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Remaking the political in Fortress Europe: Political practice and cultural citizenship in Italian social centers

Angelina I Zontine, University of Massachusetts Amherst


At the current moment, with voter turnout low and mass popular uprisings refashioning the political map, questions of political participation and dissent are extremely pressing. In established democracies and newly democratized states alike, an active and potentially dissenting citizenry is often seen as the necessary balance to overreaching state power and unregulated market forces, but scholars struggle to keep abreast of a proliferation of new foci and forms of engagement. This dissertation focuses on the form of collective political engagement enacted at centri sociali occupati autogestiti (occupied, self-managed social centers) or CSOA in Bologna, Italy. As they enact political alternatives through everyday practices of self-management and cultural production, social center participants complicate conventional analytical distinctions between revolution and reform or between individual transformation and larger social change. Through participant observation at three specific centers, interviews with participants and visitors and discourse analysis of recent legislation and policy, the investigator explores the character of social center participants’ cultural and political practice, internal organization and decision-making processes, and the heated conflict surrounding social centers in order to discern the opportunities afforded and tensions generated by this form of political engagement. The author argues that CSOA participants experience a form of belonging constructed on the basis of participation rather than ascribed statuses or adherence to shared ideological positions. Furthermore, participants seek to establish an autonomous space wherein key obstacles to participation have been deliberately dismantled or drained of authority in order to render this form of belonging more inclusive. In the shadow of post-9/11 securitization processes at the supra-national, national and local levels aimed at governing migrant mobility and public expressions of dissent, CSOA participants seek to displace the ethnic, religious, linguistic, generational and class-specific norms that define the cultural dimensions of contemporary Italian citizenship. Drawing on the concept of cultural citizenship, the author therefore argues that the political imaginary proposed by CSOA participants represents a deliberate contestation of both the authority and function of state-based citizenship models and can be understood as new model of citizenship characterized by an alternative, less exclusive relationship between belonging and participation.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|European Studies|Political science

Recommended Citation

Zontine, Angelina I, "Remaking the political in Fortress Europe: Political practice and cultural citizenship in Italian social centers" (2012). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3498377.