Authenticity, legitimacy and power: Discourses of Italianità and the Politics of Identities

Frances Giampapa

Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, United Kingdom


As sociolinguistic researchers our attention in recent years has focused on the politics of identity in connection to the effects of globalization and the emergence of a new economy (Chouliaraki & Fairclough 1999; Giddens 1991; Quell 2000). In a globalizing world, the negotiation of identities is no longer geo-spatially bound (see Keith & Pile 1993). As individuals become part of what Hall & du Gay (1996) refer to as this “free migration”, negotiating identities at the micro-level of interaction are fraught with tensions and contradictions, over who defines what it means to be and become Italian Canadian. These are tied to macro-discourses of legitimacy, authenticity, power and the spaces in which italianità is performed.

Framed within a post-modern discourse, this paper draws from critical ethnographic research (Giampapa, 2004) that examines the macro and micro discourses of italianità (i.e., representations of Italianness. For Italian Canadian youth, what it means to be and become Italian Canadian is tied to the discursive practices of italianità that function to include some and exclude others. These discursive struggles intertwine notions of authenticity, legitimacy, power, and the spaces of identities in which italianità is debated.

Expanding Giddens’ (1984) notion of the centre and the periphery, I examine how those at the Italian Canadian and Italian centre(s) (e.g., Italian Canadian media representatives, politicians, academics, institutional organizational representatives, Italian government representatives) (re)produce discourses of italianità through debates over what counts as valued forms of linguistic and cultural capital, and the ‘legitimate’ spaces in which this takes place.

Those at the periphery (e.g., Italian Canadian youth) are considered, by those controlling the centre(s), as potential linguistic and cultural consumers (see Labrie 1999, 2001). However, Italian Canadian youth at the micro-level of interactions across diverse discursive spaces (i.e., home, university, peer group, workplace) manage, negotiate and resist centre discourses that exclude and discriminate.

Using critical ethnography and critical discourse analysis, I draw on individual and group interviews, specialized-themed interviews with Italian Canadian youth participants. I will also draw from newspaper documentation, specifically a newspaper series that highlights the macro-discourses of italianità debated across the Italian Canadian centre(s). This is juxtaposed with other interviews involving, for example, Italian Canadian media representations, and Italian Canadian youth groups.

What this paper shows is how discourses of authenticity, legitimacy, and power play out within and across the Italian Canadian world at the macro-level and micro-level interactions. I show how individuals have many more choices and positions to claim in order to access and control symbolic and material resources. Italian Canadian youth are at the heart of these discursive struggles over being and becoming Italian Canadian and how this is represented, performed and produced within and across the Italian Canadian world.

Session: Paper session
Youth Language 2 / Attitude
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 13