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Milanese Encounters

Milanese Encounters: Public Space and Vision in Contemporary Urban Italy

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Milanese Encounters
    Book Description:

    In a city driven by fashion and design, visibility and invisibility are powerful forces.Milanese Encountersexamines how the acts of looking, recognizing, and being seen reflect social relations and power structures in contemporary Milan.

    Cristina Moretti's ethnographic study reveals how the meanings of Milan's public spaces shift as the city's various inhabitants use, appropriate, and travel through them. Moretti's extensive fieldwork covers international migrants, social justice organizations, and middle-class citizens groups in locations such as community centers, abandoned industrial areas, and central plazas and streets. Situated at the intersection of urban and visual anthropology, her work will challenge and inspire scholars in anthropology, urban studies, and other fields.

    Contributing to studies of urban Italy, neoliberalism, and immigration,Milanese Encountersis a welcome demonstration of ethnography's potential to analyse the connections and divisions created by complex modern cities.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2072-8
    Subjects: History, Geography, Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-26)

    A few months after the 2011 revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, another, albeit much smaller uprising, was taking shape in Italy. In several cities, spirits were high because of the hope that municipal elections would change the political destinies of the country and oust the increasingly unpopular prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. (Indeed, although not known at the time, this was the beginning of a political landslide that caused him to resign six months later.) In Milan, the largest city of northern Italy and a Berlusconi stronghold, these hopes engulfed streets and open spaces, reminding everyone about the power of the...

  6. Chapter One Orientations
    (pp. 27-59)

    At the time, I had just started fieldwork in the city. The woman’s questions left me wondering: what exactly is public space? Is it even a particular “thing” we can study? How do we recognize it? And how might a definition itself limit the way we think about the city and the ways people inhabit it? To begin unravelling some of these complexities of public space, it is helpful to briefly consider some of the ways in which I encountered it as an object in the field.

    In Milan streets and piazzas are busy and very dynamic sites. Each of...

  7. Chapter Two Milan
    (pp. 60-77)

    This chapter will acquaint the reader with some of the aspects and dynamics of Milan. Another one of my goals, however, is to foreground the very difficulty of representing urban realities. During my research, people repeatedly reminded me that a city lives in the shadows, too, in people’s imaginations, and in the subtle moments and circulations that animate it. In this chapter, therefore, I try to complicate a unified description of Milan, by interweaving my narration with anecdotes, excerpts from my fieldnotes, and parts of a virtual walking tour in which I invite the reader to follow me on an...

  8. Chapter Three The Agora of the City
    (pp. 78-105)

    At the end of December 2004 a small yet inspiring event caught many Milanese by surprise. A new citizens’ movement emerged almost overnight, with the goal of fixing some of the problems of the city not through the available institutions, non-profit associations, or political organizations, but directly, through the grassroots, concerted efforts of regular citizens and neighbours. Existing at first as an Internet site and a blog, it soon became an active presence in the city. Interestingly, the first public event of this movement, which was calling itselfVivereMilano(Living Milan), was to hold an open street meeting, in January...

  9. Chapter Four Spatial Politics
    (pp. 106-132)

    Looking for public space in Milan, I was soon directed by many people to several urban activist headquarters that designated themselves as “self-managed public spaces” (see, e.g., These Social Centres (centri sociali) are autonomous community sites that serve as venues for political, social, and countercultural grassroots activities. They are usually housed in (illegally) “occupied” buildings, and, while each centre forms a distinct entity, most of them are connected to others and constitute a wider alliance and action network in the city and in Italy.

    The Social Centres’ “marginal” yet “fruitful” (Mudu, 2004: 926) influence in the life of Milan...

  10. Chapter Five Creating Spaces, Constructing Selves
    (pp. 133-158)

    The actions, ideas, and experiments of Milanese Social Centres show that public space cannot be taken for granted. Significantly, the encounters I had with migrants living in Milan emphasized that public space is a precious resource that needs to be continuously claimed, made, and realized. When discussing this dynamic, moreover, it is important to keep in mind that the very relationship between public space, immigration, and multiculturalism has been a significant source of conversations in Milan. Indeed, one of the aspects that particularly caught my attention during my research was how often the “Italian” people I met talked about “foreigners,”...

  11. Chapter Six Entangled (In)visibilities
    (pp. 159-182)

    Carnival Week occurs every year between mid-February and late March, and it brings large numbers of people to the streets of Milan. It lasts from Tuesday to Saturday, but the last three days are the busiest ones, culminating in the parade on Saturday that runs through the major avenues of the centre of the city. Those who wish to, whether adults or children, can wear costumes. On Saturday, 12 February 2005, the parade filled the Corso di Porta Venezia, San Babila, and ended at the Duomo Piazza, which by the afternoon was so filled with people that it was very...

  12. Chapter Seven Walking with Women: Vision and Gender in the City
    (pp. 183-200)

    As I was walking in the centre of Milan with Don Felice, one day in the spring of 2005, he told me, “It matters less the destination, than knowing who you are walking with.” During my research in 2004–05, 2009, and 2011, I often remembered his words. When I was following each of my different guides through Milan, it mattered less where we were directed than how the social positions, identity, and life stories² of my walking companions interpellated particular aspects of the city and used them to establish relationships with the people and places around them. This was...

  13. Chapter Eight Places and Stages: Vision and Performance in Public Space
    (pp. 201-234)

    This chapter follows Mohamed Ba, a community educator and theatre writer, as he guides me through the centre of Milan. I was introduced to Mohamed Ba by the staff of the street newspaperTerre di Mezzo, who I had interviewed some time earlier. Mohamed Ba and I met on a bitter cold Saturday morning (26 March 2005) in the Duomo Piazza: like with Francesca and Maria Anacleta, I had asked him to show me “his” city, and the following itinerary, journey, and images are the results of this walk we did together.

    When Mohamed Ba arrived in Italy several years...

  14. Conclusion: Into the Future
    (pp. 235-250)

    Every year in Milan the association Esterni organizes a Public Design Festival. The goal of this event is to promote public space as a key site for the production of culture and society. Central to Esterni’s work is the ideal of the piazza as a ground for interaction, a place where people can actively participate to make “this thing called ‘city’” (Zenobia presentation, 9 March 2005). Following this mandate, on 18 April 2009, the organizers of the Festival occupied ten car parking spaces on the streets of Milan and replaced them with interactive “stations” – like a treehouse for children,...

  15. Glossary
    (pp. 251-254)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 255-268)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 269-286)
  18. Index
    (pp. 287-294)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 295-297)