant metropolises, Buenos Aires. Argentina is the immigrant country that has received more foreigners relative to its indigenous population than any other nation of the world. However, unlike other immigrant countries such as the USA and Canada, Argentina is now perceived as a society that has failed.

Drawing on fieldwork undertaken in Buenos Aires, Schneider explores how Italian immigrants and their descendants (the largest immigrant group in Argentina) perceive the processes of change whereby from the late nineteenth century to the present Argentina has been transformed from a wealthy exporter country with strong currency and a large middle class to a more or less 'Third World' country which now has one of the largest foreign debts; while Italy has witnessed the opposite process, developing from a poor labour-exporting nation to one of the top industrial powers of the world. In particular Schneider is concerned with how different large--scale economic and political developments in Argentina and Italy have impinged on the lives of immigrants and their descendants.

Schneider is also concerned with ethnic identity and explores how Italian immigrants and their descendants construct their identity with reference to the immigrant experience. He criticizes the 'melting pot' paradigm which postulates that immigrants in Argentina have given up their different origins and become 'Argentines of European origin'. This paradigm dominated both the research and the folk conception of the immigrant society until the late 1970s, when it was replaced by a cultural pluralist approach focusing exclusively on the internal constitution and dynamics of ethnic groups, thereby neglecting both the relations between ethnic groups and the role of the state. According to Schneider, both paradigms are too simplistic, failing to access the multifaceted, highly oscillating, and processual nature of ethnicity in Buenos Aires. He argues that ethnic identity is displayed in compartmentalized and fragmented ways and cannot be reduced to a single institution such as the family, or to marriage endogamy, a s some scholars have suggested.

Based on interviews with first-generation immigrants who came to the thriving metropolis during the first quarter of the twentieth century, the ethnography and social history of four networks of Italian immigrant families who arrived in 1880, 1907, and 1926, and interviews with young descendants of Italian immigrants, Schneider reveals in an interesting way how notions of Italianness change with the historical period, and with class, gender, and age. …

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