Immigration and Cultural Pluralism in Italy: Multiculturalism as a Missing Model

By Allievi, Stefano | Italian Culture, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Immigration and Cultural Pluralism in Italy: Multiculturalism as a Missing Model


Allievi, Stefano, Italian Culture


The presence of ever-increasing numbers of" immigrants in the European social landscape is not merely a quantitative fact. Changes in the quantitative levels of so many different indicators (economic, social, cultural, political, religious) produce qualitative changes also. These changes are often interpreted in terms of" multiculturalism: that is to say, societies becoming more and more plural, in terms of cultures and religions. Italian can be considered a multicultural society only with some difficulty. While empirical evidence would point in this direction, Italy is normally considered a monocultural and monoreligious (Roman Catholic) country. This is the case even though immigration--because it is increasingly important, statistically, and in terms of changes produced in the society--undermines the self-image. As a result, the Italian people and various governing coalitions have not yet reached a self-comprehension as a plural society. While immigration is now seen as a physiological process, cultural and religious pluralism is often considered a sort of pathology. This paper analyzes the Italian legislative process on immigration--stressing how the cultural aspects of" immigration have not really led to the construction of" a model of" cultural pluralism--while underscoring the fact that there has been no reflection, in the public space, on multiculturalism (understood not as a theory, but as an empirical reality). In the conclusion, the author (given the lack of" an ideological reference model) considers the opportunities currently available for constructing a more realistic model of cultural relations.

KEYWORDS Italy, immigration, multiculturalism, Islam, Europe

The European situation: cultural pluralism as a new scenario

The presence of ever-increasing numbers of immigrants in the European social landscape is not merely a quantitative fact with different consequences for many social and cultural dynamics. Changes in the quantitative levels of so many different indicators (economic, social, cultural, political, religious) not only produce quantitative change, they alter the scenario completely. Overall, the indicators that are currently changing as a result of the presence of immigrant populations in Europe are producing and creating new problems, new processes of interrelation, new conflicts, and new solutions to them. In a word, they are producing qualitative change, that is, nothing less than a different type of society which is quite different to that imagined with the rise of the nation state and its founding principles. A society for which we have no plans or rules and for which we can only proceed by trial and error, learning through experience.

Among the changes taking place, one of the most visible is the so-called return of cultures--and in particular religions--to the European public space. Even if it is not the only case in point, Islam--and in particular Islam in Europe--is often considered the most problematic and problematized expression of this process. In fact, if only because of the significant numbers involved and, of course, the historical legacy associated with the relationship between Islam and the West, it offers a great deal of substance for reflection. It incorporates various ethnic sources, a number of autochthones (i.e., converts) and second generations born on European soil and progressively integrated, as well as a broad series of environments in which it produces a contested imaginary, often despite the will of Muslims themselves: from the rebirth of fundamentalisms to gender relations, through the relations between the state and religious communities and the dynamics of mixed marriages. Although Islam is not the only religion that finds itself in this situation, it demonstrates more than others the growth in and difficulties surrounding cultural pluralism, and, more generally, the ever-increasing weight of the "C" factor, that is, culture in the wider more anthropological than sociological sense of the term, in Western societies. …

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