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Defend the ways of liberation

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Benedetto Saraceno


We could hardly say we are hostile to Social-Democratic reformism as an overall strategy that favours the reduction of economic and social inequalities. The high seasons of Social Democracy (think of the Swedish experiences or of labour in the years of Harold Wilson in Great Britain or, finally of Prodi's first government in Italy) seem to have come to a halt however, to give way to a new reformist rhetoric, that passes off the interventions of neoliberal austerity, as reforms. This is a rhetoric, writes Ugo Mattei that "marks policies of structural adjustment that had penetrated into the heart of Europe in a particulariy violent way from the beginning of the so-called crisis of 2008 (just think of the real slaughter produced by social Darwinism in Greece"1.
Blair in Great Britain, Schroeder in Germany, Renzi in Italy are the most well-known exponents of this distortion of the culture of high politics of social democracy which has replicated the neoliberal policies typical of conservative governments by using the notion of reformism as ideological justification for "new processes of enclosing and selling of common public goods, which involves social and ecological deprivation and suffering"2 .
The financial crisis that began in 2008 was, furthermore, in addition to vast changes in geopolitical equilibriums. Some major geopolitical phenomena have marked the last fifteen years, and among these, the pressing american and european wars for the control of oil have certainly generated a growing, systematic conflict between Western countries and Muslim countries, thus contributing to the radicalization of Islamic movements and the emergence of a spontaneous terrorism "from below" which perhaps today is no longer controllable even by Islamic terrorism governed from "above".
This context dominated by old Western colonial logics, albeit up to date, is complicated by the presence of two relatively new variables, that is, the return of Russia as a colonial power and the economic and military affirmation of Turkey that has taken advantage of the dramatic inability of Europe to handle the massive migratory phenomena. Such political and moral failure contributed to the severe, weakening of the European Union, political and economic ideal.
Italy is evidently part of all these global, geopolitical mutations that have dragged our country into the downward spiral of the social, economic and political crisis in Europe. In our country (but also in other countries) the decline of the high Social Democratic culture has given rise to new and sinister forms of sovereignty, nationalism, xenophobia and, in general, to the barbarization of the languages of politics and to the impoverishment up to the disappearance of any "high strategic vision" whether of a progressive matrix or a conservative matrix.
Today the Italian landscape is composed of a racist, extremist right-wing, of a highly corrupt neoliberal right-wing, a so-called reformist left-wing which in fact is nothing more than centrist conservativism and, finally, by an ambiguous political movement which is said to be free from the left-right distinction but that actually expresses the adventurist culture of the first Italian fascism. Finally the picture is further impoverished by the presence of more or less quarrelsome minorities of a left-wing drammatically lacking in grassroots support.
Therefore, there are five trends that in fact express a country torn between a composite right (populists of the Lega, Fratelli d'Italia and the Movimento Cinque Stelle and neoliberals of Forza Italia), a centre-left conservative party (Partito Democratico) and a too much of a minority left-wing, without a leadership and without presence in the territories.
If Sparta mourns Athens doesn't laugh.

But all in all on taking a closer look, there is nothing new under the sun: just read once more the words of the founder of the spanish fascist movement, the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Riviera: "...fascism claims that there is something that exists above parties and social classes, something that is permanent, transcendent, supreme, that is that historical unity called homeland"3. Now a century on we still find the illusion of those moments that, denying social classes and the political distinctions of right-wing and left-wing, in reality actually promote an ambiguous idea of "people" (nowadays sometimes called "network") which gives access without representative intermediaries to democracy and the control of political institutions. Antonio Gramsci clearly understood the risk and the illusion of populist pseudodemocracy very well and his words are an explicit warning that can be felt today more than ever before: "Fascism presented itself as the anti-party, it opened the doors to all candidates, it gave the possibility, with its promise of impunity, to a disorderly crowd to cover with a varnish of vague and hazy political ideals the wild overflowing of passions, hate, desires. In this way, fascism became, a custom, it identified itself with the barbaric and antisocial psychology of some layers of the italian population, not modified yet by a new tradition, by schooling, by cohabitation in an orderly and well administrated State,"4
We can therefore, and with good reason, recognize a worrying recession which is not only economic but is a setback for human rights, justice, tolerance, civility, politics and its languages.
We know well that individuals and communities in the face of every recessive phenomenon respond with defensive strategies, responding to the feeling of siege with walls, closures, strengthening of identity, identification of easily identifiable culprits. The rationale (which is quite irrational) of the process of populist thought is immutable, and simple: he who is on top and commands is guilty (the caste) and those who are underneath and make an attempt on our reassuring identities are also guilty (migrants).
The ferociousness of the political language then finds its objectives: political institutions, politicians who govern, those who are different (gypsies, the mentally ill, drug addicts, immigrants, refugees) and who oppress our certainties, the so-called "values" (homeland, race, religion), our economic certainties (work, savings, property). With a masterful synthesis, Ceretti and Cornelli write: "The idea of crisis today is defined as the absence of a project capable of guiding both the individual and collective experience. We live in an era that contrasts with other modern periods in which confidence in progress, science, in man -was the essential characteristic of the collective feeling. This was, in particular, the confidence in the ability to contain and control the violence of men through the affirmation of a shared social order, and the violence of nature through scientific and technological progress."5.
In Europe, at the end of World War II, poverty, large migratory movements, destruction of urban fabric, the paralysis of industrial activities were all dramatic, collective and painful dimensions but declined within a context of hope, a project for society, a vision of the future, a dream of societies and states that communicated within a shared choice of peace. In Italy the great development of Christian Democracy and the Italian Communist Party testify to this dimension of a project made of ideals, ideas, and hypotheses of society. Instead the absence of an idea for the future is what characterizes today's political, economic, social and cultural recession. And perhaps this explains why, in the place of Einaudi, De Gasperi, Togliatti, Nenni, our horizon is now occupied by a group of moral and intellectual dwarfs. Alas, once again: if Sparta cries Athens does not laugh.
So, the answer to the crisis is not to plan, but it is closure and, in this political and moral climate, the most illiberal and hostile institutions at each push for freedom, reaffirm themselves as guarantors of the defensive position in which individuals and communities take refuge. It is no coincidence that the prison population is increasing, the marginalized and institutionalized population is growing, social support for the most vulnerable is decreasing, while private health and care managers are developing, creating private and commercial welfare.
Health, Education, Rights cease to be absolute values and gradually become dependent variables (on the budget, on real or false emergencies, on political cynicism that is a self-proclaimed political realism).

It is interesting to observe the semantic evolution of the word "doing good" increasingly used to justify the many denials of the rights of vulnerable people. "Doing good is the word used to disqualify every action that protects and safeguards the most vulnerable. Therefore, the legitimate rights of prisoners, drug addicts, immigrants cease to be considered rights but become dangerous expressions of doing good. Being "bad" would therefore be a virtue that opposes the "indulgence" of doing good. So the population is convinced that we are not talking about the certainty of rights but of simple options to " indulgent" doing good or harsh badness. But the Constitution is neither indulgent nor harsh, neither good nor bad, it is the Charter of the Covenant between citizens. But few people remember it, few know it, and it's more convenient for everyone to think that the Constitution and laws are the optionals of the good"6.
In times of recession the phenomena of institutionalization and re-institutionalization become frequent and erode the spaces of individual and collective freedom. Immigration rules and laws become more rigid to emphasize social paranoia in respect to the risks of an imaginary invasion, bearer of illness, violence, criminality and able to subtract homes and work from italians: objectively unfounded fears but sustained by the collective phenomenon of "an external projection of the enemy". This projection mechanism allows us not to deal with the internal enemy that is the real enemy and which apart from the psychological metaphor, in Italy is the lack of social reforms which could have reduced social inequalities, increase investments in industry, scientific research and innovation, and which should have put an end to the scandal of tax evasion. In Italy it is true that houses and jobs are lacking, but not because of migrants, but because of policies that have made the poor poorer and the rich wealthier. This outward projection process is fueled by right-wing parties and is often pursued by so-called reformers so that everyone finds a scapegoat of easy consensus and secure electoral adhesion.
These phenomena are all well known and are repeated over time in almost all countries at periodic intervals and in similar ways (think of the emerging Hindu nationalist ideology promoted by the party of Indian Prime Minister Modi or of the America First slogan that allowed the triumph of Donald Trump).
The issue that interests us here is, however, much more limited and concerns the effects of the economic, social, cultural and ethical recession on the organizations that have been laboriously built from the processes of de-institutionalization and liberation.
In other words: what is the impact of recessionary phenomena on cultures of liberation?
There is no doubt that also these organizations promoting rights, liberation, and citizenship suffer from the narrowing of freedom and social opportunities. In fact these organizations (and among them all we have in mind the one that sponsors this magazine, namely La Casa della Carità) do not operate and develop in a vacuum, but they fuel their internal processes of de-institutionalization and liberation starting from a constant critical and dynamic interaction with the surrounding social and institutional context: what Franco Basaglia called "the long march through the institutions". To navigate through institutions and opportunities requires a thorough understanding of the formal and informal mechanisms that characterize its functioning. It is a matter of navigating between the possibilities (and the impossibilities) that characterize the context, namely the services and the institutions; it is about knowing how to operate under the real conditions offered by the context to extract the resources and opportunities useful for feeding the processes of liberation.
It is a tiring job that mediates between an interior that wants to maintain a liberating vocation of possible rights, opportunities and happiness and an exterior that fluctuates between institutional and institutionalizing responses and, on the other hand, sometimes real opportunities and resources. That is why the style of work of these organizations is characterized by two complementary dimensions: affectivity and criticality7.
The style of work of organizations devoted to deinstitutionalization and promoting processes of liberation should be characterized by the coexistence of "an affective dimension directed towards the user (but also to themselves), and a critical dimension, that is capable of de-constructing the logics of the institution which is reproduced and is untiring and never defeated "8.
But liberation processes feed on material dimensions and not ideological or psychological ones, dimensions consisting of: money, clothes, houses, work, identity papers, residence permits, scolastic learning opportunities, experiences of socializing in joyful places and which promote dignity.
If the external environment restricts opportunities and freedom, also the organizations that promote liberation are forced to back down, ie they lose the oxygenation needed to maintain the exchange between interior and exterior, they are beaten back inside themselves. The organization is forced to acknowledge that internal resources cannot compensate for the shrinking of the external ones (the labour market closes down, access to housing becomes impossible, rules are increasingly illiberal, stigma and discrimination increase, social paranoia makes the outside world hostile) and it can react with two possible decidedly divergent modes of action:

1. The regressive use of techniques.

Through the staging of the ideology behind every technical intervention, organizational and administrative dimensions become predominant, the care of body and mind remain the only strategies at hand, and nothing else. In this way the reassuring procedures of all the institutions of control are found once again: medicalization, psychologization, psychiatrization, tightening of the rules, the resort to entertainment. Perhaps the style of work remains emotional, but it lacks criticism and procedures become confused and increasingly based only on the psychological and individual dimension, often on feelings of guilt and alas on salvific vocations which are generally disastrous for the users. The double figure of a constructive affectivity and of a de-constructive criticality is lost and with it the construction processes of daily micro liberations fade until they disappear: "The ability to question, to doubt is established as a shield from interrogation by the other and as a protective armor."9 Hospitality and Care Practices can and should be the elements of a process of de-institutionalization of the selfsame dimensions of Hospitality and Care, that is, elements of liberation of subjectivity and conquest of rights. Conversely, Hospitality and Care Practices can remain simple self-reproducing Institutions.

2. The use of utopian thinking.

The thought and procedure "of the impossible made possible" constitute a mechanism for safeguarding the liberation processes. Invention, creativity should become the way in which the organization challenges the recession of the context: to an excess of illiberality the response is an excess of freedom (of thought, creative action, innovation).
The language and look cannot be those of suffering and individual psychologies (psychologies of both the users and the operators) but rather it is essential to adopt looks and languages capable of recognizing in the other and in others not only the victims of injustice but also the protagonists of their own liberation: looks and languages of politics.
Only a utopian (secular variation of the Christian concept of hope) and anti-bourgeois (ie critical) look should inform the psychosocial procedure of the operators of organizations who want to safeguard their own anti-institutional vocation of liberation.
Choosing one or the other of these two modes - regressive use of techniques or use of utopian thinking - as a response to the recession (economic, cultural, political) crisis is decisive and discriminatory: to escape or to accept the challenge.
It is about challenging the mortifying environment that defends itself by multiplying institutionalization and self-production. This challenge is only possible with political interpretations and political strategies: it is about promoting meaning, subjectivity, human rights, social life and possible happiness, but this can not happen if the organization withdraws to the privatization of relationships, individualism of strategies, the reproduction of reassuring psycological, medical and care techniques. Healthcare and administration must not prevent innovation, invention and spirit of battling.

Once again, as when we dealt with Urban Suffering, we have to come to grips with an oxymoron: in fact as in the case of (intimate and private) suffering which connects to the urban area (collective and public) once again we will have to connect administrative efficiency and quality of assistance with the explosiveness of transgression and change that only the political struggle has to offer because only the anxiety of uncertainty can establish the richness of questioning and doubt.

Mattei Ugo. Contro riforme. Einaudi, Torino, 2013. p.17.
2 Mattei Ugo. Op.cit. p.112
3 Fernando Díaz-Plaja: "Discurso de José Antonio Primo de Rivera exponiendo los puntos fundamentales de Falange española", pronounced in the Teatro de la Comedia de Madrid, on the 29 october 1933.
4 Antonio Gramsci, L'Ordine Nuovo, 26 aprile 1921.
5 Ceretti Adolfo, Cornelli Roberto. Oltre la paura. Feltrinelli, Milan 2013. p. 40
6 Saraceno B. Tempi di assedio. In: Ravazzini M. e Saraceno B. Emergenze Urbane.Il Saggiatore, Milano 2016 p.30
7 Carrino L. La dimensione affettiva del lavoro critico. In: Autori Vari. Fra regola e utopia. Cooperativa Editoriale Psichiatra Democratica, Roma 1982 pp147-153.
8 Saraceno B. Ballare il samba pilotando un aereo. In: Ravazzini M e Saraceno B. Resistenze urbane. Il Saggiatore, Milano 2011, p.143.
9 Carrino L. Op. cit.


By the same authors:                Dancing the samba while piloting a jet plane   SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography*  A Return to the Way leading to Happiness   Aporeia of empowerment  Deconstructing the paradigm of "migrant emergency"  Describing reality but also changing it  Educate in complexity  Empowerment  Global health, local health: a paradigm of the failures of globalization   Health systems are not designed for the needs of citizens  Reject Ferocity, Not Migrants  Souqbiblio (number 1)  SouqBiblio: international annotated bibliography number 8  SouqBiblio: international annotated bibliography*  SouqBiblio: internazional annotated bibliography (number 6)  SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography  SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography  SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography  SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography  SouqBiblio: international annotated bibliography (number 5)  SouqBiblio: international annotated bibliography (number 3)  SouqBiblio: International annotated bibliography (number 7)  SouqBiblio: internazional annotated bibliography (number 4)  SouqBiblio: References (number 2)  The association Poverty - Mental Disorders and its implications for outcome and care provision   The Confusion to be managed  The paradigm of urban suffering  Time of Siege  Urban Resistance  Verbal violence and social paranoia 

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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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ISSN 2282-5754 Souquaderni [online] by SOUQ - Centro Studi sulla Sofferenza Urbana - CF: 97316770151
Last update: 26/11/2020

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