Italy's Diasporic Private Sphere, a call for involvement
From Donna Gabaccia, Department of History, University of Pittsburgh at

November 2003

Many of you might know of the "Italians Everywhere" (Italian Workers around the World) project, initiated by myself and Fraser Ottanelli in the early 1990s. In recent years, that project has produced three major publications: my own Italy's Many Diasporas and two edited collections of essays. The first, Italian Workers of the World, focused on (largely male) labor migrations, immigrant radicalism on four continents, and the making of multi-ethnic states during the ideological conflict of nationalism and internationalism worldwide, 1815-1945. The second recently-published collection, Women, Gender, and Transnational Life, focuses on the working lives of women; to our surprise, contributors also discovered a rich variety of female labor militants about whom almost nothing was previously known.

Despite the very satisfying results of these earlier collaborations, they also raised as many new questions as they answered. In particular, our focus on the work and militancy of men and women from Italy left relatively unexplored the private and intimate realms of life clearly a problem when interpreting the lives of people who are still so often dismissed (wrongly we believe) as "amoral familists!" That focus also told us surprisingly little about how nationalism and internationalism were gendered, and it left us quite unsure about how gender shaped transformation of migratory men and women into sedentary citizens and subjects of multi-ethnic states, both in Italy or in the so-called "receiving countries" around the world.

I am writing you now because I, together with Australian anthropologist Loretta Baldassar, would like to begin a new dialogue among experts on Italy's migrations. In particular we want to understand how national identities and solidarities were created, opposed and contested in what we are calling the "diasporic private sphere."

We recognize that the notion of separate "public" and "private" spheres is problematic. Still, we think it is time to re-visit some rather time-worn assumptions about the "private" arenas of Italian life and culture¯the intimate relations of family, kinship, and sexuality; the complexly situated world of faith and Catholicism; the much-disputed concepts of honor and shame and to do so from new perspectives.

In the course of our preliminary research and discussions, we've discovered your work or learned of your research or interests in one or more of these topics. We hope you will help us as we take the first steps toward building a new international collaboration and a new publication.

What can you do?

First, please help us to create an informal newsletter (which will be circulated to all who contribute to it) by telling us more about any research you may be doing at present. Just remember, please, that our focus is on mobile Italians (in Italy and/or abroad)--on their diasporic "private spheres" and on their intimate behavior, broadly understood. To tell us about your research, please cut and past THE FORM BELOW AND SEND TO

Second, please help us expand our network by circulating this message to others you know are working on these, or related topics. If you prefer, you can provide names and email addresses to me ( and we will contact these persons directly.

Periodically over the next six months, we will circulate by email several updated versions of the information we collect.

Taking as inspiration the sociability of the migrants we study, we are trying to link scholars into the intellectual equivalent of a "chain migration," building from the "bottom up" an internationalism based on respect and intimate (if initially virtual) scholarly connection. We look forward to hearing from you,

Donna Gabaccia (with the assistance and solidarity of Loretta Baldassar, Jennifer Guglielmo and Franca Iacovetta)


Italy's "Diasporic Private Sphere":
Making Nations at Home and Abroad


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