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NEWITALIANS Report Summary

Project ID: 618470
Funded under: FP7-PEOPLE
Country: United Kingdom

Final Report Summary - NEWITALIANS ('New Italians': The Re-Making of the Nation in the Age of Migration)

Demographic data for Europe reveals that international migration contributes to population growth more than natural change. By 2060 persons of all nationalities with at least one foreign-born parent are expected to account for about 33% of the EU-27 population. National societies within Europe are therefore deemed to become increasingly diverse in ethno-cultural, religious, and racial terms. If so, what is the impact of this demographic change on the re-production of the idea of the nation? In order to answer this question, the research focused on the case of Italy, a country which only in the last few decades has experienced the inflow of foreign immigrants. Three specific objectives were devised to further explore this main question: 1) How do governmental and political actors respond to the growing heterogeneity of their national societies? 2) What kind of nation do migrants and their children envision? 3) How does this national imaginary resonate with the majority society?

A qualitative research design, comprising of archival work, individual interviews, and focus groups, was adopted in order to collect relevant data. More specifically, for Objective 1, we focused on both parliamentary and governmental documentation related to immigration, citizenship and integration issues. Parliamentary debates (both in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Republic), bills and laws were analysed from 1986, the year in which the first immigration law was passed, until 2014. A similar search was performed on the documentation produced by relevant ministries and governmental agencies, namely the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, the Ministry of Education, the Minister for Integration and Cooperation and the UNAR (Unità Antidiscriminazioni Razziali). In addition to these archival materials, we also administered a total of 19 semi-structured individual interviews with key political actors of past legislatures, current party members responsible for immigration and citizenship, and senior officers of the above mentioned ministries. These interviews helped to better understand the political dynamics behind relevant laws and governmental acts, the internal functioning of the mentioned ministries, and the current political and institutional views regarding immigration and its impact on Italian society.

Data for Objective 2 were collected for two main sectors: associational and artistic. We focused on four main associations of children of migrants, which have actively debated issues of identity, citizenship, religion, and ‘integration’: Rete G2, YallaItalia, Associna, and GMI. We analysed their webpages, posts and forums and interviewed 30 representatives. These interviews allowed to better understand the origin, nature, rationale, internal dynamics, and external relations of the mentioned associations, as well as exploring further in depth some of the themes which emerged from the preliminary analysis of the web-based data. Then, we searched and analysed the artistic production of migrants and their children who have used this medium as a way of claiming a sense of belonging to Italy and citizenship rights, as well as fighting racial discrimination. More specifically, we looked into literature, film, and music, as these contain the richest artistic production of ‘new Italians’. We selected those authors who have explicitly addressed themes relevant to the present research, we analysed their artistic production and we administered 18 semi-structured individual interviews with them.

Finally, data for Objective 3 were collected among the majority society, i.e. Italians without foreign background. Given the importance of the school system in processes of nationalization, the research focused on six different high schools, located in different socio-economic areas of Milan, one of the most multicultural cities in Italy. A total of 12 focus groups, both with female and male students aged 18 or above, and 30 individual interviews with school teachers were administered. In addition, a video-project titled ‘Abbiamo fatto l’Italia...’ was realized with the help of Prospekt Photographers. After being briefed about the history of Italy and its demographic transformation, students of mixed backgrounds autonomously produced a total of 16 videos and 7 PPT presentations exploring the meanings of ‘Italy’ and ‘Italian’.

There is no single message emerging from the research but a general consensus that nations matters. We still leave in a world of nations and we still want to leave in a world of nations. Thus, the question is how dynamic and inclusive are the meanings associated with this socio-symbolic register. In the case of Italy the picture which emerges points to different directions. Despite the progressive rhetoric of the political left and centre-left, political institutions seem to still operate with a culturalist understanding of the nation, one which is unwittingly resistant to re-write the meanings of ‘Italy’ and ‘Italian’ and open them to a stock of people who have foreign origins or background. These latter people, instead, clearly manifest a longing for fully being part of the nation – a longing and a claim which is articulated through a variety of forms – political, associational and artistic. Rather than deserting the nation for alternative forms of transnational, cosmopolitan or urban identifications, they populate it with their presence and claims and are the first driver behind a more plural and multivocal transformation of the idea of nation. Finally, the majority society, as heard in the school settings, while fully cognizant of the demographic change showed some difficulties in moving away from a fixed, stable, and essentialized understanding of ‘Italy’ and ‘Italian’. The everyday conviviality which was generated in the formal and informal school settings was not always sufficient to re-write these identity categories. Moreover, a lack of coordinated institutional interventions meant that school teachers felt alone in addressing the demographic change and its socio-cultural impacts.

The project has already made an impact outside academia, as the leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera has published on its homepage the professional video ‘Abbiamo fatto l’Italia...’, accompanied by a short interview with the Fellow, who explained the main findings of the research. As for scientific impact, a few articles have already been published in top academic journals. In the future, the Fellow also plans to explore a possible impact on the schools involved in the projects, by discussing the findings of Objective 3 with Head teachers and teachers during ad hoc seminaries.

Please see for further information. Contact person: Dr Marco Antonsich, Department of Geography, Loughborough University, UK. Email:

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