Accepted paper:

Hegemonic rhetoric and counter-narratives. the multicultural discourse in Bologna, Italy


Barbara Pinelli (Università di Milano-Bicocca)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores how cultural mediators are represented by local policies and how they respond to these representations. In focusing on a group of immigrant women, this research shows how they use their 'role as mediators' to develop gendered narratives, which contrast with the political discourse.

Paper long abstract:

In the Italian context, the town of Bologna stems out for being specially open to migration processes. It has traditionally developed local policies which have proven particularly sensitive to the concept of cultural identity and differences. Aiming at protecting the specificity of different immigrant groups, public policies have focused on "cultural mediators", thus fostering a deeply ambiguous culturalist rhetoric. Drawing on an ethnographic study carried out in a local association of migrant women originating from different countries, this paper sets out to highlight how specific governmental technologies are legitimized by a distinctive conception of culture which stresses its essentialist and static aspects, instead of 'processuality', subjectivity and negotiation. On the one hand, I will recall the genealogy of this association and analyse the modalities through which the multiculturalist rhetorics of public, institutional agencies tend to typify migrant subjects, while occulting instead of solving forms of discrimination and power dynamics. On the other hand, I'll argue that it is precisely their " role as mediators" that allows the women of this association to develop gendered narratives and self-representations, which contrast with the dominant culturalist discourse. By building up social networks, which combine different life and migration histories, the women I will speak about minimise the ethnic element and shape individual and social self-positioning as a common ground. Internal practices of cultural mediation are employed to engage forms of mutual support. Cultural belongings become context specific and multi-sited. As a conclusion, multicultural rhetoric network stems out as an hegemonic system of categorization challenged by counter-narratives of identity and belonging.

panel W014
Anthropology and the politics of multiculturalism (a friendly merger of W014 & W030)