ECPR

Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”

ECPR

Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”

Back to Paper Details

Urban safety and neighbourhood committees in Italy: the paradox of participation.

Cristian Poletti
Università degli Studi di Milano – Bicocca
Cristian Poletti
Università degli Studi di Milano – Bicocca
Michela Semprebon
Università degli Studi di Milano – Bicocca
Open Panel

Abstract

This paper proposes an analysis of a particular form of citizens’ participation that emerged in Italy in the 1990s: neighbourhood committees. In those years, the Italian political scenario was impacted upon by some strong transformations: the traditional political system, based on national mass parties, collapsed, thus giving way to a new leading role of local governments; urban safety came to occupy the centre of the political agenda, as evident from an analysis of electoral campaigns and local mobilisations (Germain & Poletti 2009). All these factors contributed to making neighbourhood committees, particularly those active in the field of urban safety, into significant actors. Many of them have been involved by municipalities, in their efforts to reduce social alerts, and by police forces, in the attempt to strengthen endogenous control. Against this scenario, the following questions will be addressed: Who are the citizens called to participate in neighbourhood committees? What idea of urban life do they foster? What effects do they have on the quality of democratic governance? As the paper will argue, there are both positive and negative aspects to them. The empirical evidence shows that contentious episodes have contributed to putting social movements back on the stage and to advancing some high quality policy proposals on their side (Della Porta 2004). However, there is a dark side to this picture. Many committees reflect a narrow conservative concept of urban life and a form of mistrust towards marginalised groups, thus running the risk of promoting an ‘exclusionary society’ (Baratta 2001). This contribution draws from two ethnographic works which combined participant observation, with semi-structured interviews and press reviews. The empirical evidence was collected in Modena, at different intervals between 2001 and 2010. The findings cannot be considered as representative of the country, yet they indicate trends that are worth monitoring.