Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Rural Italian towns and villages are in a state of precipitous demographic decline. As sites laden with cultural meaning and as repositories of rooted identities, rural towns’ struggles for self-preservation evidence a range of sentiments and attitudes that question the sources of cultural and economic power that threaten to displace local lifeways. Left-wing alter-globalization activists and right-wing nationalist identitarians converge in their anxieties over declining rural lifeways, but diverge in their understanding of appropriate responses. For the former, the arrival of large numbers of refugee claimants to Italy is an opportunity to realize a novel program of rural resettlement that holds the promise to secure the demographic future of rural towns and villages, and to redefine the Italian polity as one based in values of multiculturalism and diversity. For the latter, newcomers to Italy pose a threat to the perceived cultural wholeness of Italy, and indeed represent an imminent danger of “demographic replacement,” a trope that has increasing resonance in public discourse throughout Europe and beyond. The terms of this ideological polarization that defines much contemporary debate about Italy’s future have spilled over into the realm of electoral politics, where a populist right-wing coalition government in Rome has clamped down on migration, slashed budgets to social services offered to refugees, and censured mayors involved in programs of rural refugee resettlement.