Panel 31

Locating the individual, understanding the social. Ethnographies of the subject as a collective person

Panel 31 / Quarto Convegno Nazionale SIAC “Il ritorno del sociale”, Sapienza Università di Roma, 21-22-23 settembre 2023

Proponenti: Francesco Vacchiano (Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia), Gianmarco Marzola (Universidade de Lisboa)

Discussant: Roberta Raffaetà (Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia)


In the anthropological debate, the social has sometimes been understood as a sphere which both encompasses and determines the individual: in particular, the attention for the ways in which our interlocutors evaluate, make decisions and try to construct themselves is often understood, still today, as a result of methodological individualism, psychologism or neoliberal tendencies. In particular, approaches that focus the individual – psychological anthropology, phenomenology, anthropology of ethics and morality – are still sometimes accused of losing sight of the forces of history and the cogency of social constraints, those related, for instance, to gender, class and racialization processes. This panel aims to explore the relationship between the individual and the social, with the aim to promote a more appropriate understanding of a dialectic which is fundamental for social theory. How do people relate to complex and plural collective values? To what extent are they able to produce changes in society? How is it possible to combine freedom and adherence to social values? We welcome proposals that, with the aim of interacting with such questions, use ethnography to focus the relationship between individual experience and everyday constraints, historical dynamics and processes of ontogenic transformation, theories of the person and ways of understanding society and sociability.

Keywords: person, subjectivity, relationships

Lingue accettate: Italiano / English / Français / Español / Português


Sessione I

Venerdì 22/9/2023, ore 14.30-16.15, aula IV Facoltà, Primo piano

Francesco Fanoli ( (Ricercatore indipendente), The collective self and the individualized wrestling star: conflicts of subjectification in Senegalese làmb

In Senegal, làmb (wrestling with punches) is a national sport and a hugely popular passion. In crowded stadiums, wrestling matches are staged along with dances, chants and magical-religious practices. Starting from the 1990s, a neoliberal ethos developed in làmb (Faye 2002; Hann 2018). Some wrestlers began to conceive wrestling as a business, taking care of their image as a personal brand and embodying self-entrepreneurial attitudes (Hann, Chevé, Wane 2021). Yet the fights are collective endeavors, which involve wrestlers’ teammates, their allies, kin, and magical-religious experts, as well as public figures acting as patrons. Hence, each bout is not limited to the fight between two challengers alone, but it is rather an encounter between two collectives (Bonhomme 2022). A fighter’s self is a composite relational formation. Each wrestler, in fact, embodies the collective formed around his persona as well as the “invisible” forces and resources mobilized by this coalition. Presenting some ethnographic episodes that bring out the articulation and points of friction between individualized and “dividual” (Marriott 1976; Strathern 1988) mode of self-formation, I reflect on how the neoliberalization of làmb has produced multiple, indeterminate and conflicting socio-cultural outcomes. Those ethnographic materials permit grasping how neoliberal logics are reproduced and deflected through their articulation with socio-historical forces and values of different provenance.

Dario Nardini ( (Università di Pisa), Sport, rischio e nuove forme di soggettività

Dagli anni ’60, una serie di discipline atletiche (surf, rafting…) si sono poste in rottura rispetto alla pratica istituzionalizzata dello sport, recuperando una dimensione ludica e “libera” dell’attività motoria. Il rischio, presente fino a quel momento come accidentalità, diventa elemento costitutivo di queste discipline, caratterizzate dalla volontà di mettersi alla prova, in una sfida con se stessi in cui testare i limiti delle possibilità umane. Sullo sfondo, una nuova concezione del Sé e del rapporto col mondo. In un contesto in cui l’affermazione della propria unicità è vista come un obiettivo per l’individuo, la presa di rischio nello sport diventa espressione del coraggio di “essere” sé stessi, realizzando i propri sogni. Meccanismo sociale di attribuzione di prestigio e di definizione della “mascolinità”, il rischio negli sport di squadra è anche prova dell’adesione a un sistema di valori condiviso, e a un gruppo per cui si è pronti a sacrificarsi. A partire da due casi etnografici (il surf in Australia e il Calcio Storico Fiorentino), ripercorro i processi sociali di definizione del rischio in discipline differenti, mettendoli in relazione con l’affermazione di un modello di soggettività che si è plasmato in una lunga fase storica, prima con il riconoscimento del valore “imprenditoriale” del rischio nelle traiettorie di vita individuali, e poi con l’affermazione di una pervasiva “ideologia del merito” e del valore liberatorio dell’autodeterminazione degli individui

Chiara Feliciani ( (Graduate Institute of Geneva), ‘La mano di Dio’: how Evangelicals and Maradona fans contrast territorial stigmatisation in an “abbandoned” Neapolitan suburb

My ethnographic fieldwork takes place in the eastern periphery of Naples, in a post-WWII housing project depicted by “from above” , but also internalised “from below”, as an area of “institutional abandonment” whose main economic resource is the Camorra-administrated drug economy. Its older generations lament the decline of the collective identities that once fuelled its community spirit: left-wing political movements and Catholicism. In this context of hopelessness and disillusionment, the younger generations are frowned upon for their capitalist tendencies as they perform narratives of individual success over social media, often in attempt to seek out economic opportunities outside of the neighbourhood. Taking into consideration the socio-cultural elements that determine the collective memory of the neighbourhood, as well its everyday life, this presentation focuses on the forms of counter-hegemonic resistance that emerge in contexts that are constructed and internalised as ‘hopeless’. Drawing on ethnographic data, I will be looking at the online and the offline experiences of the leaders of the the association ‘Campo Paradiso’ and a small community of born-again Christians, in their missions to bring back to life abandoned spaces of the neighbourhood for the community. In the analysis of the models of social redemption advocated by these experiences, I will focus focus on their invocation of their respective deitie: Diego Armando Maradona and the Christian Holy Trinity.


Sessione II

Venerdì 22/9/2023, ore 16.45-18.30, aula IV Facoltà, Primo piano

Lotte Pelckmans ( (Copenhagen University), Ganbanaaxu: a transnational post-slavery network

For this panel on the tension between the individual freedom and social constraints, I propose to screen (parts of) my documentary movie, which visualises the how, why and where of mobilisation in a contemporary anti-slavery movement called Ganbanaaxun Fedde, meaning the ‘federation of equality’, which gained momentum from late 2016 in the western Sahel region.
This movement arose in the diasporic communities of Soninke speaking groups, who address the legacies of so-called ‘descent-based slavery’ and who act and speak up against their ongoing discrimination based on the slave past. The movements’ core steering committee is based in Paris, France and it is thanks to the smart use of whatsapp groups that the movement has been very successful in obtaining active members among people categorised as kome, meaning ‘enslaved’ but also used to refer to supposed ‘descendants of formerly enslaved’ in Mali, Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia and other parts of the world. The movie documents some of the polarizing dynamics generated by mobilisation both on and offline in the struggle for equality. The focus is on case material from mainly France and Mali, and contains interviews with activists, victims and those displaced due to their activism.

Angela Giattino ( (LSE), Hybrid Knowledge and Hybrid Indigeneities  in Amazonian Youth

Based on thirty-three months of fieldwork in urban Peruvian Amazonia, my research explores how young indigenous people become socialised persons through the acquisition of different forms of knowledge. Young indigenous Amazonians are often invested, by their families and society at large, with the moral duty to carry on their elders’ endangered cultural heritage. At the same time, their education, inside and outside formal institutions, raises fears of cultural loss and concerns that deference to scientific notions might erase traditional forms of knowledge. My paper sees education as a fruitful avenue in the struggle for empowerment of indigenous Amazonians, and yet it recognizes that implementing a truly intercultural educational system implies a reconsideration of the relationship between learning and subject formation. Building on growing debates on the hybridization of indigenous cultural identities within multicultural settings, my contribution focuses on the relevance of knowledge acquisition for young Amazonians’ processes of subjectivity and identity negotiation.

Civile Fagerild ( (VID Specialized University, Oslo), Authentic self-expression, participatory arts and anti-oppressive civic engagement

In this paper, I present a project for studying the interrelationship between existentially meaningful authentic self-expression and anti-oppressive civic engagement. The ethnographic point of departure are the microprocesses of dialogically generated self-expressions in participatory arts, based on participant observation at slam poetry sessions in Paris and physical and digital reading groups in Oslo. I show how the (interactively created) low-threshold convivial atmosphere functions as a training ground for authentic self-expression and for practicing an authentic public persona. However, research says little about how microlevel training can encourage wider civic engagement. Vice versa, existentially meaningful dimensions of anti-oppressive engagement (e.g. Pride, #metoo, BLM, migrant-led advocacy) have been little studied. In the final part of the paper, I outline a subproject aimed at capturing the micro-macro, individual-social – in short: existential-political – entwinement of authentic self-expression and anti-oppressive civic engagement in participatory arts among migrants in Rome.
The theoretical framework is inspired by Aristotle’s notion of eudaimonia, where practicing a good and meaningful life, in terms of realising one’s true nature and full potential, is closely connected to engagement in the polis. Furthermore, my double background from social anthropology and present employment in social work education informs my perspectives and research objectives.

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