The ‘Southern Question’ … Again

Authored by: Iain Chambers

The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Italy

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  May  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415604178
eBook ISBN: 9781315709970
Adobe ISBN: 9781317487555


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Viewed from London, Los Angeles, New York, Berlin, Paris and Milan, the south of the world is invariably considered in terms of lacks and absences. It is not yet modern; it has still to catch up. It remains, as Dipesh Chakrabarty would put it, an inadequate place (Chakrabarty, 2000). The south is spatially and temporally located elsewhere, at the edge of the map. Of course, as we know from Edward Said, and through him from Antonio Gramsci, this is a geography of power. It is about being placed and systematised in a manner not of your own choosing. It is about being rendered subordinate and subaltern to other forces, and being exploited, not only economically, but also politically and culturally, in order for that subalternity to be reproduced and reinforced. The south of the world is framed, not only conceptually enclosed, but also falsely accused of failing to respect a modernity being triumphantly pursued elsewhere. To return to the south as a critical, political and historical problem is, ultimately, to return to the north and its hegemonic management of the planet. The ills, failures and breakdowns that are located down there, across the border, are precisely the products of a northern will to make the world over in its image and interests. This is the political economy of location. Here the south, of Italy, of Europe, of the Mediterranean, of the world, is rendered both marginal but paradoxically central to the reproduction of that economy. If the whole world were equally modern, then modernity as we know it would collapse. The cancellation of the inequalities, property and differences that drive the planetary machinery of capitalist accumulation would render what we today call modernity superfluous. The subversion of linearity and the lateral redistribution of ‘progress’ and development would undo historical time as it is currently understood. The ‘south’ is a political question and also a historical one; in both cases, it is about the power and the exploitation of those held in its definitions.

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