Accepted paper:

Openly spoken words and the conspiracy of silence: discourses about leukemia in Sicily


Gaetano Mangiameli (Università degli Studi di Milano)

Paper short abstract:

A complex intertwining of the social and the ecological spheres underlies the incidence of leukemia in Eastern Sicily, a case in which global, national and regional factors are used to provide explanations of health-disease processes involving actors as various as farmers, the Mafia and the NATO.

Paper long abstract:

The ethnography of health-disease processes is an effective tool for exploring how the social and the ecological spheres are intertwined. Debates about environmental justice are dramatically relevant when they involve the ecological dimension of health, which, in turn, is related to political and economic factors at different levels (global, national, local). My paper will deal with the case of a town in Eastern Sicily where, according to official sources, the incidence of leukemia is far higher than the Italian national average. In recent years, an enduring campaign carried on by local activists has created a complex scenario for the understanding of this phenomenon, providing multiple explanations which are connected to how people use or modify their environment: the incidence of leukemia might depend on the use of pesticides in local agriculture, on the presence of nuclear weapons in the NATO base of Sigonella, or rather on the management of toxic waste by the Mafia. If, in general terms, "people make places", here the question is, more precisely, "which people make which places, and how?". By discussing this issue in the public arena, local activists have certainly broken the conspiracy of silence that is at the core of the stereotypes about Sicily, especially when death, business and criminality are at stake. Nevertheless, the outcomes of these "openly spoken words" seem not to be different from the outcomes of silence, with important implications about the perception of democracy and the meaning attributed to active political participation in Italy.

panel P313
Practices of environmental justice: negotiating the relation between the social and the ecological sphere