'Tradizione e contaminazione': an ethnography of the contemporary Southern Italian folk revival

Stephen Bennetts

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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[Truncated] The revival since the early 1990s of Southern Italian folk traditions has seen the ‘rediscovery’ and active recuperation, especially by urban revivalist actors, of le tradizioni popolari, popular traditional practices originating in peasant society which are still practiced by some traditional local actors in remote rural areas of Southern Italy.

This thesis draws on interviews, participant observation and historical research carried out mainly during fieldwork in Rome and Southern Italy in 2002-3 to present an ethnography of the urban revivalist subculture which has been the main driving force behind the contemporary Southern Italian folk revival.

In the course of my enquiry into why the movement has emerged, I combine both synchronic and diachronic perspectives, as well as a phenomenological analysis of revivalist motivation and agency, to explore the question of why contemporary urban revivalists have begun to take an interest in the archaic and marginalised cultural practices of rural Southern Italy. I show how and why this current second revival has reemerged from its original historical roots in the post-war leftist-inspired ‘first revival’ (ca. 1960-1980) to serve new cultural and political needs today, including ethnoregionalism, resistance to what revivalists see as the homogenising tendencies of globalised capitalism (cf. Applbaum, 2000), and the recuperation of modes of experience increasingly marginalised within contemporary urban reality (Baudrillard, 2000; Augé, 1995).

On a geographical level, revivalism privileges the popular traditions of three regions of Southern Italy: Calabria, Puglia and Campania. This reflects a characteristic revivalist dualism between Southern Italy (sometimes represented within revivalist discourse as a ‘reservoir of popular tradition’), and Northern Italy (represented by revivalists as a substantially deracinated cultural wasteland now devoid of ‘tradition’).

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
  • Harney, Nicholas, Supervisor
  • Baldassar, Loretta, Supervisor
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012


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