« Making the Italians » with or without them. How grasping variations in citizenship law implementation when the system is going paperless and the pandemics prevent users’ and researchers’ field access?
Italian citizenship law and its implementation represent a peculiar case study for at least two main reasons. Firstly, law establishes a hierarchy of candidates, defining different bureaucratic paths and legal requirements depending on their status (refugees, permanent residents, spouses of an Italian citizen, born in Italy foreigners, etc.), including a grounding distinction between candidates of Italian descendants (who can also claim for their Italian citizenship to be recognized jure sanguinis) and those of other, and especially non European, origins. Secondly, citizenship law implementation involves a plurality of levels of government and street-level bureaucracies (ministries of the interior and of foreign affairs, consulates, municipalities, prefectures, police headquarters…), as well as an increasing number of private law intermediaries (consultants, lawyers, associations, language schools…). These peculiarities make it a promising case study to explore variations in law implementation, and to grasp how institutional and professional logic intertwine with public or private intermediaries’ own representations of the “nation”, in explaining those variations.
Sociology of migration and citizenship policies’ implementation at street-level bureaucracies has highlighted civil servants’ discretionary power (Hamidi and Paquet 2019). Field-works have pointed the great extent to which “race”, class and gender perceptions and national stereotypes interfere in their judgments and professional practices, especially when they are charged of some kind of civic integration assessment (Hajjat 2012, Mazouz 2017). Bureaucracy’s dynamic of changing to paperless system, together whit the Covid-19 pandemics restrictions, have drastically reduced interactions with users, as well as the possibility of conducting ethnographic observation in street-level bureaucracies. Instead of assuming that those transformations will lead to a reduction of discretionary and stereotypes, they challenge the way in which discretionary and stereotypes intervene, as well as the possibility for research to disclose it (Bouju 2015, Puglia 2018).
The communication will discuss methodological challenges and early results of my post-doctoral research, originally conceived as an ethnographic comparison of Italian citizenship law implementation at local and street-level bureaucracies (3 Italian municipalities and 2 foreign consulates), but heavily affected by the pandemics and by the process of going to a paperless bureaucracy. Data are largely collected through in-person and on-line interviews held with candidates, civil servants, and private professionals or associative volunteers acting as law intermediaries, rather than ethnographic on-field observation. The communication will discuss the potential and limits of this procedure (Baczko and Dorronsoro 2020, Theviot 2021).