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Urban Suffering Studies Center



Widespread anxiety and urban violence (work in progress)

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Adolfo Ceretti Roberto Cornelli


1. “ […] One evening while returning home by car  […] it seemed as if the houses were closing in on me, one after the other, and in the houses the apartments were full of people whose shapes could be discerned behind the curtains, behind the light from the windows; and each home had burdens to bear: quarrels, frustrations, problems, illnesses, deaths. All this gave a sense of heaviness that pressed in on me. I felt as if I was weighed down, suffocated by the multitude of buildings, of people, of problems; I felt anxiety rise up in me again for those who had died from terrorism, for all those killed by criminality and drugs, for the desperate, for all those, who that night were tired of living. I felt this weight unbearable without being able to find some sort of order or sense, or way of keeping a similar flood of problems in hand. And I was overcome by a sense of helplessness.  […]” [1].

Many of us will recognize themselves in this inner conflict evoked by the words of Cardinale Carlo Maria Martini. Sociologists, when talking about it, use another view and introduce the theme of the “global city”: a city without borders, a great territorial container with symbols blending in with anonymous areas, that progressively undermine the awareness of living in a place and time capable of giving back a significant part of individual identity.

Only up to a few decades ago one lived with the illusion that such a new urban question wouldn’t have involved Italy, because the multicentrical and village-type armour of its metropolises, fortified by an ancient historical identity, would have created a wall against this spread. It’s precisely the globalization of the economy though that has turned Italy in large part – as observed by Giuseppe Roma [2] – into being dominated by big cities, that is great territorial areas that act as containers for the movement of milions of people, attracted by industrial hubs, becoming more and more concentrated (industrial areas, shopping centres, logistical platforms, business centres), and dispersed in residential areas spread everywhere on the basis of real estate convenience and of minor costs of access to homes.

It’s in these urban spaces that fears appear in relation to the risks and “threats” of the contemporary world.

The threats that characterize modern societies – emphasized by Anthony Giddens in 1990  [3] – in the first place refer to the effective increase in objective risks, that is the fears that spring from the change in the man-nature relationship and the increasingly greater interconnection between the inhabitants of the planet. A concrete case of the globalization of the risk, for example, concerns the changes in the worldwide division of work.

But today, together with objective threats, there is a more emphasized awareness of the risks, old and new, to which we are collectively exposed. For example, the awareness of the limits of expert knowledge. No expert system can have, in fact, complete knowledge of the consequences deriving from the application of expert principles.
In those same years Niklas Luhmann reflected on the fact that a harmful event is always perceived as the outcome of a human decision, as a risk to be run in view of an eventual benefit, and less and less as a danger deriving from a fatality. And in the passage towards modernity the dependence on the decision increases: more and more situations and current status are considered to be the consequences of choices  [4].

Given these preliminaries, the perception that one has, in everyday life, of what one fears changes radically.

In the first place, if it’s true that attention remains high for what happens close by us, even an unfavourable event that takes place far away from where we live can be experienced as a problem that could have a direct influence on the progress of our lives.

In addition, the increasingly closer dependence of progress and well-being on expert knowledge, that leaves nevertheless some doubts on its effective capacity of process control and the avoidance of damaging consequences, induces individuals to trust in those who know more or who decide. But it is a challenge that in reality hides unease about one’s own limitations, the fear of errors committed by others and a substantial mistrust.

Lastly, the consideration of every unfavourable event as the result of a human decision (or anyway at least of a series of decisions) leads to a strong personalization of the threats that concern one’s health, one’s safety, one’s personal standard of living.

So, to give an example, the insecurity tied to the risk of losing a job, in most cases is shifted onto the last person to arrive who accepts precarious working conditions and, in that way, undermines the security of his own salary. Thus all the fears, anxieties and worries in life mix together in that which Zygmunt Bauman calls the “cauldron of the Unsicherheit”  [5], and search for a safety valve, “something to worry about, and not just anything , but something precise, tangible: something at least to be imagined within our reach and under our control, something on which to be open to intervention” [6]. Often this something is identified with a threatening person or, still, with a dangerous category of people. And this is the reason why the fear of criminals and the request for the protection of one’s personal safety end up absorbing every other social insecurity. [7] The fear of crime is, in some way, a privileged, expressive method of the existential unease of late-modern man; the discussion of the fear of crime becomes the appropriate place in which to pour out anxieties generated elsewhere [8] and, as an all engaging subject, invades town life.

It’s true that even fear - as Elena Pulcini rightly recalls [9] – can lead to a renewed consciousness that deep down all men are united by the vulnerability and weakness that arises in front of threats that they themselves produce, and of the awareness of the supreme and definitive risk that is self-destruction; and that therefore, fear, far from immobilizing society, can become, on the contrary, an incentive for change, exercising that emancipatory function that Hobbes also attributed to it [10]. But today, it seems to us that these flashes of hope, even though they exist, are not yet capable of changing political reasoning.

Living in a global city, the complexity and the difficulty of finding a dimension of identity leads to having, in the absence of institutional places not capable of giving back reflexivity to individual and collective action, feelings of intolerance towards outsiders. It’s in this climate, that disconnectedly, in an apparently casual and spontaneous way, dramatic events gain weight.

What counts in the economy of our reasoning is that these happenings, for the most part shelved as chance, localized, violent explosions, on the contrary, go together with visions of a regressive world (that point inarguably to the reduction of spaces where freedom is allowed, and the cut in rights, above all those of citizenship and social) and finish by progressively attacking individual and collective cognitive maps, as well as institutional behaviour.

2. Of one thing we are certain: an economic and social system that produces an unequal development alternated with frequent market crises, side by side with a significant flow of immigration and with the progressive weakening of social protection, contributes to the construction of highly conflicting urban spaces and to create individuals that are more and more isolated, being diffident towards every form of contact and frightened of every situation.

It’s in this setting that the most attentive, criminological research places the study of violence in the cities. Among all the forms of violence (individual or in group, with or without economic motivation; individual violence, organized or spontaneous, of a racist or of an anomic kind) those that are “collective” deeply shock consciences and produce torsions and fractures in the apparent normality of the flow of metropolitan life.

Different forms of collective violence can be found, not traceable to a single interpretative code.

In the most “spontaneous”, for example during some forms of revolt in the global cities, a violent collective action can be understood – by different observers – both as a deviant act, irrational and immoral, as much as its exact opposite, and that is as an extreme attempt to re-establish a moral order and new forms of social control. Each single actor feels part of the moral organism that reaffirms the principle of violated justice, offended moral feelings. The double message of violence: ”extreme evil” and “social control” emerges here with force.

Regarding the more “organized” forms of collective violence, one always discovers the presence of a power structure, bent on maintaining, through coercion, the fragile unity, definitely not to be taken for granted, of the social group that has to carry it out. The moral principles violated during these actions are in fact often considered fundamental for the majority of the actors, who will then have to create justification mechanisms to neutralize them.

It has to be taken into consideration that, today, psycho-social research has deconstructed the myth according to which it’s the boundaries of a group that determine the measure of human affinity; on the inside of these boundaries(ingroup) a sense of humanity would prevail; outside (outgroup), violence would be inflicted with little remorse. The problematization of this theme has caused deep reflection on the processes with which individuals/groups are expelled from the boundaries of a physical community, of the scope of justice as a psychological boundary of a moral community [11] and perceived as “non entity” to be victimized and/or to be exploited.

 In short, the expulsion can be read as a function of situations of conflict between people and social groups that go hand in hand with the devaluation of and the distancing oneself in regards to certain individuals/groups. Galaxies of needs (or motives) and situational forces reduce or even eliminate – in precise conditions – the social rules that generally forbid people from damaging and/or killing their similars. Exclusions, violence, aggressions wouldn’t depend therefore, on the irrationality and the psycopathology of who carries out the action, but on a series of “normal” psychological processes that characterize the way in which the subjects place themselves in respect to various forms of social influence, to how much their personal or social identity is important in the specific situations with which they confront themselves, to the ways in which they give meaning, explain and justify the relationships that run between the ingroup and the outgroup. The belonging to groups regarded as “relevant” and the need to safeguard such belonging form decisive motivational factors in favouring the adhesion to beliefs, images of the world and a line of action directed at the exclusion of others from one’s own moral universe [12].

In this sense, the words of Amartya Sen are evocative:“the unavoidable plural nature of our identities forces us to make decisions about the relative importance of our different associates and affiliations in every specific context. A central role in the life of a human being, therefore, is occupied by the responsabilities tied to rational choices. On the other hand, what encourages violence is the cultivation of a feeling of inevitability regarding some presumed unique identity – often belligerent – that we should possess and that is apparently very demanding in our regards (often things of the more unpleasant kind)”  [13].

How is it possible, then, that widening groups of people – and not only a few isolated individuals who in the context of a normal daily life lived pacifically and tranquilly - become transformed into violent aggressors and torturers.

The urban, relational and identity disorientation that we have already mentioned, returns overwhelmingly to the centre of our thoughts, Here, in this wide dimension of metropolitan suffering, different forms of violence are to be found; “the city invites and attracts, the city hides, the city offers angles for survival, for hiding, for relating to. But the city doesn’t promise or allow a continuity of space, that is real neighbourhoods, human communities; people live there together and if anything they aggregate increasingly in a continuity of slang, in apparent, ethnic identities, united by exclusion and often by unlawfulness.”  [14]

The relapses of these processes consist in diffused social suffering and in “collective illnesses” that pour onto fragile people (not necessarily social outcasts) who, in moments and situations that are particularily difficult individually or, at other times, collectively can (re)act violently. And for this reason it is paradoxical that for the main part, in governing the city individual replies are prepared, that finish up by putting in brackets the collective dimension of the problem. [15] Two cultural traits of our present – the economic paradigms of the individual-consumer and the bio-pycho-medical of political science – compete in leading suffering back to an individualistic key, naming it as and fragmenting it into specific illnesses, each one being promised the right “medicine”. In this way, the questions are re-formulated in relation to the type of pre-packed reply expected from someone officially called in to intervene; so, even the individualistic reply loses the capacity of facing up to the needs of the individual. Not only the Romany people, foreigners, homeless, those suffering from mental disorders or ill with AIDS, homosexuals, abandoned women, tormented adolescents, but also young couples looking for a place to live in or temporary workers are all concrete examples, quite different from each other and not to be superimposed on by statutes, by those fragilities that, through living together in a confused mass, often cause a slide towards anger, disperation and violence.

3. On Thursday 7 January 2010, following the reconstruction of the facts carried out by the Questura of Reggio Calabria, Ayiva Saibou, citizen of Togo possessing a regular residence permit, is wounded in the groin by a lead pellet, shot from a compressed airgun, and he is taken to the Emergency Ward of the Hospital at Gioia Tauro. The victim states that he was hit by a person from a car in the residential area of Goia Tauro.

The news spreads rapidly and a group of about three hundred foreign citizens, for the main part agricultural seasonal labourers in the fields of the plain of Gioia Tauro and Rosarno, employed in the harvesting of citrus fruits, turn out onto the spot where the aggression took place, demonstrating their own anger also by damaging rubbish bins and passing cars.

At the same time, another group consisting of hundreds of seasonal labourers occupies the centre of Rosarno with an equally angry form of protest, requiring police action and the use of tear-gas. The protest takes on a tone of urban guerilla warfare after the failure of a first attempt at dialogue between a delegation of immigrants and the President of the Emergency Commission of the Municipality of Rosarno. The violent riots drag on into the dead of night bringing to the arrest of some non-European citizens. At the same time, the Police also have to begin facing up to a hundred odd citizens of Rosarno animated with the intention of striking back at the immigrants. In this climate, a peaceful demonstration takes place on the morning of Friday 8 January in front of the Commune of Rosarno, with a considerable crowd of about seven hundred immigrants taking part: the objective is to publicize the cyclical episodes of violence of which the seasonal labourers are victims, the latest one being the shooting of the preceding evening.

In the afternoon the episodes of damaging, violence and threats continue during the meeting of the Provincial Committee for Order and Public Safety: an inhabitant of Rosarno shoots threateningly from the balcony of his apartment; two other italians are blocked as they try to throw some rubbish bins, lifted up by a bulldozer, at a group of foreigners; a thirty-year-old with multi-convictions runs over another foreign worker with his car, while two citizens from Guinea are wounded by gunshots just a short distance from the residential area; on the morning of 9 January a farmhouse near to an industrial zone occupied by ten non-european citizens is set on fire; lastly, a person armed with a gun threatens fifteen occupants of a farm cottage in the countryside of Rosarno. Against this “man hunting” climate some Police Officers endeavour to help transfer the immigrants – altogether more than one thousand – to safe places far away from those agitated by the disorders and from the ex-factories occupied by squatters and used as dormitories.

Among the press reports published shortly after the facts of Rosarno the comment of The Economist [16] is perhaps the one that was the most capable of understanding the sense of the events, even if without showing pity. From the title of the article, Southern misery. An ugly race riot reflects social tensions and economic problems in the south, the theory of a relationship as simple as it is drammatic is revealed: that of ethnic cleansing (defined with a balkan-type speed, viciousness and thoroughness) sustained by the socio-economic poverty of that geographical area. After all, what gives a structure to the tensions and the contradictions of that area is, as everybody knows, the presence of ‘ndrangheta. In 2008 an operation called A Hundred Years of History led to the removal of the head of the top of the local ’ndrina and the arrest of the Mayors of Goia Tauro and of Rosarno. Following the clashes that we have just described, the local Magistrates began to inquire into the role and the interests of the ’ndrangheta of Calabria even in regards to the origin and the excalation of the riots.

At the intersection of the possible meanings of all that has happened, an irreducible fact for the social scientist’s view concerns the multitude of people, with their resident’s permit and the freedom to establish their residence anywhere, who out of fear of experiencing a collective lynching, for their protection, have been deported (taken away) from Rosarno. Yes, lynching. A ritual that we thought belonged to the past and to faraway lands, but that exactly in Rosarno seems to reappear. In this case that form of hasty justice, that “spontaneous” collective violence that scholars have defined, in different geographic and historic contexts, as lynching, didn’t exactly show up. To take a closer look at this public ritual, however, allows the possibility of giving a sense of direction to what happened at Rosarno and perhaps is already happening elsewhere.

4. Different forms of collective violence exist, certainly not stemming from a unique interpretive code. Among these, lynching appears in general as the most spontaneous and least organized. What characterizes it in the main part nevertheless, seems to be the function of social control, conveyed by the dominant group, when an outsider sets off conflicts considered lethal for the moral integrity of the community. If, in our eyes, lynching seems to be an irrational and immoral gesture, seen from another angle, it also seems to be an extreme attempt to re-establish moral order at the point where it has been violated. . [17]

But why, how and when do facts that set off similar dynamics happen? In reply to this, the most significant reflexions are those that have studied the birth of conflicts between groups [18] also giving a look at the irrationality and hostility of the aims threatened by the outgroup – real or perceived as such, it doesn’t matter – and their possible expansion .

In Rosarno, in a context of temporary work of seasonal immigration (often clandestine) and with the presence of organized crime, the tensions deriving from the exploitation of cheap labour, the conditions of miserable lives and the difficulties of living together have made, in the ingroup the uncertainty, the vulnerability and the fears connected to risks of an economic nature, of integration more acute, causing a frenetic acceleration among the social actors in the search for ready and convincing explanations of the present conflicts. As often happens, the most practical solution is to find and delegitimize the “enemy” through an act of classification that allows one to distinguish who is outside the group and at the same time, to accuse him publicly (the greek etimology of the word kategoresthai) of every wickedness. The outgroup is thus connoted for its evil and atrocious finalities, while the ingroup is perceived as continually under attack. It is evident that such processes can be formulated in an even more dramatic way when the delegitimizing labels are distributed as an effect of “ethnocentrism”.

It’s in these manoeuvrings that the apparent irrationality of lynching was to come about as a solution for the necessity of bringing back order, of putting each person back in their place, to re-establish the boundaries between ingroup and outgroup and social hierarchies. Above all in a period of moral and institutional crisis. On the other hand, lynchings as analyzed here, happened mainly straddling the XIX and the XX century, “at a historical moment of unusual stress in the racial and class politics of the American South – a transitional moment in which older mechanisms of racial domination and social control had either been dismantled or else were no longer perceived to be effective, and alternative structures of control had not yet been put into place”  [19] Then, like today, it was vulnerability to crime and perception of a continuing threat to one’s personal social status and ones moral and political authority that sustained acts of repeated violence towards anyone who had committed – or was simply accused of – a serious crime. If in the United States of that period a moment of structural transition from slavery to forms of less uncivilized control of the black population was being experienced – a process that was defined with the legitimization of State Law, today, in Italy (and not only), we live in a period in which the state monopoly of legitimate violence loses its centrality and context, and instances of hasty justice emerge.

5. To understand the historical, social meaning of “public torture lynchings” – as Garland defines them – it is necessary to represent them for what they concretely were, a mode of organized racial repression, a preferred alternative to ‘official’ justice, where respectable people and law officers often took part in and who at times colluded with the lynchers, while community leaders defended their action.

Usually, a black suspect would be named following reports that a respectable white person had been raped or murdered, lurid accounts of the crime would circulate. (Hall 1993; Hale 1998). A posse of victim’s relatives and townspeople would chase down the suspect. If he or she was already in custody, the group, encourage by the crowd, would seize the suspect from the law officers and bring him to where the execution was to take place. We are dealing with a real and authentic “retributive ritual”, aimed at reafferming a faltering and instable system of race control through the public execution of blacks who were accused of murder or violence. ‘Masterless’ black men who roamed the countryside, threatening vulnerable white women catalyzed public opinion thanks also to detailed newspaper reports by local commentators who stressed the wide increase in crime, the threats to local economies and, in particular, to the poorest of white workers, as well as the diffused climate of social alarm.

The legal system was seen by the masses as slow and unsuitable for giving an efficient reply to crimes and criminals crying out for revenge, for a public and exemplary, direct punishment, that the legal process certainly could not guarantee. Also, to allow the matter to go to and be dealt with by the legal system would mean recognising the strictly legal character of the committal of these crimes, robbing them of their racial connotation. The criminal abuse established by lynching, instead, had also the clear objective of degrading the guilty party, depriving him of his dignity, placing him and his “peers” on an inferior level and thus guarantee, personal security.

The new requests for order that are forming in the italian political field have a strong resonance with the social sentiments expressed in “public torture lynchings”. Also in Rosarno, adopting this key for reading, we can denote the re-emergence of an “expressive justice”: the attacks against the blacks, even without transforming themselves completely into real and authentic retributive rituals, have allowed part of the white residents the cathartic liberation (socially approved) of the anger, resentment and hatred felt by them towards those who, up to that moment, had guaranteed the wellbeing of a community they didn’t belong to, and that had begun to threaten to overthrow the local social-economic equilibrium. The resorting openly to firearms, setting fire to the factory-dormitories and the retaliations crushed with difficulty by the police and authorities of the Police Force, present at that time, have created a scenario of collective violence very similar to rituals of “justice” distinct from those of the legal system.

In Rosarno one can discern the plot, that in many situations ties dramatic facts to visions of a regressive world, and that finds in myxophobia –the fear that develops in multicultural societies living side by side – its adhesive.

The fact of living in close contact with the “others”, the foreigners, in an unfamiliar environment where anything can happen, is accompanied today by a latent anguish – far away from the trust that getting together, in a condition of mixing, experiences, memories, visions of the world, leads to a new prosperity (myxofilia). [20]

The phobia of mixing with other people, if left to itself, risks transforming a multicultural project into multi-communitarianism, in which the differences are used as “bricks in the frenetic construction of a defensive wall and of a launching ramp”, and in which each “culture”, intended as a fort under siege, denies the assumptions of a social pluralism [21]. Often it’s the same political class that reinforces such a tendency. It’s not a coincidence that even the German Chancellor Angela Merkl, in October 2010, felt the need, while confirming that Germany is a country open to the world, to decree in the strongest possible terms, that “the Multikulti (multicultural) approach of ‘we live side by side and we are happy about it’ has failed, failed completely.  […] We don’t need immigration that weighs on our social system  […] We are tied to Christian values. If anyone doesn’t accept it, this is not the right place for him”. [22]

But if the multicultural project withdraws what unites adjoining people who feel different and distant from each other? Certainly the emotions that proliferate in a climate of “conflict of civilizations” don’t help build new forms of social cohesion.

6. Fear, disgust and hatr are social emotions that, in certain contexts, accumulate and converge on chosen (subjects)objects to furnish themselves with a legitimation. In the presence of news items that record the reappearance of discrimination and violence with an ethnic and racist background, it’s natural to ask ourselves how can we hate a foreigner that we don’t know, one of the Romany people who doesn’t live below, a “delinquent” of whom we are not a victim? These individuals are gathered together and defined by slogans such as “they come here to commit crimes”, “thieving’s in their DNA”, “it’s best to lock them up and throw away the key”. “tolerance zero”.

If disgust is an underlying refusal of the intense humanity of others, if the politics of disgust is in visceral contrast with the abstract idea of a society based on equality, what comment can be made on the blaze of December 2006 as a “precautionary measure” at the tent camp in Opera, organized by the local authorities (the Municipality of Milan, the Province of Milan and the Municipality of Opera) to give hospitality to about one hundred Romany people cleared from the southern outskirts of Milan just a little more than a week before? And what’s to be said about the uninterrupted picketing by citizens and members of political parties who for many weeks blocked the entrance and exit of the tent camp, at times using violent behaviour? The topic of the perception of a continuous threat to one’s personal social status, returns in a decisive way, and in this case develops as worry for a decrease in value of single properties near to the camp and the fear of the increase in crimes against property.

The anxiety of being invaded and the desire to defend oneself seem understandable: the continuous “safety alarms” and the flaunted “Romany people emergencies” lead inevitably to feel these presences as a danger to one’s personal integrity. Those who see the environment of a familiar life being upset after a new settlement, start feeling impotent for not knowing what to do, the fear that nothing around them will ever be the same again and thus feel pushed to act so as to regain order once more. All that turns into exasperation when, as in the case of the nomad camps in the Muratella [23] district, every hour of the day and night a great blaze of flames and black smoke burns rubbish and tyres, so as to clean the stolen or scrap copper of its casing before selling it, suffocating the inhabitants of the neighbouring buildings and transforming those areas into rubbish dumps open to the sky. But even so, we still can’t manage to explain how one can pass from these emotions to visceral, violent actions and to arson, except imagining that a collective cancellation must take place, a dehumanisation that comes from the interruption of perceiving one another as individuals. In this collective action some psychological processes of deindividualisation play a key role: these increase the feeling of anonymity of the individual inside the group, limiting his feeling of personal responsibility, decreasing the development of relevant stimulation for his values and moral standards and the consideration of the consequences of his gestures, so allowing a behaviour that elsewhere, and in other situations, would be inconceivable. The possibility of co-habitation is cancelled even before being created, not only by the fire – but also by blocking means of aid, obstructing the supply of provisions – scorched earth is created and undesirable guests are banished from one’s land.

7. Are we facing, therefore, forms of democratic racism or, in other words, an advanced process of racialising our society and our institutions?

Those who support this theory talk openly of the fact that the persecution of the “gypsies” and the criminalization of the migrants are imprinted today in “a political liberalistic/neoconservative orderliness, founded on the asymmetry of power and wealth between the strong actors and the weak without rights or reduced to the state of nonpersons”. [24]

Generally speaking, it can be said that Italy has become, in the arc of the last twenty years or so, extremely similar to those Western Countries that have been marked by racism even after the second postwar period. The societies that we are talking about have in common the fact that they present inequalities, discriminations, acts of intolerance, manifestations of hostility connected with ethnic criteria, that weigh tangibly on the forms of social, economic and political organization. In this structural aspect we note the difference between a racial prejudice that involves single individuals – between which there would be substantial differences and who would behave as if fundamental differences separated them – and racism as a system of distribution of wealth and power [25]. At the roots of the latter “one or more well defined segments of the population can be recognized, that systematically and successfully prevent other segments from managing to get access to valuable and scarce resources of the establishment” [26]. There is nothing spontaneous or casual, therefore, in the society with a high threshold of racism, but a constant and rational interrelation between institutional levels – political, legal and administrative acts, legal practices – and daily situations. In the presence of individual or collective attacks of violent racism towards one or more physical persons, the question to ask is if one is in the presence of localized episodes of hostility, intolerance and hate or if one is already immersed in situations of racism characterized by public speeches that contradict policy making.

Some political parties, by taking up sides and through slogans (among others for example, those reproduced on a Government party election manifesto: LET’S STOP THEM!!! MILLIONS ARE ARRIVING. STOP. FUCK OFF, or: CARRIAGES AND METRO FOR THE MILAN PEOPLE ONLY), express a ferocious racial orientation that permits people to render certain attitudes and opinions respectable, “almost natural”, in contrast to the deep-rooted values shared up to then by the majority, who, in this way, becomes gradually anaesthetized. It can happen that a speech or a slogan that gives offence to some people, if continually repeated and spread around (TV, newspapers, streets, bars, public places, council and parliamentary chambers, ends up by losing all relevance to the flesh-and-blood people who are its objective: it becomes socially acceptable by being stripped of all reference to an individual and being levelled instead at something Universal. These real and authentic forms of excomunication from the world turn thousands of men and women into simple vulnerable bodies, for the hostile consideration of others.

But these arguments, far from only entering individual biographies and interpersonal relationships, find a fertile ground for expressing themselves in the institutions, orientating politics and accelerating their social legitimization dramatically. Once it reaches this level, racism, now inside the links of some institutions, softens its aggressive and violent character, becoming more persuasive. Discrimination With A Smile, or also Racism Without Racists, as written by Eduardo Bonilla Silva [27]. It refers to those behaviours adopted by Government Officials or private citizens that, directly or indirectly, imply a distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, ancestry, or national or ethnic origin, religious beliefs and practices, and that have the scope or effect of destroying or jeopardizing the recognition, the enjoyment or the practice, in conditions of equality, of human rights and of fundamental freedom in the political, economic, social and cultural field and in every other sector of public life (T:U: immigration, Law of 6 March 1998, n.40, art.43).

At times discrimination gains strength directly from the law, bent to the objective of distinguishing between those who enjoy rights and others who enjoy them in a smaller measure or who don’t enjoy them at all. Even in Italy.

The insertion in art. 61 of the penal code of a communal aggravated circumstance that regards every deed either committed by a citizen of an extraeuropean Country or by a stateless person who is illegally on national territory (i.e.. “ aggravated by clandestinity” originally scheduled by the decree passed by the Italian Government on 23 May 2008 n.92 bearing “Urgent measures in the field of public security”, and then by art. 1 c.1 1.n94 of 15 July 2009), introduces a disparity of penal treatment for parity of behaviour (also in the case, for example, of an unpremeditated criminal offence), starting clearly with the legal status of the author. Against this significant element of irrationality, the Constitutional Court declares the aggravating circumstance in question, illegitimate, indicating what many jurists had anticipated, that is, that “the substantial ratio recorded at the base of the censored principle is a general and utter assumption of a greater danger than the irregular immigrant, impinging on the sanctionable treatment of any violation of the criminal law committed by him.” (sentence n 249/2010). Also the prognosis of punishing the illegal entry of an Non-European on Italian State territory for a crime that merits a sentence from 6 months to 4 years (art. 9 of the bill A. 733 of 2008 bearing the “Directives on the matter of public security”), including compulsory arrest, express trial and a judgment of expulsion passed by the judge together with being condemned – subsequently reducible to a fine (art. 1 c. 16 l. n 94 of 15 July 2009) – clearly shows the tendency to punish the condition of non-citizen, more than his eventual antisocial conduct.

These forms of discrimination introduced by the law throw shadows similar to those of criminal law perpetrator from the fascist period and they place themselves in the slot with the theories elaborated by the jurist Günther Jakobs on the necessity of separating on a legislative level “criminal law of the enemy” (Feindstrafrecht) and a “ criminal law of the citizen” (Bürgerstrafrecht) [28].  Jakobs firmly supports the introduction of a binary code in criminal legislation: a safeguard for the included, repressive for the “others”, the “enemies”, those who, through their behaviour, their professional occupation or their belonging to an organization, have, in a predictably long-lasting form, voluntarily refused the status of citizen. For this simple reason, the State auto-legitimizes itself to offer its citizens a reinforced protection from those who place themselves outside the system of civil cohabitation (terrorists, sexual delinquents, drug dealers, members of the mafia), by allowing itself, seeing the particular danger exactly of that type of author, the application of safety measures, often punishments, in a phase preceeding the effectuation of criminally linked conduct. In this deeply conservative and regressive theorization, opposed by every democratic legal practitioner, the example referred to previously of the “criminal law perpetrator” [29] re-emerges in an up-to-date form, elaborated and now put into effect starting from the political-semantic transformation of the concept of citizenship: from being a criteria for including everyone in a State subject to the rule of law and a society of wellbeing to a standard for excluding the “others” from the protection of rights, even those that are fundamental. [30] In this way, a person who has refused – or is thought of as having refused – the status of citizen, becomes a “public enemy”, but also the person who is not able to enjoy the statute of citizen (foreigner with permit of stay), becomes a “public enemy” too, for the impossibility of having access to it. For the majority (and the Legislator) his status depends, though, uniquely on his “will” to violate the rules of entry.

 [1] C.M. Martini, Verso Gerusalemme, Feltrinelli, Milan, 2002, p. 18.

 [2] G. Roma, “Paure nella megalopoli mondiale”, in Censis e Fondazione Roma (edited by), Paure Globali, Editori Laterza, 2009, p. 54..

 [3] A. Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1990 (trad. it. Le conseguenze della modernità. Fiducia e rischio, sicurezza e pericolo, Il Mulino, Bologna, 1994, pp. 125-6).

 [4] N. Luhmann, Soziologie des Risikos, Walter de Gruyter & Co., Berlin, 1991 (transl. it. Sociologia del rischio, Bruno Mondadori, Milano, 1996), p. 58.

 [5] Z. Bauman, In Search of Politics, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1999 (transl. it. La solitudine del cittadino globale, Feltrinelli, Milano, 2000.

 [6] Ibidem, p. 51.

 [7] Cfr. A. Dal Lago, “Esistenza e incolumità. Una nota sulle recenti opere di Zygmunt Bauman”, Rassegna Italiana di Sociologia, XLI, N. 1, 2000, p. 139.

 [8] W. Hollway, T. Jefferson, “The Risk Society in an Age of Anxiety: Situating Fear of Crime”, The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 48, N. 2, 1997, p. 265.

 [9] E. Pulcini, “L’Io globale: crisi del legame sociale”, in D. D’Andrea, E. Pulcini (edited by), Filosofie della globalizzazione, Edizioni ETS, Pisa, 2002, pp. 57-83.

 [10] Cfr. chapter 4 in R. Cornelli, Paura e ordine nella modernità, Giuffrè, Milano, 2008.

 [11] M. Deutsch, Distribuitve Justice. A Social-psychological Perspective (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 1985).

 [12] M. Ravenna, Carnefici e vittime. Le radici psicologiche della shoah e delle atrocità sociali, Il Mulino, Bologna, 2004, pp. 12-13.

 [13] A. K. Sen, Identity and Violence. The Illusion of Destiny, W.W. Norton & Company, New York - London 2006 (transl. ital., Identità e violenza, Laterza, Roma, 2006, IX).

 [14]  B. Saraceno, “Il paradigma della sofferenza urbana”, SOUQ, n.1, 2010.

 [15] Ibidem.
 [16] The Economist, 14 gennaio 2010, Southern misery. An ugly race riot reflects social tensions and economic problems in the south.

 [17] R. Senechal de la Roche, “Collective Violence as Social Control”, Sociological Forum, 11, 1996, pp. 97-128; R. Senechal de la Roche, “Why is Collective Violence Collective?”, Sociological Theory. 19, 2001, pp. 126-144.

 [18] D. Bar-Tal, ‘Cases and Consequences of Delegitimization. Models of Conflict and Ethnocentrism’, 46 Journal of Social Issues (1990) 65-81. Cfr. also F. Neubacher, ‘How Can It Happen that Horrendous State Crimes Are Perpetrated?’, in 4 Journal of International Criminal Justice (2006) 787-799.

 [19] D. Garland, “Abuso penale ed eccedenza di significato. I linciaggi come tortura pubblica nell’America del Ventesimo Secolo”, Criminalia, 2009, pp. 29-52.

 [20] Z. Bauman Fiducia e Paura nella città, Milano, Bruno Mondadori, 2005.

 [21] Z. Bauman, Community. Seaking Safety in an Insicure World, 2001, ( Voglia di Comunità, Laterza, Bari, 2001, p. 129).

 [22] Il Sole 24ore, 18 october 2010, Merkel feels populism blowing and opens a debate on post multiculturalism, by Vittorio Da Rold.

 [23] La Repubblica - Roma, 18 september 2010, "Noi della Muratella, ostaggio dei rom tra roghi, discariche e furti nelle case", by Cecilia Gentile.

 [24] S. Palidda, “Introduzione”, in S. Palidda (edited by), Razzismo democratico. La persecuzione degli stranieri in Italia, Agenzia X, Milano, 2009, p. 7.

 [25] L. Balbo, L. Manconi, Razzismi. Un vocabolario, Feltrinelli, Milano, 1993, p. 60.

 [26] J.H. Turner, R.Jr. Singleton, D. Musick, Oppression. A Socio-History if Black-White Relations in America, Nelson Hall, Chicago, 1984, p. 2.

 [27] E. Bonilla-Silva, Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD, 2003.

 [28] G. Jakobs, “Derecho penal del ciudadano y derecho penal del enemigo”, in G. Jakobs, M. Cancio) Melià, Derecho penal del enemigo (transl. it. “Diritto penale del nemico” in M. Donini, M. Papa, Criminal Law of the enemy, Book of comparative Criminal Law, international and european, Giuffrè, Milano, 2007, pp. 5-28).

 [29] Cfr. K. Ambos, “Feindstrafrecht”, in Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Strafrecht, 124, 2006, pp. 1-30 (transl. it. “Il diritto penale del nemico” in M. Donini, M. Papa, Criminal Law of the enemy. An international debate, Book of comparative Criminal Law, internazional and european. Giuffrè, Milano, 2007, pp. 29-64).

 [30] Cfr. L. Ferrajoli, Principia juris. Teoria del diritto e della democrazia, Editori Laterza, Roma-Bari, 2007.


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Center for urban suffering

The study centre wishes to study the phenomenon of urban suffering, in other words the suffering that is specific to the great metropolises. Urban Suffering is a category that describes the meeting of individual suffering with the social fabric that they inhabit. The description, the understanding and the transformation of the psychological and social dynamics that develop from the meeting of ...

Who we are

The Urban Suffering Studies Center - SOUQ - arises from Milan, a place of complexity and economic and social contradictions belonged to global world.Tightly linked to Casa della Carità Foundation, which provides assistance and care to unserved populations in Milan (such as immigrants legal and illegal, homeless, vulnerable minorities), the Urban Suffering Studies Center puts attention on ...


Centro studi Souq Management commitee: Laura Arduini, Virginio Colmegna (presidente), Silvia Landra, Simona Sambati, Benedetto Saraceno ; Scientific commitee: Mario Agostinelli, Angelo Barbato, Maurizio Bonati, Adolfo Ceretti, Giacomo Costa, Ota de Leonardis,  Giulio Ernesti, Sergio Escobar, Luca Formenton, Francesco Maisto, Ambrogio Manenti, Claudia Mazzucato, Daniela ...
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