The Passeggiata and Popular Culture in an Italian Town: Folklore and the Performance of Modernity

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The Passeggiata and Popular Culture in an Italian Town: Folklore and the Performance of Modernity. By Giovanna P. Del Negro. (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2004. Pp. xiii + 183; acknowledgments, photographs, diagram, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $75.00 cloth, $24.95 paper)

This book deserves notice for its ethnographic richness and attention to detail, its innovative approach to folklore and expressive culture, its attention to genres that usually fall between the cracks of ethnographic observation, and its original application of theory. A study of social life, custom and the everyday performance of self in the town of "Sasso" (Abruzzi, Italy), Del Negro's book begins by examining the passeggiata, a daily walk around the town square that is characteristic of Italian provincial life. She analyzes how various social, political and gendered groups display their ethics through the aesthetics of bodily practice: fashion, body posture, gesture and proxemic behavior. These performers perform for one another: they are each other's audience. They read and interpret the "text" of each other's performances, commenting frequently on it to others within their same social group. Within these performances, a number of commentaries on locality and modernity can be read: from the young women who ostentatiously embrace the latest fashions in order to appeal to the opposite sex, to the politicians who stroll in a line, wearing conservative grey serge suits and communicating the power of the polity, to the black-clad widows who view the performance from the panopticon of their balconies, but whose role as the arbiters of good taste, civility and manners is central to the reputation of all the strollers.

Del Negro goes beyond the examination of this provincial folk custom to explore other indices of social change; the transforming economic basis of the town and its growing ties to the broader European community; the extra-communitarians (immigrants) who increasingly form a part of the population; the public discourse about values, played out in commentary on soap operas and television game shows; and shifting, complex local discourses about modernity and tradition. While these may not, on the surface, appear to be folkloric in the traditional sense, the author's inclusion of them is part of her larger theoretical and interpretive project. Rejecting the notion that folkloric forms need to conform to nineteenth-century constructions of gemeinschaft, she argues that even twentieth-century concepts of expressive culture (mass culture, folk culture, high culture) and their social bases (mass society, folk communities, elite society) are emergent, and that history produces new structures and expressive forms that confound older categorizations. …