The Story-Takers: Public Pedagogy, Transitional Justice, and Italy's Non-Violent Protest against the Mafia
The Story-Takers charts new territory in public pedagogy through an exploration of the multiple forms of communal protests against the mafia in Sicily. Writing at the rich juncture of cultural, feminist, and psychoanalytic theories, Paula M. Salvio draws on visual and textual representations including shrines to those murdered by the mafia, photographs, and literary and cinematic narratives, to explore how trauma and mourning inspire solidarity and a quest for justice among educators, activists, artists, and journalists living and working in Italy.
Salvio reveals how the anti-mafia movement is being brought out from behind the curtains, with educators leading the charge. She critically analyses six cases of communal acts of anti-mafia solidarity and argues that transitional justice requires radical approaches to pedagogy that are best informed by journalists, educators, and activists working to remember, not only victims of trauma, but those who resist trauma and violence.
- Series: Toronto Italian Studies
- World Rights
- Page Count: 200 pages
- Dimensions: 6.1in x 0.5in x 9.0in
"The Story-Takers is a remarkably important piece of work that will significantly impact the fields of transitional justice and memory -studies, helping to underscore the important work of public pedagogy and symbolic repair in traumatized societies. As such, it requires the sophistication, eloquent, and nuanced writing style, and international reputation that this author brings to the subject."
Mario Di Paolantonio, Faculty of Education, York University
"The Story-Takers represents a ground-breaking contribution to mafia studies. Paula M. Salvio combines astute analyses of unconventional texts with a lively and engaging prose that will undoubtedly appeal to scholars and students interested in the fields of mafia studies, criminal justice studies, and new media. Her knowledge and incorporation of works engaging with public pedagogy and transitional justice is superb."
Dana Renga, Department of French and Italian, The Ohio State University
Author InformationPaula M. Salvio is a professor in the Department of Education at the University of New Hampshire.
Table of contents
Introduction: Story-Taking, Public Pedagogy and the Challenges of Transitional Justice
Chapter 1:‘To Tarry With Grief’: Spontaneous Shrines, Public Pedagogy and the Work of Mourning
Chapter 2: ‘Eccentric Subjects’: Female Martyrs and the Antimafia Public Imaginary
Chapter 3: ‘Children of the Massacre’: Public Pedagogy and Italy’s Non-Violent Protest Against Mafia Extortion
Chapter 4: On the Road to a New Corleone: Digital Screen Cultures and Citizen Writers
Chapter 5: Reconstructing memory through the archives: public pedagogy, citizenship and Letizia Battaglia’s photographic record of maﬁa violence
Chapter 6: ‘The Duty to Report’: Political Judgment, Public Pedagogy and the Photographic Archive of Franco Zecchin
Read An Excerpt
Introduction: Story-Taking, Public Pedagogy, and the Challenges of Transitional Justice
No philosophy, no analysis, no aphorism, be it ever so profound, can compare in intensity and richness of meaning with a properly narrated story.
– Hannah Arendt, Men in Dark Times
In fall 2011, with support from the Scholars at Risk Network and the New York City Police Department, Italian journalist Roberto Saviano taught a graduate seminar on the mafia at New York University under an assumed name. His students were sworn to secrecy by the university, and no Twitter or Facebook postings were permitted. Why the clandestineness? Saviano’s non-fiction book Gomorrah (2006), which has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and been translated into 54 languages, and in 2008 was made into an award-winning film, delivered an intimate account of the Neapolitan mafia, the Camorra. Given the extensive reach of organized crime into toxic waste disposal, drug and human trafficking, extortion, and counterfeit goods, Saviano’s riveting investigations resonated globally and brought him some unwelcome recognition.
In 2006, soon after Gomorrah had sold 10 thousand copies, Saviano was forced into hiding, becoming a kind of Italian Salman Rushdie. In an interview with E. Nina Rothe in 2012, Saviano recalled what he describes as the phone call that changed his life. He was 26 years old, riding a train from Pordenone to Naples. An Italian police officer called him to say "there had been a series of disclosures by repented criminals, as well as intercepted phone calls that ... made it clear I was to be eliminated." Designated by the mafia as an "inconvenient citizen" (and accused by then prime minister Silvio Berlusconi of having defamed Italy with his book), Saviano continues to live under police protection. His team of armed escorts usher him to speaking engagements, seminar rooms, and apartments through alleyways, hotel kitchens, and vacant parking lots. "This," he reports, "is my life sentence."
What kind of danger could a 26-year-old journalist possibly pose to the Camorra – a group of over 100 crime clans, also known as the "system," that has killed more people than any other criminal organization in Europe and has extended its interests and tentacles well beyond its regional and national borders? Why does Saviano elicit so much rage, not only among Naples’ mafia (the Camorra and its allies have filed lawsuits against Saviano) but also among the youth of Casal di Principe, the hometown Saviano shares with several Camorra clans? When asked these questions, Saviano is clear: "They’re not afraid of me, they’re afraid of my readers."
Infuriated at Saviano’s depiction of criminal activity, the youth of Casal di Principe have flooded YouTube with videos indicting Saviano, calling him "a sewer, an assassin, a junkie, a liar who has destroyed our town." Saviano believes the critical, at times furious, reaction to Gomorrah has everything to do with what I describe in this book as story-taking, that is, using narrative and visual representations to portray events we may be inclined to turn away from or to disavow. I take the term story-taking from social historian Carolyn Steedman and feminist philosopher Adriana Cavarero. The story-taker is a necessary collaborator in the act of telling, attuned to the challenges that trauma poses to language and to narrative. The story-taker listens and shapes a narrative by assuming that there is a story to be told that might too easily be forgotten or remain hidden. The story-taker takes the story not as appropriation but as part of an ethical deal so that the outcome – an entity, a story – might compel listeners to ethical, non-violent action.
Saviano describes his style of story-taking as a mash-up of "non-fiction, police reports, judicial documents, and personal experiences written like a novel, but with real facts." Admired by many antimafia investigators, Saviano is praised for creating a new crime genre that has widened his audience to include ordinary people. "Saviano broke open a new front," observes Antonio Laudati, a top Justice Ministry official. "He informed the man on the street. He turned our prosecution files into literature." In fact, he opened the world’s eyes to the global reach of organized crime and challenged the stereotype of Sicily as the singular home of mafia activity and, in the words of Italian political thinker Leopoldo Franchetti, "a threat to the political and moral integrity of the nation."
Cultural theorists describe Saviano’s writing as an UNO – an unidentified narrative object – that combines novelistic devices, news reportage, trial transcriptions, social theory, and personal commentary to expose the Camorra’s involvement in billion-dollar global rackets. This style, and not simply the revelation of naked facts, has expanded his audience to include both specialists and ordinary people. Saviano believes that simply presenting information is not enough to provoke readers to take ethical action. Why? Because today, he notes, in part because of social networking systems, "everything is said, everything comes and goes, it’s very difficult for anything to remain secret anymore; but the real challenge lies in passing along this information to the public; making it become a subject that people want to talk about, discuss, repeat and want to understand better."
Saviano underscores the pedagogical imperative and narrative challenges facing educators living and teaching in a time that is on the verge of massive social and political change. How do we tell stories about the struggle for ethical economies, the health risks that accompany acute poverty, and the abuse of resources and environmental devastation so that the public and our students will want to better understand and address the local and global challenges facing a participatory democracy? How do educators, journalists, and activists tell stories in ways that present difficult knowledge that we might ordinarily turn away from or disavow? As Saviano points out, to simply dispense information is not enough. The intergenerational call throughout the world for racial and gender justice, access to education and health care, economic opportunity, and dignity in response to repressive political conditions is evidence of a global trend in social movements that is best described as a process of transitional justice. I argue that the process of transitional justice calls for radical approaches to narrative and to teaching that are best informed by journalists, educators, and activists working in societies in transition.
The case of Saviano is one example of the mafia’s current threat to freedom of the press and the dangers inherent in taking individual action against the mafia. As of January 2016, Saviano is one of 22,722 investigative journalists who have suffered threats and abuse because of their reportage on the mafia and one of 20 journalists living under police protection. Reporters Without Borders has documented the increasingly dangerous conditions facing journalists throughout Italy today, including intimidation, arson attacks on homes and cars, and the mafia’s abuse of libel action and claims for damages in civil courts. Despite attempts to alter the law that makes libel a crime for investigative journalists exposing mafia crime, Italian journalists continue to be sentenced to prison for libel offences against members of criminal organizations. These acts of intimidation not only undermine the work of journalists, bloggers, and activists and place them in danger but also censor information and weaken the public’s access to antimafia entries in the news media.
The case of Saviano also speaks to the dangers facing journalists who work in isolation. When Saviano wrote Gomorrah, he wrote outside the protection of organizations such as Reporters Without Borders and the Italian Federation of Journalists. And while Gomorrah has reached millions of readers (and Saviano has nearly 1.5 million Twitter followers), he continues to be exiled from colleagues and sentenced to a solitary, fugitive existence, all while the mafia tightens its grip on the Italian economy and poses, as stated earlier, serious threats to media freedom. Citing the power of solidarity among journalists, Roberto Natale, president of the Italian Federation of Journalists, argues that public radio and television should report more frequently on mafia news and that an inclusive solidarity, "in association with more visibility and public attention for media freedom provides the best protection for threatened journalists." This includes showing solidarity with threatened colleagues and being committed to the ideal that no journalist should have to act alone against mafia criminality. The concept of inclusive solidarity implied in Natale’s call refers to a quality of association that holds a group of people together because of shared values, goals, or interests. Members are willing to act on one another’s behalf or on behalf of the group when necessary. In story-taking and storytelling practices among communities in transition, solidarity among activists, citizen journalists, and educators is instituted to reject tyranny and oppression and to ameliorate the conditions that cause suffering, whether one directly suffers or not.
In contrast to Saviano’s isolating himself, the storytellers portrayed throughout this book act in solidarity with others. Directing their attention to the legacy of human rights abuses committed by Italy’s criminal associations, storytellers participating with antimafia activist groups, such as Addiopizzo and Corleone Dialogos, use social media and social entrepreneurial practices, photojournalism, and collective spontaneous expressions of grief and mourning to directly address the challenges to collective action, and they work to build and sustain social bonds of solidarity. They seek to recover collective memories of non-violent dissent against a mafia that would prefer an absolute erasure of this history. In what follows, I take Saviano’s commitment to listen and to tell difficult stories as a point of departure for exploring the narrative forms structuring the non-violent art of public dissent against another mafia in Italy: Sicily’s Cosa Nostra. I argue that a productive ground for theorizing the narratives that give expression to transitional justice among communities traumatized by violence can be found in the public pedagogy of antimafia activists currently working together in Sicily.
Transitional Justice and Education
The field of transitional justice traces its roots to the Nuremberg trials after World War II. Although the Nuremberg trials have been criticized on many levels for being flawed, they provided a foundation for codifying international human rights law and set a precedent for holding accountable those responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. The International Center for Transitional Justice describes transitional justice as "a set of judicial and non-judicial measures that have been implemented by different countries in order to redress the legacies of massive human rights abuses. These measures include criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations programs, and various kinds of institutional reforms."
Human rights activist Pablo de Greiff observes that "the number of transitional societies increases if one extends the domain of application of ‘transitional justice’ from its original context – namely, societies emerging from authoritarianism – to societies emerging from conflict." He explains that societies emerging from conflict are often faced with acute poverty, poor governance, fractured infrastructures, and serious inequalities. Moreover, post-conflict countries typically face massive human rights abuses, as well as serious health care issues, the loss of educational resources, and the high costs of implementing justice initiatives.
On a conceptual level, transitional justice emphasizes inclusive and non-adversarial frameworks that seek to keep a violent past from being repeated. The emphasis is placed on dialogue between victims and their perpetrators rather than solely allocating blame. Given that transitional justice is foremost about challenging denial and forming a basis for learning from the past, it has, at its heart, a pedagogical impulse. The pedagogical dimension of transitional justice is grounded in a set of ethical questions: What memories are worthy of attention? What legacies are restored and sustained after social breakdown? How should past violence be judged?
Political scientist Bronwyn Leebaw points out several complicated issues that emerge within transitional justice institutions. She argues that the use of legalistic and restorative frameworks too often foster new forms of forgetting and mythmaking by relying on criminal justice models that depoliticize the terms of investigation and make disingenuous claims to impartiality. "Depoliticization has been a strategy," explains Leebaw, "for promoting reconciliation and a common sense of justice" in an effort to alleviate the suffering of victims. What inadvertently follows, she says, is a masking of the specific political and social values that frame the investigation and its judgments. Drawing on critics of the human rights movement, Leebaw’s analysis raises questions about the ways in which depoliticization works to foreclose debate, not only about the terms of global justice but about the ways in which international justice norms are gendered. Depoliticization also works to present the values and traditions associated with Western liberalism as universal and to remove problems fromtheir historical and political context. Also abandoned within the legalistic and restorative frameworks are stories of dissent. Too often, transitional justice limits official remembrance of past suffering to victims or passive bystanders and fails to recognize the role of those who took action, who engaged in dissent, and who resisted state-sanctioned violence.
The act of depoliticization – within both legalistic and restorative frameworks – neutralizes the political landscape in ways that undermine the pedagogical commitments inherent in transitional justice frameworks. One cannot learn well from the past or challenge denial by effacing political dynamics. The story-takers depicted throughout this book compose narratives that capture the complexities of suffering and agency. They use writing, photography, and imaginative acts of protest to tell stories of resistance and solidarity. These actions offer lessons in the complexities of working towards justice, particularly given that the mafia continues to thrive in Italy.
During a series of interviews in July 2013 with antimafia activists and educators in Palermo, I asked if they believed that Italy was indeed a society in transition as they work towards recovering from the economic, emotional, and environmental devastation created by the mafia. Vito Lo Monaco, former director of the Italian Communist Party and current president of the Pio La Torre Center (Centro Pio La Torre), reported that "the Republic continues to be in crisis and the lives of people in Italy continue to be impacted by organized crime, but Italy is not isolated in this struggle. Organized crime is an international enterprise, rooted in exploitation." In the context of the antimafia movement in Italy, transitional justice refers to projects taken up – legislative, economic, educational, aesthetic, and cultural – to redress victims, recognize the rights of victims, promote civic trust, and strengthen the rule of law. Given the mafia’s infiltration into the state, eradicating the mafia from Italy requires similar transformations to those that occurred in countries such as South Africa and Argentina. The intention of this book, however, is not to compare the human rights abuses in Italy and other countries in transition but to place in relief the human rights abuses in Italy that might easily be overlooked if one fails to recognize the impact that large-scale corruption has on human rights. As Chris Cuneen has argued in his discussions of reparation, state crime is not restricted to genocide, mass murder, or torture. State crime can include petty corruption and large-scale corruption of political elites. In partnerships with the state and manufacturers in Italy and beyond the Italian borders, the mafia has executed and continues to execute massive human rights abuses and environmental violations. These collaborations have produced, to offer just one example, illegal waste dumping sites in Italy near Naples and the surrounding region of Campania that have resulted in clusters of nearby residents with liver, kidney,pancreatic, and other cancers. This is just one example of the extent to which the law has played a constitutive role in crimes against humanity. The law, in partnership with the mafia, too often legitimates unchecked environmental devastation and unchecked extortion, and facilitates the takeover of land for exploitation, as was made evident in the building of the Falcone-Borsellino Airport in Cinisi, Sicily. Add to this the fact that the mafia has not only established itself as an international organization but has also established "clean" methods for penetrating legal and illegal enterprises.
Lo Monaco maintains that making tangible reparation for mafia-related crimes cannot happen in the courtroom alone. Reparations must happen on the legislative, educative, social, and cultural levels as well. He offers Italy’s Rognoni-La Torre Law as one example of a legislative process created to address the fiscal and emotional losses caused by Italy’s neglect of the violence imposed on ordinary citizens by organized crime. Recognized by Italy in 1980 as the antimafia law, this legislation made mafia conspiracy a crime and allowed the courts to seize the assets taken by the mafia and return them to public use for the public good. At the same time, Lo Monaco emphasizes the importance of organizations that work with victims of mafia violence and create partnerships with educational institutions to design curricula that focus on what activists and educators describe as an ethical economy and legalità. The term legalità is used to distinguish between illegal actions sanctioned by the state and morally engaged civic action inspired by ideals of justice, freedom, and dignity. Part of this work includes processes of reclaiming half-spoken histories of dissent against mafia crime. In this sense Italian antimafia educators and activists make a significant contribution to transitional justice institutions and debates by telling and taking stories about the commitment to protest against mafia crimes, rather than focusing solely on victims of mafia violence. The theme of resistance, which is almost entirely neglected in discussions about transitional justice, offers important lessons about the experience of resistance and non-violent dissent, and fulfils a moral obligation to recognize those who suffered as the result of protest or principled action.
Implicit in acts of reparation made in the name of transitional justice is the intention to create new democratic governments that both separate from the past and sustain social peace. Although formal institutional structures and acts of legislation are crucial to cultivating transitional justice, transitional law always includes, as implied by Lo Monaco and underscored by legal scholar Ruti Teitel, "a cultural logic ... transitional law is, above all, symbolic – a secular ritual of political passage." Michael Rothberg argues that as a secular ritual, transitional justice possesses a strong narrative dimension that includes fiction/non-fiction, as we see with Saviano’s work, courtroom testimony, truthcommission reports, educational curricula, and cinematic, aesthetic, and musical scores. "Regardless of the medium," writes Rothberg, "such narratives give form to political transformation by helping shape the transitional era’s time consciousness, both its space of experience and its horizon of expectations."
What are the distinguishing features of transitional narratives and what implications do these features have for public pedagogical projects that are committed to educating citizens and residents to take part in a participatory democracy? Teitel identifies a set of key features:
- Transitional narratives are not meta-narratives but mini-narratives that are nested in prior national stories.
- Transitional narratives do not speak of new beginnings or origins but build on "pre-existing political legacies" by recategorizing central events from a nation’s past. They exist in relation to past narratives of trauma and violation.
- They recategorize or recast central events from a nation’s past in the context of new political dispensation that might, for example, translate "anti-terrorist measures" into "crimes against humanity."
- They emplot a prior national history of injustice into a future narrative of hope and redemption.
Rothberg raises concerns about Teitel’s fourth narrative feature because, he argues, narratives that follow a redemptive path tend to slip into the very form of disavowal Leebaw discusses in her analysis of depoliticization. Narratives that move from tragedy to comic resolution – stories of affliction that end happily, with gained insights into history – too often become master plots that inspire a "forgetful will to reconciliation" by "letting go of the past" in the name of hope for the future. What is refuted, notes Rothberg, is the hold the past has on the present and "the ongoing inextricability of individuals from collective, social contexts." In other words, narratives vulnerable to disavowal promote versions of democratic progress, in part, by denying continuities between the past and the present and by failing to recognize the global and local ethical obligations we have.
Our ethical obligations are not contingent, I argue, on a shared language or a common life grounded in familiar landscapes or recognizable faces. The activists and educators introduced in this book solicit ethical encounters from local and global constituencies, and in so doing each project compels us to negotiate a set of ethical questions that resonate with those outlined by Judith Butler in her study of our moral obligation to respond to state violence and war: Is what is happening so far from me that I have no responsibility for it? Is what ishappening so close to me that I cannot bear to take responsibility for it? If I am not responsible for this suffering, should I still take responsibility for it? And what if I respond ethically and put my own life in danger?
I approach the question of education’s ethical obligations to others with caution. I do so for several reasons. Given the strains of self-sacrifice and martyrdom in antimafia discourses, I am concerned with any ethic that invokes the call to preserve the life of another person if that ethic does not also call for self-preservation. The pedagogical ethic of remembrance this book pursues is one that persists in marshalling the life drive, to persist, following Butler, "in one’s own being ... even if, as a super-egoic state, ethics threaten to become a pure culture of the death drive." Arendt’s concept of natality guides my discussions of a pedagogical ethic that values the political act of founding or making a new beginning without sliding into narratives of disavowal, naive hope, or denial. For Arendt, natality marks the moment when one is born into the political sphere and comes to understand how acting together can create the truly unexpected. The public pedagogy of, for example, anti-extortion organizations, such as Addiopizzo, and citizen journalists writing from Corleone present cases of social renewal that open spaces of possibility in relation to a traumatic past that informs rather than determines the future. Within what Arendt would call the "gap between past and future," antimafia activists, students, and teachers orient themselves towards a future that is neither in denial of nor fated by the past nor silenced by violence.
Transitional justice marks a particularly complicated moment in a nation’s development. Communities of and in transition do not necessarily occupy a post-traumatic state; consequently, composing narratives that make the work of mourning possible is especially challenging. Within the context of antimafia protest is the persistent infiltration of mafia crime and its attendant suffering. In her analysis of the mafia and Italian cinema, Dana Renga argues that "Italy does not inhabit a post-traumatic state during which time traumatic injury is understood and articulated as cultural trauma." The mafia continues to thrive and to adapt to new market and social conditions; consequently, the period of latency so necessary for a trauma to be spoken about and worked through is not possible. Moreover, as Renga argues, the nature and anguish of victims, while apparently clear-cut, is not so, particularly when considering the pain of perpetrators and thousands, notes Renga, "who hold a liminal status within the organization, including many women and children. These individuals are bound to their clan through the code of honour, family loyalty, and frequently, fear. Yet, as they have never committed any illegal act, the line between victim and victimizer is nebulous ... essentially, the suffering of those who fit this category is denied." This unrecognized suffering can be described as an experienceof what Jill Stauffer terms "ethical loneliness." Stauffer locates the causes of ethical loneliness in political and social institutions that fail to listen well to victims, perpetrators, and resistors who make claims for justice and reparation. Like Renga, Stauffer recognizes the porousness that exists between victims and perpetrators, particularly in cases of protracted conflict. In what ways are possibilities for mourning compromised when persons experience the anguish of being abandoned by communities and state institutions? To what extent can the work of mourning be taken up in a society that continues to experience traumatic injury? And how are competing interests and contradictory memories negotiated within communities in transition, particularly as these interests play out along socio-economic gendered lines?
This book explores the claim that societies must exist in a post-traumatic state in order to mourn. The case studies are designed to consider the conditions that make collective mourning possible in the midst of trauma and how competing interests can undermine a community’s capacity to make sense of loss, particularly when groups occupy very different personal, political, and cultural positions. In her study of the debates in New York about establishing a memorial site at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks, E. Ann Kaplan makes clear how difficult it is for communities to establish consensus about how to work through trauma on several levels – personal, political, intellectual, emotional – so that they can marshall the life drive Arendt so highly values, turn to their city, and continue life as citizens of the world. Kaplan uses Ulrich Baer’s 2002 edited collection 110 Stories: New York Writes after September 11 to illustrate the need for narrative in the wake of disaster and the role that artists, poets, novelists, short-story writers, playwrights, and photographers can play in posing, in Baer’s words, "uncomfortable questions and unflinching reflection." Baer’s approach to storytelling is akin to Arendt’s belief in the power of narrative to restore memories that have been abandoned by history. Baer turns not to triumphant narratives drenched in sentimentality and consolation but rather to narratives that register complex meanings and call out for deliberation, reinterpretations, and revisionary practices that can establish communities of mourning and generate social and cultural transformation. Artists such as Baer and the antimafia activists and educators featured in this book’s case studies are members of what cultural sociologist Jeffrey C. Alexander, following Max Weber, described in his sociology of religions as "carrier groups." Members of carrier groups work as collective agents to represent loss and make claims for justice. They have, explains Alexander, "both ideal and material interests, they are situated in particular places in the social structure, and they have particular discursive talents for articulating their claims – for what might be called ‘meaning making’ – in the public sphere." Working across generations, gender,sexual identities, and socio-economic interests, carrier groups can represent institutions, private and national interests, or political affiliations. Operating within the context of antimafia activism are complex struggles to mourn within the interstices of persistent traumatic injuries and competing interests among groups who carry ambivalent and conflicting commitments and ideals about civility and justice.
Subjects and Courses