Spring 2014 Philosophy of Italian Culture Class Notes 1

From Alfino
Jump to: navigation, search

Return to Philosophy of Italian Culture

JAN 14

  1. Call roll. Brief Student introductions.
  2. Introduce 4 units, homework, deadlines (TH)
  3. Introduction to Course websites - start at Alfino.org. (MA)
  4. Preparing for class. Study questions will be put up after each class
  5. Tell us a bit about yourself:
  • Name, major and goals for immediate future.
  • Motivation for taking this course
  • Relevant experiences - past course, travels, etc

Time remaining: Introduction to Girlfriend in a Coma - show clip from la mala italia, distribute file. Answer 4 questions posted on wiki page.

JAN 16

  • Initial impressions of the films; question 1 & 2 together
  • Group work: Find someone in the class you don't know. Answer questions 3-4
  • Transition to historical unit.
  • Goal to understand historical origins contemporary fragmentation in Italy
  • Congress of Vienna, animation.

JAN 21

Wilson, The Social Conquest of EarthChs. 1-7

  • Note on the place of anthropology in the structure of the course.
  • Caution: Wilson's view is not biological or evolutionary determinism in any simple sense. Can't nec. tell that from 1st part of reading.

Here's a summary of the key ideas I'd like to focus on in the next half hour. Below this segment, you'll see more extensive notes from when I taught this more slowly.

Key Ideas, Wilson Chs. 1-7

  • Chapter 1-2: Comparing two very different eusocial species. Logic of the argument.
  • Chapter 3: Preadaptations. What do they explain, if anything? (Watching out for "just so" stories.)
  • Chapter 4-5: More pre-adaptations; Gear for the up-to-date paleolithic tribe-hold. Nests.
  • Chapter 6: Encephalation, Kin Selection, Multi-Level selection (e.g. learning), Chimps vs. Hominid Eusociality, (for more: Michael Tomasello). Group selection (biological and cultural - example of milk)
  • Think about the way that cultures shape terms for agreement and disagreement. What does cooperation mean (demand from us) in different environments and cultures?
  • Tribalism
  • Determinisms, weak and strong
  • For my chapter notes on Wilson, see the main course wiki page.

JAN 23

Basics of Philosophical Marxism

  • Hegel, the Young Hegelians, Feuerbach and Marx
  • Theory of commodity production
  • Commodities have exchange value and use value
  • The use value of a commodity in intuitive -- e.g. the value of food or clothing in keeping you alive and warm. But you can also think of it in terms of the "socially necessary labor" to produce it.
  • Problem: How do you explain profit?
  • Labor theory of value: The value of the worker's labor from the capitalists' perspective is the amount of commodities necessary to keep the worker alive and working effectively. If that is 2 hours a day, then the "necessary labor" of a worker is two hours and the other six hours are "surplus labor"
  • Surplus value theory of labor/profit: For Marx profit emerges from the labor in the sense that other capital inputs are "constant" (example: if you buy a machine to make a product, the cost of the machine has to be recovered from the sale of the product, but if the machine makes a worker more productive, the added value (surplus labor) goes to the capitalist. Short version: in an industrial model you only make money from the difference between what you pay the worker and the "actual" value of the worker's labor.
  • What's the remedy for this? Elite intellectuals who understand this need to raise the consciousness of workers so that they will revolt. In a just society, labor retains it's surplus value or agrees, democratically, on how it will be used. (More at [1]
  • Theory of culture in a nutshell:
  • Base and superstructure
  • Econonic determinism vs. non-economic determinist marxisms

Crises of Capitalism: 2008 and 1914

  • Contemporary Example - Global recession of 2008: RSA animation - Crises of Capitalism, first 7:30 minutes in class.
  • Gramsci's "organic crisis" : crisis which challenges legitimacy of ruling class. Gramsci's distinctive response, in contrast to Lenin's emphasis on resistance as a means of raising the class consciousness of workers, is to promote the idea of the "organic intellectual" (more later).
  • Trotsky's analysis of World War I as a capitalist war:
  • "“The forces of production which capitalism has evolved have outgrown the limits of nation and state,” Trotsky wrote in the very first sentence of his analysis. “The national state, the present political form, is too narrow for the exploitation of these productive forces. The natural tendency of our economic system, therefore, is to seek to break through the state boundaries. The whole globe, the land and the sea, the surface as well as the interior have become one economic workshop, the different parts of which are inseparably connected with each other.” [War and the International (Colombo: Young Socialist Publications, 1971), p vii.]
  • Resolution of the Stuttgart Congress of the Second International held in 1907. “Wars between capitalist states,” the resolution declared, “are as a rule the result of their rivalry for world markets, as every state is not only concerned in consolidating its own market but also in conquering new markets.... Further, these wars arise out of the never-ending armaments race of militarism.... Wars are therefore inherent in the nature of capitalism; they will only cease when the capitalist economy is abolished.” [8] Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War (Allen Lane, 1998), p. 31.

JAN 28

  • Recap on Marxism and Crises of Capitalism
  • Marx's view of exploitation, crises of capitalism, and culture (base/superstructure)
  • Contrasting views of the causes of WW1: failure of diplomacy vs. effects of capitalist imperialism (race for Africa). Note parallel to 2008 recession.
  • Competing strategies between socialists and communists in the trade union movement around WW1 and after. syndicalism defined. Gramsci, as a revolutionary marxist opposed syndicalism along with liberalism. He saw both as forms of economism.
  • Three Gramscian concepts (see handout):
  • economism - mistake of making theoretical separation of economic dimension from social and political ensemble (the rest of culture). economy, state, and culture function as historical bloc.
  • historical bloc - dialectical unity of base and superstructure. Central concept to his difference from economic determinism.
  • hegemony - used in various theories and cultural critique to describe or prescribe the focal point of dominance in society. "In "The Southern Question," Gramsci argues that the proletariat can only become hegemonic, a ruling class, if they overcome self-interest and ally with poor peasants and organic southern intellectuals.
  • Gramsci on the Southern Question
  • Defining the "southern question"
  • Turin communists' statement
  • Cultural attitudes about southerners (173); what G. calls the "bourgeois ideology" of the Socialists about southerners.
  • Syndicalism and the Fiat strike.
  • Gramsci's "ethnography" of southern intellectuals
  • 1. Traditionally the intellectual was integrated in the peasant and artisanal class, but under capitalism he becomes a "technocrat" (applied science) who helps organize the state in relation to peasantry.
  • 2. The small landowner who wants to use the peasantry to generate cash for a middle class lifestyle (college, dowries, etc.)
  • 3. The southern clergy in contrast to the northern clergy.

JAN 30

Wilson, Chapters 20-24, "Human Nature, Culture, Cultural Variation, Language, Morality & Honor"

  • more detailed chapter notes linked from the main course wiki page.

From Cave-persons to Culture

  • Epigenetics - between nature/nurture: genome, epigenome, phenotype
  • Prepared Learning - cognitive adaptations that allow transmission of culture through learning and provide capacities for specific kinds of learning.
  • Gene-culture co-evolution: Lactose intolerance; incest taboo; Westermark Effect; color perception

Cognitive Archaeology

  • Memory, building scenarios (215) (70,000 years of abstract thought and syntactic language).
  • Note on biological determinism from 1st Wilson reading: Culture is evolved yet sui generus (in a class of its own, unlike anything that came before it). Once the imagination is on board, the possibilities of culutral variation explode. "cultural plasticity" (Chapter 23)
  • Intentionality and "mind reading" (227); theory of mind
  • Detached representations -- capacity to refer to things not present or not in existence (the subjunctive).

Morality and Honor

  • Individual and group selection (egoism and altruism).
  • Social network, alliances,
  • altruism as cognitive "blurring" of differences between self-others (Pfaff - 246)
  • Pinker: "other condemning emotions," "other-suffering emotions," "self-conscious emotions"
  • Managing status: "Do good and talk about it" (or get others to).


Davis, "Family and State in the Mediterranean"

  • Connection from Wilson: Culture is connected with human society in which status is negotiated (using social cognition, theory of mind, etc.)
  • Question for Mediterranean anthropologists: "Is status negotiated in a distinctive way in Mediterranean culture? Unity advocates say yes, and generally agree that "honor and shame" dynamics provide the evidence.
  • Why might cultures like those of the Mediterranean have developed honor culture? General hypothesis: environment (land, climate, flora/fauna, etc.) favors pastoral lifestyles in which reputation and identity are hard to establish as in envirnments favoring more permanent or concentrated settlements.
  • What is Honor, honor culture?
  • from Bowman: willingness to hit back. "good opinion of people who matter to us"
  • Cultural values and dynamics which manage social status and equilibrium in relations (property, marriage, justice)
  • Honor cultures allow individuals to retain use of violence to defend claims about status (consider, for example, duelling). Honor cultures resist allowing the state a monopoly on violence.
  • What role does it play in society?
  • 24: Code of honor bolsters intra group rivalry but also defends family against Church and State (Schneider)
  • Comparison to Libya:
  • Diffs: on divorce, polygamy (note loss of 1/4 of male pop 1911-44)
  • Qaddafi's view of the state as paradigmatic (acc. to Davis) "acephalus society"
  • Misc. from Bowman: two big developments affecting honor culture:
  • rise of modern state and
  • Victorian revival of "gentleman"


Notes on Anti-Fascist resistance writings: Croce, Levi, Gramsci

  • Levi: Incident at the Bog and Symbolic enactment (great opp to try out ethnographic hypotheses)
  • Croce:
  • job of intellectual (154)
  • some very traditional aspects of Croce's piece: separation of politics from other spheres, "contamination", the "old faith that, for two and a half centuries formed the core of Italy's resurgent spirit"
  • accuses fascists of stimulating what Wilson would call our "groupishness" (155)
  • accuses fascists of lack of "civic virtue" (156)
  • Gramsci:
  • Critica Fascista writer confusing two problems (365)
  • G's analysis:
  • Strengths: concept of hegemony to foreign culture.
  • Problems: deeper reasons for why the italian intellectual may be out of touch with the peeps.

FEB 11


  • Finish up Gramsci discussion 10min
  • Reconstruction & Post-WWII Elections 15min
  • Geertz, "Thick Description"
  • Paper Topics

Geertz, "Thick Description"

  • various definitions of culture
  • His: "Semiotic: following Weber: "man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun"
  • not experimental science in search of law (note: this connects him with Boas)
  • not an operationalist, but likes idea of focusing on what anthropologists actually do: they do ethnography
  • from Gilbert Ryle: "thick description"
  • example of description of "twitching, blinking, winking, parody of winking, rehearing"
  • invokes social code, but not reducible to it.
  • Story of Cohen, the Marmusha, the mezrag, murder, sheep, the French (analogy to blinking: if you just recount events vs. significance)
  • doing ethnography is like trying to read a manuscript ...(made up of) "transient examples of shaped behavior"
  • critical of obscuring the task with abstract ideas like Durkheim's "superorganic"
  • critical also of Cognitive Anthropology -- not just studying the psychology state of knowledge of a culturally competent individual.
  • aim of Anthropology: "enlargement of universe of human discourse"
  • should be actor-oriented: "cast in terms of the construction we imagine Berbers, Jews, or Frenchmen to place upon what they live through"
  • p. 9: thick descriptions aren't too systematic or "neat"- coherence is limited by the actual circumstances. shouldn't overstate the formal coherence of the exchange; uncertainty (under-determined), things in the Cohen story could have gone differently.
  • the ethnographer "inscribes" or "fixes" social discourse.
  • summary statement at 11: ethnographic description (thick description) interprets the flow of social discourse from it's perishable state.
  • the kula is gone but "The Argonauts of the Western Pacific" (Malinowski's study of the kula gift exchange) remains.
  • ethnographic description is "microscopic"
  • ways that anthropologists go wrong: "jonesville-is-the-USA" fallacy -- either way its a fallacy.
  • anthropologist don't study villages, they study in villages
  • no general theory of culture

"the essential vocation of interpretive anthropology is not to answer our deepest questions, but to make available to us answers that others, guarding other sheep in other valleys, have given, and thus to include them in the consultable record of what man has said" 16

Advice about Paper Topics (5-10)

  • Assigned - how to come up with a topic.
  • Requirements: extensive use of at least two course readings. thesis or general claim, supported.
  • Other - short and longer research, class presentations.

FEB 13

Diamond, "Why Do Cultures Make Such Disastrous Mistakes?"

  • Examples of Cultures that have made "big mistakes"
  • Easter Islanders: imagining the sitation. How could it really happen
  • Four main reasons:
1. Fail to anticipate the problem
2. Problem arrives, but isn't perceived
3. Problem perceived, but no effort to solve it
4. Effort to solve the problem is ineffective
1. Fail to anticipate the problem
  • ex. of Forest fires in the west
  • forgetfulness: Mayan droughts, 1973 oil crisis
  • false analogies: Viking agriculture in Iceland
2. Fail to perceive problem
  • hard to see state of soil nutrition
  • slow trends: climate change
  • distant managers
3. Failure to try to solve the problem
  • rational bad behavior: toxic waste dumping in environment without sufficient penalties.
  • tragedy of the commons: overfishing
  • international logging
  • denial: research on resident's near damns; holocaust denial by WWII European Jews.
4. Ineffective efforts
  • invasive species abatement
  • rabbits in Tasmania, Australia

The Anthropological Frame in the Course

  • Combining archaeological, anthropological (cognitive, symbolic, cultural) (Wilson, Geertz), critical anthropology/politics (Marx, Gramsci, Diamond) and bio-geography (Diamond). What do we get from each?
  • What kinds of questions does this frame lead us to ask about the problems in Girlfriend in a Coma?

FEB 18

  • Schedule:
  • Wood & Farrell and first part of Fo commentary: 15-20 min
  • Pasolini, "What is this Coup? I know" 20 min
  • Excercise on Hypothesis generation
  • Factual details vs. Hypotheses
  • Facts: terrorism on right and left, 180 group, notable incidents (from Milan '69 to kidnapping of Dozier '81), strategy of tension, PS Masonic Lodge, diverse motivations of leftist and rightist groups, hot autumn '69, position of the PCI. And from Fo: Operation Gladio, pre-bribesville scandals, dominance of Christian Dems, coup attempts, 150 attacks in 1969, '69 student protests, multiple bombings in Milan in '69, Pizza Fontana bombing (subject of Romanzo di una Strage - Banca Nazionale dell'Agricoltura)
  • Hypotheses:
  • "logic" of left/right violence
  • historical relevance of leftist terrorism
  • connections to past (failed unification)

FEB 20

  1. Viewing Romanzo di una Strage as a cultural anthropologist, we might it tell you about how Italian culture is viewing these events in retrospect?

FEB 25

Class Schedule

  1. Evoke context, meaning of strategy of tension, Piazza Fontana/Pinelli (responsibilities, cover ups)
  2. How can we contextualise the play written and performed within a year – what would be the intentions of the author / theatre group? 15
  3. In what ways does Act 1 Scene One relate to the Pinelli case? 15
  4. What type of character is the Maniac, how would you describe him and his function in this part of the play? 10
  5. Read pp 11-13 (phone conversation); clip (phone conversation )

FEB 27

Fo, Accidental Death on an Anarchist

  • Some misc play notes:

Act 1, Scene 1

  • Intro to Maniac; Maniac as judge; Maniac instigates punch.

Act 1, Scene 2

  • Maniac Judge inquiry: versions 1, 2, and 2+;
  • Turns Pinelli tragedy into a musical.

Act 2

  • focus on questions at midnight; 47: new version of death: Pinelli offended by insults to Valpreda
  • "raptus" back in the story; shoe detail ridiculed
  • 55: Maniac becomes Captain Mark Weeny, forensics, Iraqi war vet
  • Journalist questioning about physical evidence: body fall and ambulance call
  • 64: Bertozzo arrives with copy of bomb
  • 73: Bertozzo reveals Manaic has real eye
  • 77: Maniac becomes Bishop Bernard, police liason
  • 80: discourse on scandal and social democracy
  • 88: Maniac reveals himself to be a maniac.
  • Real judge arrives.



MAR 18

MAR 20

MAR 25

MAR 27

  • Commodity Fetishism for Marx:
  • "In Karl Marx's critique of the political economy of capitalism, commodity fetishism is the perception of the social relationships involved in production, not as relationships among people, but as economic relationships among the money and commodities exchanged in market trade. As such, commodity fetishism transforms the subjective, abstract aspects of economic value into objective, real things that people believe have intrinsic value. (from wiki)"
  • For Baudrillard
  • Advanced capitalism has created the "sign object" (with "sign value") which operates within the logics of value to coopt our subjectivity. We come to see social relationships involved in consumption less in terms of a prior distinction between actual use value and exchange value, but more in terms of "needs" that are imposed by the system of consumption itself, such as the need to maintain one's image.
  • Examples of this in our culture and experience?
  • Anthropologically, one could put Baudrillard's point by saying that advanced consumer capitalism has used the sign value (status value) of commodities, in combination with the pre-existing social status hierarchy, to get control over subjectivity and behavior.




Muraro, Luisa. Symbolic of Sexual Difference

  • premise: language is a symbolic order that mediates nature and culture. (note how is begins an ethics)
  • Uccio's difference: important that Mother replies in the way she does.
  • Complicating problem: the historicity of sexual diff.: how our being male/female enters into our narratives. We become part of our history. (Narrates herself in third person.) One thing a woman discovers as she's becoming an intellectual (esp) is the absence of women from history.
  • 70s - women's history important, but documents and scholarship underdeveloped. no major history of women. women as the "hidden face of the cube"
  • She wants to theorize this absence without assuming that the goal is not to "start with doing justice to women in relation to men". She wants to avoid thinking about difference as difference from men. (possible digression on Irigary, her hero.)
  • Mary Bateson (Margaret Mead's daughter): observation about discrimination not leading simply to demand for equality. maybe difference.
  • Heidegger's Dasein: selfhood as neutral with respect to sexuality. but in the logic of marking females as "different", the neutrality of Dasein winds up being male.
  • Muraro's call for a symbolic revolution.

Schneider, Jane. "Of Vigilence and Virgins"

  • acknowledges lots of research on codes of honor and shame and connecting family integrity to female virginity (and control of sexuality).
  • some of the research is too narrow, focusing on face to face interaction and rewards/punishments.
  • intra-community conflict important feature of rural Med north and south. in such conflicts, "honor can be thought of as the ideology of a property holding ggroup which struggles to define, enlarge, and protect it s patrimony in a competitive arena." 2
  • Thesis: Unity of Mediterranean derives from ecological forces which produce codes of honor and shame.
  • Among these forces, the relationship between agriculture and pastoral culture. competition for land, but also different challenges, different psychology and mode of operating. Implies lots of history of foreign rulers establishing agricultural and administering interests from the sea. diff poss. for gov't. Hostility of Med. to administrative control (think Eboli), "In the absence of the state (recall hostility to state in Gilmore), pastoral communities, and agricultural
  • Features of Pastoral Societies (note comparison set is global) of special salience to Mediterranean:
  • 1. Have to solve problem of regulating access to resources. Animal theft endemic and actual part of rite of passage in some cases (chiseneri). Importance of credible threat of force. (male centric)
  • 2. Flexibility in social organization. (Interesting in light of assessment of Italian politics.) Following Sahlins, pastoralists align selfishness with positive conotations.
  • 3. Distribution of decision making -- makes Mediterranean culture seem anarchic and egalitarian (less recognition of authority).

Honor and Shame (p. 17-20)

  • Schneider has been discussing, in the main part of the article, the challenges of pastoral society for supporting family and lineage. Without heritable land, for example. Also colonization was common around the Mediterranean (and predates industrial revolution)
  • (Feminist/Marxist/anthropological/philosophical argument to follow):
  • (Very important point for argument.) Cultures of honor and shame are the resolution of the problems posed by Mediterranean pastoralism: getting intense about your honor is a signal to others not to mess with you. Willingness to exercise violence in absence of state or legitimate state is one anchor of med culture of honor. Support for family and lineage also centered on women's sexuality. "She is part of the patrimony." contested resources, like water and grazing land. culture of female kidnapping. practices of remarriage of widows within lineage. more likely to allow polygynous households based on fortunes (south side of the sea/north Africa). Agriculturalists oppose this.
  • On the north side of Med., agriculture and religion (Christian and Islamic) are hegemonic. women got limited rights of inheritance, protection from arbitrary divorce (in islam), prohibition of divorce in Christianity.

APR 10

APR 15

APR 17

APR 22

Singer, "A Changing World"

  • giving priority to one's own.
  • argument for decline of sovereignty.
  • Rawls theory is based on the nation-state.
  • Positive and negative possibilities
  • "No one is in charge" -- we are stateless victims of global capitalism
  • (12) We change the "group to whom we must justify ourselves" to the global. (mention Appiah, "Honor Code")

Ceri, Paolo, "Challenging from the Grass Roots: The Girotondi and the No Global Movement"

  • No Global Movement
  • pre movement demonstrations (84)
  • scale of movement
  • Feb 2003 Rome protests -- 3 million. Int'l antiwar day. rainbow peace flags.
  • decline later attributed to changing direction to anti-war movement
  • Girotondi Movement
  • opposition to legislative agenda of 2001 B gov't. list on 86
  • Sept 2001 Rome protests on conflict of interest: "yellow scarves"
  • Jan w2002 "Professors' March" in Florence
  • first girontondo in Milan JAN 26 02 encircling law court.
  • Nannetti: undercuts DS and Ulivo coalition by remark. also taps anti-politics sentiment
  • Legality Day
  • charcteristics of this protest movement:
  • assessment: movement fulfilled goal of catalyzing change. Nannetti criticized it for anti-politics turn.

APR 24

APR 29