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On belonging, difference and whiteness: Italy's problem with immigration

On belonging, difference and whiteness: Italy's problem with immigration
Flavia Stanley


Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA 01003, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.


In the past thirty years, Italy has transitioned from a nation defined in part by a history of emigration, to a nation where immigration and attendant issues surrounding increased cultural and ethno-racial diversity dominates as a national concern. The research presented in this dissertation illustrates the ways in which, within this context, immigration is promoted and perceived unequivocally as a “problem” and a “threat.” However, rather than discussing Italy’s immigration problem, the issue here is recast as Italy’s problem with immigration. Despite deep regional differences and identities that continue to exist, increased immigration and the permanent settlement of non-Italians in Italy have reified Italian national identity. In this dissertation, based on 15 months of ethnographic research undertaken between 2001-2005, the perspective of Italians who interacted with immigrants on a regular basis is discussed and analyzed. The perspective of Italians, and their views on how their lives are affected by immigration, enables an understanding of the positioning of immigration as a threat and helps uncover which immigrant groups are most threatening and why. It also brings context to how Italians, through their ideas about the incorporation of culturally and physically racialized groups, perceive “otherness” in order to then define and more clearly recognize themselves. Ultimately I argue that not only has a particular version of Italianness emerged out of Italy’s problem with immigration, but that the category of “Italian” contains something relatively new: a racial privilege, indeed, a whiteness, that is connected to being Italian, and connected to being European.