by Franco Pelliccioni

[1980, Human Organization, Journal of the Society for Applied Anthropology, XXXIX, 3, 284-286]

1966 - 2006


It is exceedingly difficult to discuss the unenviable tradition and development of the social sciences in Italy. Observers recently have become more aware of Italian ethno-anthropology, with articles by Bernardi (1974), Lanternari (1974) and Grottanelli (1977) effectively providing a necessary historical background for contemporary Italian anthropology. Without repeating their argument, I must stress that before the 1940s, ethnology was the undisputed and only protagonist of Italian anthropology. Being much more historically oriented than United States social sciences, Italian ethnology focused on a comparison of non-European "primitive civilizations", with little attention paid to contemporary Italian social problems.

In respect, this form of ethnology has been accused of representing a scientific escape to exotica, divorced from confronting Italian sociocultural realities. A doubtful exception might be ethnologists' concern for folklore, an effort concentrated in Southern Italy. Initially, it was philological or literary in nature; eventually it became more historical and ethnological. Although the folklorist tradition dated back into the 19th century and should be considered a valuable intellectual tradition (Pitre, Cocchiara, Gramsci, De Martino, Cirese, Di Nola, Gallini and Lombardi Satriani, to mention just a few), the works can hardly been considered applied anthropology or applied social science in the American meaning of the term.

Tullio Tentori must be credited with introducing to Italy what Americans know as cultural anthropology. Following World War II, he introduced not only the theoretical and methodological foundations of this discipline, but also established academic anthropology in the university structure. The "new" science was distinguished from the previous ethnological tradition. Tentori's efforts received enthusiastic support from several young scholars, an enthusiasm wich gradually allowed cultural anthropology to achieve a more well-defined and significant role within the Italian social sciences (Tentori 1977:608-11). Consequently, the first competitions for university chairs during the late 1960s and early 1970s established cultural anthropology within the Italian academy. Grottanelli (1977:599) notes that in 1977 there were only 21 professors of anthropology in Italy -8 in cultural anthropology, 6 in ethnology, and 7 in folklore. More recently, a new national competition has opened up nine chairs, with the division between the fields being five, two, and two respectively. In contrast, social anthropology has had greater difficulty gaining a legitimate place within the university structure. It was taught briefly at the University of Palermo in the 1940s, at the University of Urbino during the 1960s, and at the Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali in Rome for only a year (1977-78).

More recently, some Italian anthropologists have been attempting to downplay the theoretical and methodological differences between cultural anthropology and ethnology, preferring to stress the communalities between the two sciences (Pelliccioni 1976). It should be stressed, however, that despite their small numbers, not all Italian ethnoanthropologists support a reconciliation, as comments to Grottanelli's article demonstrate. It should be also be noted that innate individualism and academic egotism play a part in this negative response. Italy lacks working associations of professional anthropologists, with the only societies or institutes organized on an areal or interdisciplinary base.

Another critical feature of Italian anthropology is the absence of effective, intrauniversity coordination, such as that found in American university departments, and the absence of ethnoantropological graduate programs. With very few exceptions, our scholars were trained abroad in their specialities, and many are essentially self-taught students. Noncontinental readers should recall, however, that Levi-Strauss's academic position is as philosopher, not as an anthropologist.

A final obstacle is the chronic lack of suitable financial support, which often does not permit the fulfillment of the classic and propaedeutic fieldwork (Pelliccioni, 1977a:189). Consequently, some of our scholars are forced to remain in their armchairs. The sporadic funds which we manage to obtain from the National Research Council, the universities, or the foreign or education offices are normally limited to fortuitous and exceptional circumstances. Jablonko (1977:603) correctly points out that the present Italian situation "awakens in me the awe of scholars who must work with so little institutional backing or financial support, as compared to the strong supportive framework many of us are used to and expect in the United States". Therefore, even the choice of the fields in which we shall do our work is unfortunately tied to extrascientific considerations. For example, Italian ethnoanthropologists working in Ghana have been largely supported by the Missione Etnologica Italiana. Although the ethnoanthropologists were able to effectively utilize their own heuristic methodologies, they have undoubtedly avoided other research interests because of the lack of alternative funding possibilities.

The preceding description should provide a general background for a discussion of Italian applied anthropology. The development of applied anthropology is simultaneously inhibited by:1) the lack of clients interested in the practical uses of anthropology; 2) rational or visceral opposition from Marxist anthropologists; and 3) a shortage of funds.

The almost complete absence of either public or private clients appears to be a result of the Italian anthropologists' failure to advertise themselves. Confined to narrow academic and intellectuals boundaries, politicians, bureaucrats, industrialists and the public are generally acquainted with only the exotic aspects of old-fashioned ethnology fed them through the mass media. They are unfamiliar with the developments of "new"anthropology that pragmatically demonstrate that it is possible to analyze and suggest relevant solutions to problems in situations quite close to them. Neither sociology, nor, to an even greater extent, anthropology, is an integral part of high schools curricula. And this leads to a more serious problem. In a world increasingly ruled by violent ideas, both phisical and moral, there is a desperate need for a re-education of the populace as to what is "other" and "different". I believe this perspective to be of vital importance.

The political class views the practical reach of anthropology with indifference. A few regional and municipal corporations have hired some sociologists. Cultural experts, on the other hand, who can concretely analyze the short-term and long-term impacts of new laws or economic programs on Italy's diverse social and cultural backgrounds, are absent from representative and legislative institutions.

It migh be said that there is no lack of empirical social research in Italy, but there is a dearth of high quality and important research work on basic aspects and situations of Italian society as a whole, aimed at obtaining specific, practical results. Too often, indeed, even the most significant projects become insignificant because they are limited by financial motivations or because they are carried out merely for study of for information purposes [Tentori, Zanotta and Brichetti, 1976:16]

I, for one, after numerous attempts, have given up efforts to propose myself as an anthropological advisor to my Educational Office.

Marxist-oriented anthropologists are a second source of opposition to the applications of anthropology (Gallini, 1974; Lombardi Satriani 1974:46-49). They justify their opposition in terms of the misapplication of English anthropology in overseas colonies wich, they feel, is suspiciously connected to the practical interests of the rule of the British Crown. Moreover, they point to more recent attempts of U.S. anthropology's involvement in anthropological/military/spying operations in Indochina and South America (the Camelot affair). They are judged as reazionari fascisti, and darken the halo on the applications of our science. Although Bernardi (1977:9) notes that it is "fashionable, today, to see in anthropologist researchers of the first half of our century as favorites, if not servants, of imperialism", this criticism does not justify the outright dismissal of the English theoretical and methodological achievements of that period. Nonetheless, the criticisms and disputes over the imperialist underpinnings of applied anthropology have brought about a proper catharsis and redemption of applied anthropology.

These preconditions to Italian anthropology limit, but have not completely discouraged, applied research. Apart from the 19th century work by Lamberto Loria, most applied research dates back to an interdisciplinary project on the countryside and the town of Matera, carried out for the UNRA Casas account (Tentori 1971:99-185). Other applied research has focused on the integral development of urban environments. Tentori and a sociologist, Guidicini (1972), have conducted interesting research on the toown of Bologna. Destro (1972:45-64) began investigations of social integration in a small immigrant village of Tor San Lorenzo in the Province of Rome, and although marked by discontinous stages, his work still continues. Using ethnological methodologies developed in research on the Tharaka of Kenya, Volpini (1979:5-44) has been working on a lengthy project on lifelong education in Gradoli, an agricultural village in the province of Viterbo. His preliminary reports suggest that this research seems promising for the economic and cultural development of this community. Tullio-Altan (1968,1971,1974) has completed research projects on mental patients, magistrates, and the problems and values of youth. And for the past three years, I have conducted research where mainly applied goals are concerned with not only urban development, but also the level of pan-ethnic integration reached by tonwnsmen in two small multiethnic towns: Isiolo, northern Kenya (since 1976) and Malakal, in southern Sudan (since 1979) (1977b:260-82;1979).

Thus, only the veneer of "pragmatic" anthropology exists in Italy. As the sociologist Ferrarotti (1972) points out, "to call determinate realities to account", one tends to solve objective problems through "literary perorations or philosophical speculations".


Bernardi, B. 1974 Uomo Cultura Società. Introduzione agli studi etno-antropologici. Milano: Franco Angeli

Bernardi, B. 1977 Crisi e non crisi dell'antropologia, L'Uomo 1 (1): 5-28

Destro, A. 1972 Parentele ed integrazione sociale in un borgo di immigrati, La Ricerca Sociale, estate-autunno, 45-64

Ferrarotti, F. 1972 Prefazione a L'inchiesta sociologica. Roma: Bulzoni.

Gallini, C. 1974 Le buone intenzioni. Politica e metodologia dell'antropologia culturale statunitense. Rimini:Guaraldi.

Grottanelli, V. 1977 Ethnology and/or Cultural Anthropology in Italy: Traditions and Developments. Current Anthropology 18 (4): 593-614

Jablonko A., 1977 Comment to Grottanelli. Current Anthropology 18 (4): 603

Lanternari, V. 1974 Antropologia e imperialismo. Torino: Einaudi

Lombardi Satriani, L.M. 1974 Antropologia culturale e analisi della cultura subalterna. Rimini: Guaraldi

Marazzi A. 1977 Comment to Grottanelli: Current Anthropology 18 (4): 605

Pelliccioni. F. 1976 Un importante contributo di un africanista agli studi etno-antropologici. Africa 31 (1):91-98

Pelliccioni F. 1977a Review of Incontro con una cultura africana. La Critica Sociologica 41 (1):187:89

Pelliccioni F. 1977b Isiolo, centro di incontro etnico del Kenya settentrionale (rapporto preliminare). Africa 32 (2): 260-82

Pelliccioni F. 1979 Una città sudanese sul Nilo Bianco: crisi esistenziale ed etnicità a Malakal. Report presented to the Centro per le Relazioni Italo-Arabe of Rome. Umpublished manuscript

Tentori T. 1971 Il sistema di vita della comunità materana: rapporto preliminare di una indagine antropologico-culturale alla "Commissione per lo Studio della Città e dell'Agro di Matera" costituita dalla I giunta della UNRA Casas. In Scritti Antropologici III, pp. 99-185. Rome: Edizioni Ricerche

Tentori T. 1977 Comment to Grottanelli. Current Anthropology 18 (4): 608-11

Tentori T., and P. Guidicini 1972 Borgo, quartiere, città. Milano: Franco Angeli

Tentori, T. A. Zanotta and R. Brichetti, eds. 1976 Ricerca e azione sociale in Italia-VII. Rome: Amministrazione per le attività Assistenziali Italiane e Internazionali

Tullio-Altan, C. 1968 Antropologia funzionale. Milano

Tullio-Altan, C. 1971 Manuale di Antropologia Culturale. Storia e Metodo. Milano

Tullio-Altan, C. I valori difficili. Inchiesta sulle tendenze ideologiche e politiche dei giovani in Italia. Milano: Bompiani

Volpini, D. 1979 Educazione permanente e ricerca antropologica applicata del progetto sperimentale di Gradoli (VT). Animazione Sociale 32:5-44

"Despite our common heritage, most United States social scientists are unfamiliar with the political and intellectual milieu of our European counterparts. In attempts to overcome this shortcoming, the Society for Applied Anthropology held its 1975 annual meeting in the Netherlands and will meet in Scotland next year. As a prelude to the forthcoming international meeting, the editors of this section had hoped to provide an overview of European applied social sciences, but complexities and national variations have delayed any concise summary. Our preliminary correspondence, however, brought us into contact with Franco Pelliccioni, a distinguished SfAA Fellow and Italian applied anthropologist. Pelliccioni has graciously consented to allow us to edit his correspondence, which provides a clear perspective on the differences between Italian and United States applied social science. We anticipate that the Italian perspective will provide clues to the considerable differences between the European and the United Stated tradition", Theodore E. Dowing, International Affairs Editor for Latin America and Europe, Human Organization


Franco Pelliccioni Main Page:



ATLANTIC RESEARCHES: //Shetland and Orkney, Scotland, UK // Saint-Pierre, Miquelon (DOM, France), Newfoundland (Canada) // Svalbard, High Arctic, Norway // Faroe Islands, Denmark //Outer Hebrides -Western Isles- Scotland, UK / Iceland /

/ Arctic Research // African Research // Italy & Mexico /


GEOGRAPHIC:  Alaska / Canada/ Carnia / Egypt/ Italy / Kenya / Scotland / South Africa /Southern Sudan /Western Africa /  

THEMATIC: ADVENTOROUS WOMEN: Great travellers, Explorers, Anthropologists, Archaeologists /American Indians / Applied Anthropology / Environment /Explorations / Inuit/ Maritime Museums / Multiculturalism / Non EU Immigration and the School /North PolePIRATES AND PRIVATEERS IN NORTHERN ATLANTICRacism /SHIPWRECKS / Slavery in Southern Sudan /Trains / Urban Anthropology / Viking World / Volcanoes/

 / Whale Hunting / "West" / General /

/ Document 1 //Document 2 // Document 3 // Document 4 /

/ Northern Atlantic Islands and Archipelagos //

in Italiano: Programma Comunità Marittime Atlantico Settentrionale

Tutte le Pagine Web in lingua italiana di Franco Pelliccioni

Ricerche Atlantiche: Shetland e Orcadi, Scozia, Regno Unito / Saint-Pierre, Miquelon (DOM, Francia), Terranova (Canada) / Svalbard, Alto Artico, Norvegia / Isole Faroer, Danimarca/ Ebridi Esterne (Western Isles), Scozia, Regno Unito / Islanda-Groenlandia /

Ricerche Artiche / Ricerche Africane / Ricerche Italiane / Ricerche messicane /

LE BIBLIOGRAFIE: Bibliografia Generale 1966-2006

 AREALI: Africa Occidentale/ Alaska Canada   /   Carnia / Creta   / Egitto / / Italia / Kenya /

Lisbona, Portogallo  /Scozia / Sud Africa / Sudan meridionale /Tunisia 

TEMATICHE:    Ambiente /Antropologia Applicata Antropologia urbana /Balene Biografie antropologiche / Biografie archeologiche / Esplorazioni / Indiani d'America Inuit (Eschimesi) L’Avventura al Femminile: Grandi Viaggiatrici, Esploratrici, Antropologhe , Archeologhe  L'immigrazione extracomunitaria e la scuola Mondo Vichingo  / Multiculturalismo /    Musei Marittimi / Nei Mari del Sud / Naufragi / Pirati e Corsari nell'Atlantico del Nord  /  Polo Nord /Razzismo Schiavitù nel Sudan meridionale /  Treni Vulcani  "West" /

17  articoli on line di Franco Pelliccioni 

/ Documento 1 /Documento 2/ Documento 3 /Documento 4 /

Uomini, Genti e Culture del "Villaggio Globale": Una Lettura Antropologica dell’Ambiente    

Natura e Cultura nell'Alaska del Duca degli Abruzzi (1897) ;

Guerra o Pace: riflessioni di un antropologo su un eterno dilemma

Problemi socio-antropologici connessi allo sviluppo nel Mezzogiorno

Isole e Arcipelaghi dell'Atlantico Settentrionale

Updated 1,  27,  2006