[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-Italy]: Kinder on Ricatti, 'Italians in Australia: History, Memory, Identity'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Mon Apr 29 11:23:16 MDT 2019

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From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
Date: Mon, Apr 29, 2019 at 12:56 PM
Subject: H-Net Review [H-Italy]: Kinder on Ricatti, 'Italians in Australia:
History, Memory, Identity'
To: <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
Cc: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.org>

Francesco Ricatti.  Italians in Australia: History, Memory, Identity.
 Palgrave Studies in Migration History. London  Palgrave Pivot, 2018.
 147 pp.  $54.99 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-319-78872-2.

Reviewed by John J. Kinder (University of Western Australia)
Published on H-Italy (April, 2019)
Commissioned by Matteo Pretelli

Italian Australians

Francesco Ricatti's slim volume on _Italians in Australia _is a
groundbreaking study that will shape the future directions of
research into Italians and Italian language and culture in Australia
for the next generation of scholars. The originality of the volume
derives not from original archival discoveries but from the
theoretical approaches Ricatti brings to his subject and from the
conceptual and historical context in which the Italian presence in
Australia is located.

A decade ago, studies of Italian migration to Australia began to take
seriously the new paradigms emerging from migration studies in Europe
and North America. Earlier histories of Italians in Australia often
followed a trend evident in the earliest Italian newspapers published
in Australia, in amassing evidence to justify the presence of
Italians in this member state of the British Empire/Commonwealth and
to celebrate their achievements in resisting discrimination to make
an important contribution to building the "new Australia."

Loretta Baldassar's review of Gianfranco Cresciani's revised _The
Italians in Australia _(2003) had suggested a generational change in
progress.[1] Then reviews of the field by Susanna Iuliano and
Baldassar and Matteo Pretelli marked a clear break in the
historiography and hinted at new directions.[2] In 2015 Matteo
Sanfilippo set the new paradigms with an Italian perspective.[3] Now
Ricatti has comprehensively mapped out new ways of approaching the
presence of Italians in Australia since 1788. Earlier scholarship is
not denied or contradicted so much as reconceptualized with fresh
horizons of thought and new paradigms of understanding.

Curiously, the book opens with a challenge to begin our thinking
about "Italians in Australia" by reassessing what migration means,
first, for the country of origin: "Italian migration history is a
core aspect of Italy's national history and is essential to
understanding Italy's lack of a strong national identity, its complex
presence in the wider world, and many key features [the text says
"futures" but I read this as one of an unfortunate number of typos;
"social rapture" (p. 10) is surely "social rupture"!] of its fragile
and contradictory relationship with modernity" (p. 1). This is the
first virtue of the book: to problematize Italy's own understanding
of migration in its history. No longer can Italian historiography
account for migration simply by "facing up" to the reality of mass
emigration, say after Unification, and to the conditions that
produced it, or by embracing the new immigrations. The economic,
cultural, and linguistic contradictions that emerged in the various
destinations of Italian emigration were already present in the home
country. This emerges clearly in the discussion of racism and racial
ambiguity in chapter 4 that moves nimbly back and forwards between
the ambiguities of Italy's own internal racial categories and the
ambiguities of the new settler nation in Australia.

The theoretical framework, "Mapping Complexity: A Transcultural
Approach," is constructed in chapter 1 from a wide range of
approaches. Six theoretical frames are identified: intersectionality,
decoloniality, the intensity of migrant lives, orientation (which
connects embodiment and emotional emplacement), the uncanny (or
unhomely), and transcultural memory. These lenses converge in an axis
centered on the prefixes "inter-" and "trans-," especially
"transnational" and "transcultural." The transcultural dimension is
the fundamental step in the book's gaze on individuals, groups,
cultures, and nations. The monolithic and static objects that defined
the coordinates of early migration history dissolve in front of a
gaze on reality that acknowledges and embraces the complexities and
changing dimensions of each individual life as it is lived in
networks of relationships with others, both in response to external
events and forces and through the agency of response, engagement, and
adaptation to changing circumstances.

Chapter 2 provides a "Historical Outline" of Italian migration to
Australia. In just eight pages Ricatti condenses the essential
statistical information and the primary economic, social, and
political forces driving migration policy in Australia as it affected
Italians. Note though that this historical summary is the _second
_part of the chapter, preceded by an essay of similar length on the
state of the art of studies on "Italian mass migration." This is not
historical background but rather paints the context within which the
Australian narrative loses something of the "exceptional" character
present in some traditional accounts and begins to make sense as a
part of the history of Italy as well as of Australia. Established
scholarship is integrated here with recent research to identify three
poles of reference: migration is posited as a constant in Italian
history since at least the early modern period; the internal
imbalances within geographical areas of the modern Italian state are
argued by Ricatti to be the fruit of the "quasi-colonial nature of
Italy's unification" (p. 19); modern Italian migration is most
statistically relevant and most complex during the period between
1870 and the late 1960s (Ricatti could have cited the symbolic year
of 1973, which Ugo Ascoli identified as the year in which Italy's
migratory balance became positive for the first time since
Unification).[4] This chapter will be a convenient first port of call
for students beginning research projects on Italian migration to

The multifaceted model outlined in chapter 1 and the historical
account of chapter 2 are then combined in a series of studies of
specific aspects of the experience of Italians in Australia: "Work
and Socioeconomic Mobility" (chapter 3) and "Racism and Racial
Ambiguity in a Settler Colonial Context" (chapter 4). The
implications of how research into these areas will look when
conducted in light of the stances outlined in the general theory are
worked out in detail.

These chapters establish new ontological claims and heuristic lenses.
Chapter 3 reads the economic history of migrants in Australia in
terms of agency, especially in terms of women's work, inside and
outside the family unit. It is argued strongly in chapter 4 that
Italian migration can no longer position itself comfortably outside
the colonial-Indigenous pair. While Italians certainly endured
considerable discrimination and injustice based on racial
hierarchies, they must accept their own role as part of the colonial
system that committed great crimes against Indigenous Australians.
This new understanding of the racial ambiguity of migrant groups is
occurring also among other migrant groups. One recalls the powerful
statements about Irish migration made by Irish president Michael
Higgins during his visit to Australia in 2017.

Chapters 5 and 6 proceed to examine what are almost case studies.
Noteworthy in the analysis of "Family and Generational Negotiations"
(chapter 5) is the notion of agency, picked up from chapter 3, and
applied to pluralistic forms of family life. Particularly interesting
are the remarks on marriage by proxy, read as an eloquent example of
transculturality. Chapter 6 is titled rather grandly "Transnational
Ideologies and Transcultural Practices" and is less convincing, since
in trying to cover language, religion, politics, and ethnic media the
brief sections of the chapter (which the author acknowledges are
summary at best) give only a partial and sometimes superficial
account of the major research on each topic.

Ricatti's book is courageous in applying to Italian migration
theories and paradigms that have not been applied before in such a
comprehensive and coherent way. The book is a first step and there is
much to be worked out and worked through. For example, settler
colonialism is invoked, almost in passing, in early chapters but this
approach, though suggestive as a general frame of reference, is so
selective in its detail and application as to make its appearance in
the book unhelpful and in need of much substantiation. On certain
subjects, the description falls back on clichés that suggest an
unspoken bias and rob the analysis of potential bite: the phrase
"devout Catholic" (p. 80) is one that is popular in the Australian
press but one wonders what the adjective actually means and whether
the phrase itself is anything but a put-down.

Throughout the book one hears the call for new scholarship to
evaluate the long and complex history of Italians in Australia beyond
the rhetoric of justification and celebration through the tropes of
sacrifice and hard work, male agency and female passivity, isolation
versus integration, and build a new "transcultural history of
resilience, resourcefulness and creativity" (p. 135). This project is
inspired as much by the desire to honor the stories of migrants and
their families as it is by the need for scholars of the past to
contribute to changing social and political responses to migration in
present-day Australia. This slim volume has already made its presence
felt. A 2018 story in the _Guardian _about the response to the
shooting of Melbourne cafe-owner Sisto Pellegrini drew heavily on
Ricatti's analyses.[5]

The book is published in Palgrave's new Studies in Migration History
series and follows the format of volumes in the series. Each chapter
is presented as an autonomous unit, with its own DOI. Bibliographical
references appear at the end of each chapter.


[1]. Loretta Baldassar, "Transnational Times," review of _The
Italians in Australia _by Gianfranco Cresciani, _Australian Book
Review_, 257 (December 2003/January 2004): 27.

[2]. Susanna Iuliano and Loretta Baldassar, "Deprovincialising
Italian Migration Studies: An Overview of Australian and Canadian
Research," _FULGOR: Flinders University Languages Group Online Review
_3, no. 3 (2008): 1-16; and Matteo Pretelli, "Gli italiani in
Australia: lo stato dei lavori," _Studi Emigrazione_ 46, no. 176
(2009): 779-92.

[3]. Matteo Sanfilippo, _Nuovi problemi di storia delle migrazioni
italiane _(Viterbo: Sette Città, 2005).

[4]. Ugo Ascoli, _I movimenti migratori in Italia _(Bologna: Il
Mulino, 1979), 57-60.

[5]. Jeff Sparrow, "Australia's history of anti-Italian racism echoes
grotesquely in rhetoric about Sudanese people," _The Guardian_,
November 20, 2018,

Citation: John J. Kinder. Review of Ricatti, Francesco, _Italians in
Australia: History, Memory, Identity_. H-Italy, H-Net Reviews. April,
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=54046

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Best regards,

Andrew Stewart

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