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Orphans and Heirs in Italian Radical-Right Organisations. The Family Roots of Political Activism

Stephanie Dechezelles
Institut d'Études Politiques Aix-en-Provence
Stephanie Dechezelles
Institut d'Études Politiques Aix-en-Provence
Open Panel

Abstract

Taking into account the cultural dimensions of political involvement, this proposal attempts to demonstrate that activism depends on family social and political experiences. It wants to show that if family heritage matters, it is also important to take into account the way that political organisations builds some special frames for activists to interpret, tell and construct their own biographical backgrounds. The proposal non only relies on the idea that political participation is socially rooted but also that political participation is part of the way individuals socially product their heritage representation. In order to understand why young activists appropriate elements of a common partisan narrative, it is worth examining the different ways in which party members experience their family socialisation, their educational backgrounds and social origins. This will lead to demonstrate that the appropriation of a party culture is all the stronger since the individuals share common biographical backgrounds and that their parents have similar social, political and cultural experiences. The proposal is based on the comparison of 60 young Italian radical-right activist’s trajectories, from Alleanza Nazionale and the Lega Nord in the early 2000’s. The communication will show that in the case of the Alleanza Nazionale the transmission of intimated memory is closely associated with political commemoration of past events inside the party organisations. Indeed, the veneration of ‘party ancestors’ is rooted in the remembrance of heroic relatives. Family traditions are both perpetuated and transformed into political ones, as they are loaded with ideological meaning. The historical and family ‘proximity’ with certain past events/figures therefore allows the young activists to feel they are part of both a private intimate family and a public political genealogy, and that teach one is made by the other. In contrast, the young activists of the Lega Nord give very few details about their ‘family stories’. Rather than any previous family involvement in politics, what they usually share is a common rejection of politics. In this case, the ‘thin’ family memory among young activists is compensated by ‘inventions of traditions’ (Celtic heritage) promoted by the party organisation. Far from being only a folkloric form of partisan mystification, these invented memorial frameworks lead young activists to perceive themselves as the heirs of heroic ancestors they feel to have neither in their family nor in the political recent history.