D'Orsi, L: The "Pacchetto Sicurezza" and the Process of Ethnogenesis, 2010

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The latest change concerning immigration in Italy is the so-called «pacchetto sicurezza» (security package) of 2009. The new dispositions, in particular law no. 125 of 2008 and law no. 94 of 2009, represent a significant change compared to the former actions. The laws and rules of the «pacchetto sicurezza» are not included in immigration legislation anymore but are included in a collection of laws for public security among regulations against the Mafia or against rapists.

The «pacchetto sicurezza» also shows the defects of former policies: the difficulty of considering immigration as a steadily growing structural process and the need for an immediate answer to the electorate rather than managing of the phenomenon. The political intention is to give the image of a strong government that is able to defend the interests and security of Italian citizens. Immigrants are now included in the undefined category of “the Others”, that is “all people who are not like us”: marginalized people, prostitutes, homosexuals, etc. We are facing a process of criminalization of immigrants that are now considered a threat: carriers of criminality and attackers of Italian cultural purity.

But we should focus on the relationship between immigration and criminality. According to the Dossier Caritas, 6 out of 10 Italians ascribe a higher criminal rate to foreign people. This phenomenon seems to be true just for irregular immigrants. The causes, however, appear to be linked to an illegal and precarious situation: it is the Italian state that establishes the border between regular and irregular, legal and illegal.Moreover, the attention of public opinion is focused on the landing of undocumented people on Italian coasts. The «pacchetto sicurezza» tries to eliminate this phenomenon (with preventive expulsion too). However, these landings represent only 1/50 of our immigration. Almost four and a half million regular immigrants are not, therefore, at the core of public debate or are confused with the irregulars. A simple equation is suggested: foreign = irregular and irregular = delinquent.

A closer examination of rules included in the «pacchetto sicurezza» allows a better comprehension of the processes in fieri. In the first instance law no. 94 of 2009 runs the risk of being retroactive because it also pertains to those who are already in Italy when the law comes into force. Therefore, the law also concerns those who have been regulars but were not able to renew the residence permit.

The «pacchetto sicurezza» also runs the risk of creating a different juridical status between Italians and non-Italians and between regular foreign people and irregular ones. In this way it introduces rules containing forms of indirect discrimination. Amongst these we can recognize:

-The impossibility of voting (both political and administrative);
-The impossibility of receiving a baby-grant, i.e. financial support for families with newborn children;
-The impossibility of participating in a public selection;
Besides, irregular immigrants are not allowed to get married and education is not guaranteed beyond compulsory school. Law no. 94 of July 2009 introduces the penal crime of irregularity that seems to violate the principle of equality for all citizens. Indeed, irregular immigrants who commit a crime are punished more severely due to their condition of being irregular. Also, for those immigrants who try to enter Italy illegally there is a fine from 5,000 to 10,000 euro.

Specifically, the law lays down:

- The increment by a third of the punishment for irregular immigrants who commit a crime.
- The expulsion from the country if sentenced for two years or more.
- The crime of aiding and abetting of irregular immigration (in other words, those who give work or lend a vacant property to an irregular immigrant are punished).
- The increment of the period inside the CIE (center of identification and expulsion) up to 180 days (this extension seems to be excessive if compared to the target of the CIE, i.e. the expulsion of irregular immigrants).
- The burden of having to show a residence permit in order to benefit from the welfare state and assistance.
- The payment of a relevant tax (up to 200 euro) to obtain or renew the residence permit.
- The “integration-agreement”, i.e. a type of licence with penalty points that leads to the final expulsion from the country.
- The introduction of “bridge-classes” or “differentiated classes” for the children of immigrants.

The dispositions contained in the «pacchetto sicurezza» should be a deterrent for the immigration of those people outside “Fortress Europe”, thereby reducing the level of irregularity. But, as observed by Gustavo Zagrebelsky, the ex-president of the Italian Constitutional Court, the result obtained is the opposite. The status of irregular, indeed, is a condition determined by the law: it is the law that can decide who is irregular and who is not. A collection of laws to help irregular people out of their condition of irregularity could reduce the level of illegality and criminality in the country. The rules included in the «pacchetto sicurezza», instead, travel in the opposite direction. They increase the difficulty of obtaining the residence permit and obstruct the transition to a condition of regular immigrant by suggesting the idea that irregulars are a threat for public security.

A series of examples can maybe help us to comprehend how these dispositions do not allow a change of status from irregular to regular. A doctor examining an irregular immigrant is forced, in theory, to report him to the police. The medical register opposed this rule refusing to apply it, but the risk is that the immigrant chooses not to use the care system with strong risks for his own health and the one of other citizens. A prostitute, usually an irregular immigrant, cannot report her exploiter because she would be expelled from the country. Furthermore, if an irregular immigrant witnesses some kind of violence he/she will not be inclined to testify for the same reason.

Besides, the «pacchetto sicurezza» runs the risk of creating a clash at the legislative level. The constitution guarantees the fundamental rights to everyone whereas the «pacchetto sicurezza» denies them for immigrants. Therefore, the unilateralism of the dispositions contained in the «pacchetto sicurezza» seems to promote the idea of a society where the immigrant is alleged to be an economic resource for whom the only reason of being in Italy is working and producing. The idea that diversity could also represent a resource is denied at the source. The immediate consequence has been a strong increment of violence against foreign people (both regular and irregular ones) and more in general against the weakest fringes (homeless, poor people, beggars, disabled people, etc). It represents a cultural drift that sees the “last” as a rejection of society and as a possible scapegoat.

Indeed, these rules, such as the differentiated classes for immigrants or the prohibition of the care system, seem to suggest a growing climate of apartheid that evokes a «world divided into compartments», as portrayed by Franz Fanon. There are many causes that have combined to bring about this situation. The economic dimension is one of the most relevant. These irregular migratory streams are, indeed, useful and functional to an Italian economic system that can be defined as Post-Fordist with a spreading shadow economy. Due to their position of “invisibility” they are forced to accept black work and cheaper salaries in difficult working conditions (without trade union protection and safety at work). Immigrants find work in small industries in the North, in informal activities in central Italy (i.e. housemaids or in the building industry) and in the agricultural system in the South. This is not, however, the occasion to discuss this aspect. In the next few paragraphs I would like to shed light on some other causes: the low professionalism and skill of cultural mediators and cultural operators, the limits of the Italian multicultural model, the process of ethnogenesis and the role played by the mass media.

Non-Professionalism of Cultural Mediators

We should recognize that the promoters of integration, in the first place, have conceived it as a process that could be achieved by itself and without any attention or any investment from the institutions. They left the weakest fringes of society (from an economic and cultural point of view) alone. Racist rhetoric grew due to urban blight and institutional neglect. It seemed to be, at the same time, both a good lens of interpretation of reality and a good instrument of defence against a phenomenon that is not so easily comprehensible and controllable. The pattern of Italian welfare is based on associationism that enables one to manage different social emergencies such as, for example, the scholarization of ethnic minorities. The standards considered sufficient for foreign children are often inferior and school attendance is the only indicator of evaluation. Moreover, there is not an appropriate training available and most of the professional figures involved are unprepared.

Limits of the Italian Multicultural Project

From the theoretical point of view, a part of the fault lies in the limits of an Italian multicultural model that is too rigid and stereotyped. This model presents at least three problems:

- Firstly, it suggests the idea that culture is something static, with clear and neat boundaries, and able to shape the choices of people, without allowing the possibility of blending, melting or conforming themselves.

- Secondly, it suggests that societies were monocultural before the immigrant’s arrival. The past, instead, seems to be full of continuous syncretisms, so that the French anthropologist Jean-Loup Amselle proposed the idea of a «métissage originaire» (mestizo origin).

- Thirdly, it suggests that cultures, instead of individuals, meet and clash with each other. In this way, it produces an excess of attention on the cultural dimension. A kind of «cultural fundamentalism» using the fair expression of the German anthropologist Verena Stolcke.

Instead, we should reflect on the concept of culture as being a tool of interpretation. It may seem to be a paradox that it is an anthropologist who denounces this «excess of attention», as the anthropologist Marco Aime noted. I believe, however, that during recent years both those who consider cultural diversity as a form of contamination and those who consider it as an opportunity have stressed the concept of cultural diversity too much. The risk is that of proposing a cultural explanation of reality even when it is not sufficient or correct. We are facing the phenomenon of “ethnicization of reality” and of “politization of ethnos”. In other words, there is the risk of “ethnicizing” questions that are not of ethnic origin. In this way we do not take into account the socio-economic reasons that are also at the basis of the problem by moving the problem of delinquency onto the ethnic level. Besides, this phenomenon seems to be at the root of a new kind of racism. Not a biological racism based on natural difference anymore, but a new cultural racism that sees the cultural difference as an insuperable gap and cultures as something that is unchangeable.

When Everything Becomes Ethnic: The Process of Ethnogenesis

In Italy a process of “ethnogenesis” (i.e. the process of construction and invention of an ethnic group or of its features) is also taking place. The nomadism of Roma communities in Rome could be considered an emblematic example. Roma nomadism is built both on the level of public discourse and on that of institutions. Nowadays, Roma people are relegated to the so-called “nomadic-camps” (equipped or illegal), that can be considered true slums. “Nomadic-camps” are a form of apartheid, produced by those institutions that should have provided integration rather than separation in areas where the risk of social exclusion is really high. For this reason Italy was criticized by the Council of Europe in 2006. In recent years, culturalistic rhetoric emphasized a supposed and irreducible cultural diversity: Roma people could not be integrated because of cultural features (such as nomadism) that make them extremely closed, external-proof communities that cannot be assimilated at the cultural level. But Roma people have not been nomadic for many centuries, even though they are often alleged to be. Their frequent mobility in the world, in most cases, was not a cultural choice but the consequence of repressive policies: in most cases it was forced migration, not “traditional” nomadism. The high number of requests for social housing can be considered a demonstration of this.

Rhetoric and public discourse should not be underestimated because they are widespread in Italian social policies: in recent electoral campaigns, in newspapers (the most important Italian newspaper, «Il Corriere della Sera», titled «the Nomadic Invasion») and between people of every social and cultural level. For example, a cultural interpretation was very common among those students of anthropology at «Sapienza» University of Rome, that I interviewed in my study. Indeed, the persuasive power of the language is a strong political weapon because it represents the power of nominating things, classifying them and imposing a certain representation of reality. The world representation is negotiated through discursive practise and those in a hegemonic position have the power of nominating and labelling other subjects. It is that struggle for the «symbolic capital» suggested by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu who has shown that the social world can produce differences by simply nominating them. This means that people can be changed simply by telling them that they are different. The power of nominating becomes the power of establishing differences and, therefore, contributes to the making of identity processes.

The construction of nomadism also takes place inside institutions both at the legislative level and inside educational programs. During the 1980s, for example, the regional government proclaimed twelve laws for the defence of Roma people. These laws reaffirmed the Roma nomadism as an essential cultural feature at the juridical level institutionalizing the so-called “nomadic-camps” as a place to preserve cultural diversity. In this way, Roma people became nomadic by law. A similar process is taking place at the national level. In September 2009 the Juvenile Court of Naples denied house arrest to a underage Roma girl due to her ethnic group stating that: «the subject is completely placed in typical patterns of Roma culture. And it’s her being absolutely integrated in these patterns of life that makes […] the danger of recidivism real» (my translation from the decision of the Juvenile Court of Naples, of 29/09/09 concerning the procedure no. 136/09). The process of ethnogenenis also occurs within education programs of Roma children. On this subject the Italian anthropologist Monica Rossi has shown that it is the institutions themselves that do not believe in integration. A paragraph of a municipal law states that: «the inability of tolerating neither school attendance nor work attendance is embedded in the nomadic culture» (my italics, my translation from the Town Council Resolution 28/3/1985, no. Prot. 8512).

Mass Media as Cultural Texts

In 1983 Benedict Anderson, analyzing the birth of nationalism, wrote that the sense of belonging is based on imagined communities: «because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion» (Anderson, 1983: 7). Mass media are fundamental in this process of imagination because, as I suggested before, they play an important role in the process of construction of identity throughout the symbolic dimension and the power of nominating. Therefore, we should deconstruct the ideological structure hidden behind the concepts of common sense. In other words, we should define the contours of the goldfish bowl that we inhabit, using the metaphor of the English philosopher Graham Burchell. Indeed, as Ludwig Wittgenstein noted, it is more difficult to see what is in front of our eyes everyday: the taken for granted. This is how Foucault’s method enables us to analyse the rational and mental structures at the base of the contemporary world, shedding light on the historical and cultural contingency of the taken for granted. The analysis of newspapers, rumours and television programs therefore becomes the analysis of cultural texts.

Indeed, the overestimation of immigrant presence is mostly determined by the daily bombing of newspapers and televisions trying to make news. But mass media work on a second level too: they usually report the nationality of offenders only when these are “non-Italians”. This gives the idea that the geographic origin or the cultural affiliation could be one of the causes that produced the deviant behaviour. If the crime is committed by “Italians”, instead, the nationality is not reported and the crime is soon forgotten. Therefore, we end up remembering primarily those crimes committed by foreign people and the perception of the “foreign who delinquents” increases. The web net also contributes to the construction of the collective imaginary. On Facebook, for example, there is the game called «Rimbalza il Clandestino» (Bounce Back the Irregular) promoted by the party of Government «Lega Nord» (North League) to which the Italian Minister of Interior belongs.


We can, therefore, conclude that there are two different approaches to the issue of migratory streams in Italy. On one hand there are those who consider immigration to be the worst harm. To fight it they speak of a civilization that needs to be white, Christian and European. But historical processes move in the opposite direction. The local defence seems harder, the laws stronger and the clash almost inevitable. On the other hand there are those who want to manage the change. It is hard to do because it involves the relationship between local and global, the relationship between the North and the South of the world, and puts the call of the western model of development into question.

Moreover, there is a paradox. On one hand people dream about, not secretly anymore, the shutdown of boundaries, but on the other hand Italy is a country that needs many immigrants for economic (they represent 9,5% of GDP equal to 134 billion euro) and demographic reasons. Indeed, the Italian population is characterized by the second demographic transition with a pyramid of age that is almost reverse and a TFR (total fertility rate, i.e. the number of children per woman) that is less than the minimum threshold that enables the population to reproduce itself in the next generation. Who will pay for welfare-state, public schools and pensions in a society with more elderly people than young ones? Immigration could, therefore, represent a form of demographic wealth since the average age of foreign people is thirty-one years of age and that of Italians is forty-three.

Reviewing the analysis of the Caritas Dossier 2009 we could observe that, compared to Italians, foreign people do not have a higher criminality rate, do not waste public resources considering what they restore in taxes and contributions, and, above all,  they represent a strong demographic trade-off. If the sense of belonging, as Benedict Anderson noted, is based on imagined communities, a part of Italian society does not have any difficulties in imagining itself as being pure, non-multiethnic and without immigrants, even though historical and anthropological analysis works the other way. Another part, that is becoming a minority, also seems to be slowly losing the ability of imagining alternative models of society.

The episodes of growing discrimination and racism, indeed, appear to create a context of «violence atmosphérique» (atmospheric violence), according to the definition of Franz Fanon. The Italian context seems to be consistent with the analysis of the anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes. The American anthropologist, when studying the madness of everyday life with its little scapegoats and its forms of symbolic violence, has suggested the idea that in society we can always find certain «eliminationist impulses». These proto-elements of genocide nest in ordinary life producing a «genocidal continuum» composed of «small wars and invisible genocides conducted in the normative social spaces of public schools, clinics, emergency rooms, hospital wards, nursing homes, court rooms, prisons, detention centers, and public morgues» (Scheper-Hughes, 2007: 169). In this perspective, “everyday” violence makes sense and reduces “the Others” to the status of «non-people», using the expression of the sociologist Alessandro Dal Lago regarding irregular immigrants.

Masses of small genocides, thereby, seem to be hidden in everyday life, becoming almost invisible to our eyes like the contours of the goldfish bowl: refusal to help the weakest, militarization of everyday life, social fear (the perception of the poor or ethnic groups as a threat) and reversed feeling of victimization. These elements can be tracked down in the Italian context: in “nomadic-camps”, in dispositions of the «pacchetto sicurezza», in differentiated classes for immigrants, in the attempt to insert the symbol of the crucifix in the National flag, in the compulsory reporting of irregular immigrants for doctors and in the different treatment given to immigrants in working places. If there isn’t a clear caesura between the two extremities of a totalitarian society and a democratic one, but a continuum without interruption, Italy will slowly slide to one of these two extremities. One that does not tolerate the possibility of diversity.


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Lorenzo d’Orsi, Sapienza, University of Rome, 2010