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This seminar is concerned with political, social, cultural, and religious aspects of Italian life from 1815 to the present. In recent years, the seminar has stressed an interdisciplinary approach to Italian studies, increasing the participation of anthropologists and scholars of art, film, and literature. The seminar meets on the second Friday of the month, from October to April, to discuss a paper presented by a member or an invited speaker. Papers cover a wide range of topics, approaches, and methodologies. The seminar occasionally holds a day- long conference or a more restricted symposium to explore a topic in depth.

Professor Molly Tambor

Luca Abbattista

Meeting Schedule

09/09/2022 Italian Academy for Advanced Studies, Columbia University
6:15 PM
An Ugly Word: Rethinking Race in Italy and the United States
Ann Morning, New York University

Rhiannon Welch, University of California Berkeley

10/14/2022 Italian Academy for Advanced Studies, Columbia University
6:15 PM
The Soldier’s Baby: A Story of Family and Race in Postwar Italy
Nara Milanich, Barnard College

Silvana Patriarca, Fordham University

11/11/2022 Italian Academy for Advanced Studies, Columbia University
6:15 PM
Le male opere e le storte opinioni del clero scappato in America. Unlawful Behaviors and Heterodox Ideas Among the Italian Clergy in the United States (1861-1921)
Massimo Digioacchino, New York University

Roy Domenico, University of Scranton

12/02/2022 Remote Meeting
12:30 PM
Crime, Sin, Rights: The Abortion Struggle in Italy (1946-1981)
Paola Stelliferi, Roma Tre

Yasmine Ergas, Columbia SIPA

12/09/2022 Italian Academy for Advanced Studies, Columbia University
6:15 PM
Dynamics of encounter. Negotiating peninsular belonging in decolonized Italy (1950s-1970s)
Alessandra Vigo, University of Padua and Remarque Institute

Elleni Centime Zeleke, Columbia University

01/13/2023 Italian Academy for Advanced Studies, Columbia University
6:15 PM
Coming out in a FIAT plant, Mirafiori 1977: Italian Post-Workerism, Social Reproduction and Queer Identities
Serena Bassi, Yale University


In 1977, a handful of Turin-based FIAT factory workers who had long been part of the so-called post-workerist groups Potere Operaio and Lotta Continua formed a small gay splinter group and named it Coordinamento Omosessuali della Sinistra Rivoluzionaria (COSR), i.e. the homosexual network of the revolutionary left. One of the many groups of the post-1968 Italian New Left that experimented with rethinking politics by assembling ideological strands that may previously have appeared incompatible, COSR fused the strategies of the Women’s Movement - chiefly autocoscenza (consciousness-raising) - with ways of knowing the world that emerged out of postwar Italian Marxism like the inchiesta operaia, an enquiry or investigation conducted by workers themselves on their working conditions and on their lifeworlds beyond the workplace. In this paper, I look at examples of cultural production occurring within the post-1968 Italian radical queer movement, a largely neglected strand of the so-called sinistra extraparlamentare and of the “Long Seventies”. I recover this particular fragment of social movement history as an archive to complicate existing scholarly representations of Italian Marxian thought and rethink the ways in which the Italian New Left theorized the political. In their own version of the inchiesta operaia, members of COSR showed up with clipboards at underground gay bars, public toilets and other cruising grounds to start a conversation with queers in public sex spaces about the lives of both interviewers and interviewees. By conducting a new kind of inchiesta and substituting the factory with peripheral urban spaces that had now become sites of alternative forms of sociality, COSR activists were consciously blurring boundaries between a political strategy of recognition and one of redistribution. In particular, I will argue that the COSR’s queer iteration of the inchiesta operaia (and other similar queer cultural interventions in those years) can be read as suggesting that the historically specific process of taking on a minority sexual identity in late capitalist societies should itself be seen as work; an instance of social reproduction and a form of affective and cognitive labor on par with the productive work taking place in factories.

Christopher Nealon, Johns Hopkins University

02/10/2023 Italian Academy for Advanced Studies, Columbia University
6:15 PM
The Antimafia Culture Industry
Giuseppe Fidotta, University of Groningen (The Netherlands)

Naor Ben-Yehoyada, Columbia University

03/10/2023 Italian Academy for Advanced Studies, Columbia University
6:15 PM
Italian Communism and the "rediscovery" of the Third World, 1956-1974
Silvio Pons, Scuola Normale Superiore

Mark Mazower, Columbia University


Historians have usually seen the relationship between Communism and decolonization in terms of a "rediscovery" of the Third World after the death of Stalin. By the late 1950s, Communist internationalism redefined its own mission because of post-colonial perspectives. However, we still lack empirical evidence and further conceptualization of what the "rediscovery" of the Third World meant in different areas and to different subjects, besides the Soviet Union and its global effort. The focus on Stalin's successors has provided evidence about Soviet Cold War entanglements, discourses of identification between Socialist models and post-colonial subjects, ideologies and practices of development, and warfare. Analyses of the Sino-Soviet conflict have shown how the concept itself of decolonization implied conflict, as "peaceful coexistence" and anti-imperialism were likely to clash against each other. Still, multiple visions and interactions in post-imperial spaces, mutual influences between international and local communist and anti-imperialist actors, and the agencies represented by non-state communist parties, have yet to be researched and understood on a wider scale.
This paper analyses the experience of the Italian Communist Party as a case study of European communism's connections with the Global South in the period 1956-1974. The PCI was a significant actor on the scene of post-Stalin international communism, as the main Western mass party. The notion of "polycentrism" coined by Palmiro Togliatti provided a vision of change in the aftermath of destalinization and decolonization. Its main implication was that the binary worldview of the Cold War could not work any longer in the context of the end of European empires. Italian communists established relations in the Mediterranean and in Africa by the late 1950s, as they benefited from the limits of the national colonial heritage, which instead profoundly affected the French communists. However, the role played by the PCI in such context is poorly studied.
The paper then explores how Italian communists made an effort for shaping a new understanding of internationalism before and after Togliatti's death. They built their own networks with national liberation movements acting quite independently from the Soviet Union. But the expansion of relations to progressive forces could not come into being solely via unilateral initiatives. Thus, the prospect of a new kind of internationalism connected to the "rediscovery" of the Third World proved to be much more difficult and less promising than the Italian Communists had believed. They would find new ways to define their own internationalist political culture only in the aftermath of 1968, the Prague Spring, and the making of a Europeanist vision of global agendas by the mid 1970s.

03/24/2023 Remote Meeting
12:30 PM
The economic persecution of Italian Jews. Confiscations and restitutions between Fascism and the Republic (1938-2022)
Ilaria Pavan, Scuola Normale Superiore


Abstract: The persecution of Jews in Italy was second in duration in Western Europe only to that of Germany: this, too, explains the severity of its consequences. The Fascist state zealously enforced its racial laws, which included expropriation of homes, businesses and land, loss of jobs and exclusion from professions; then, during the two years of the civil war, Nazis and Fascists of the Italian Social Republic resorted indiscriminate confiscation and looting. But this is only one half of the story. The other half is not less serious: the democratic republican governments did not favore the legitimate attempts of the surviving Jews to regain possession of what had been taken from them. My seminar will focus on the long and complex phase of restitutions – which is still not entirely over – intertwining this issue with the question of the memory of Jewish persecution in Italy.

04/14/2023 Italian Academy for Advanced Studies, Columbia University
6:15 PM
Political Convicts and Post-1848 Italy: Becoming International
Elena Bacchin, Università Ca' Foscari Venezia and Remarque Institute

Mary Gibson, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY

05/05/2023 Italian Academy for Advanced Studies, Columbia University
6:15 PM
Restoring Ruins/Becoming Animal: Italian Cinema in the Anthropocene
Laura Di Bianco, Johns Hopkins University

Elizabeth Leake, Columbia University