Paul M. Sniderman, Pierangelo Peri, Rui J. P. de Figueiredo Jr.., Thomas L. Piazza. The Outsider: Politics and Prejudice in Italy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000. x + 218 pp. $23.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-691-09497-7; $47.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-691-04839-0.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Cole (Department of Anthropology, Dowling College)
Published on H-Italy (March, 2004)
The presence of recent immigrants, children of foreign origins, and settled minority populations is a fact of great moment in contemporary Europe. The great variety of experiences and prospects of these peoples is seldom appreciated. In the press, popular opinion, and of course the political right, these diverse populations are lumped together as outsiders, and as such are cause for concern if not objects of scorn. Drawing on research conducted in Italy, Paul Sniderman and colleagues develop a theory of prejudice and group conflict. Given the wide appeal of anti-immigrant sentiment in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, they predict that the right stands to gain at the expense of the left. This slim volume contains five chapters. The introduction states the book's origins, themes, and methods. Their two "starting points" include the assumption that race serves as the most potent marker of social stigma and the claim that a consideration of the role of personality will enhance the understanding of prejudice. A "deep strain of intolerance" (p. 6) and active anti-foreigner political activity make Italy an appropriate research site for the study of prejudice in action.
In the following chapter, the authors review the literature on prejudice. Prejudice should not be defined by the contents of stereotypes, which change, but by the process of stereotyping itself; for the authors, the prejudiced mind generates consistently negative evaluations of those deemed different. To plumb the prejudice of Italian minds, the investigators developed and administered a survey to a random sample of Italians in 1994. Assuming the salience of race in prejudice, the authors expected to find West or black Africans judged below other immigrant populations. In fact, in their consideration of eight personal attributes of resident foreigners, Italians generally ranked blacks above both North Africans and Eastern Europeans. Overshadowing these distinctions, however, was the distrust many Italians expressed towards all immigrants, regardless of origins or appearance. Over half of the respondents describe immigrants as "complainers," for example, and about one third think them "violent" (pp. 28-29). Similarly, Italians tend to blame immigrants for exacerbating problems like unemployment, crime, and taxation. The results show that prejudice is "blind" in the sense that it involves a categorical rejection of the Other.
The investigators develop an integrated theory of prejudice and group conflict in chapter 3. Writing on the subject explains prejudice as the result of conflict over scarce resources and/or the tendency of people to form groups through particular kinds of interactions. While acknowledging the power of such perspectives, the authors argue for the continued salience of the role of personality in the operations of the prejudiced mind. The study of personality, long associated with the much-criticized "authoritarian personality" of Adorno, affords a valid and reliable tool of investigation. Of the many components of personality, the authors focus on educational attainment because it is strongly linked to occupation, social standing, and worldview. Thus rehabilitated, the conception of personality is included in a kind of unified theory of prejudice. Conflict, social categorization, and personality perspectives are not so much mutually exclusive as complementary; indeed they all result in categorization, the process that underwrites prejudice. Sniderman et al. describe this model as "Two Flavors" because it includes competition and deep-seated suspicion as sources of prejudice. The inclusive model also captures the mutually reinforcing character of these sources, as in the case of lower-class Italians whose occupation puts them into close contact with immigrants as neighbors or even co-workers and whose minimal education and distrust of the system may incline them to view newcomers with suspicion. Chapter 4 explores the political context and significance of anti-immigrant sentiment in Italy in the early 1990s. The collapse of Communism in the East, the ascent of the northern "leagues," the adoption by referenda of more proportional representation, and far-reaching corruption scandals transformed Italian politics, unraveling the established parties and giving rise to new ones. In the national elections of 1994, media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi became Prime Minister of a center-right coalition government made up of his Forza Italia party, the Northern League, and the National Alliance. Although short-lived, this configuration heralded a new age in which the corruption and inefficiency of the postwar period would no longer be tolerated. On the other hand, the competing "poles" or blocs vying for the prize in the election recapitulated the right-left blocs of earlier times. While immigration issues did not play a major role in the 1994 contest, prejudice gave a boost to the victorious right in two ways. People identifying with the views of the right of course voted their beliefs; but, unexpectedly, many identifying themselves as supporters of the left also cast votes for Berlusconi and company. Sniderman and colleagues explain this discrepancy between self-identification and actual voting behavior with reference to the appeal of "authority" values (endorsed by the right) to the less educated and numerous members of the left's constituency. For the right, immigrants are suspect outsiders challenging tradition, order, and discipline. Given the sway of authority values among the populace, then, parties on the right can expect to garner support from an explicitly anti-immigrant stance. At this point the authors introduce the "Right Shock" model of prejudice. Recognizing the powerful influence of politics, economics, and immigration trends on voters' hopes and fears, they describe a more comprehensive model in which trends and events external to the individual interact with suspicion and competition (themselves conditioned by such factors as personality, age, occupational status, and education) to produce a spiral of causation giving rise to categorization and thus prejudice. In the final chapter, the authors restate their argument, methods, and findings and apply the insights gained to classic formulations of prejudice, including James Madison's notion of pluralistic intolerance and William Sumner's definition of ethnocentrism. They conclude that intolerant minds rarely limit their suspicions to the foreign foe. The radical right's assertion that President Dwight Eisenhower was a Russian dupe exemplifies the enveloping rejection and paranoia of the truly prejudiced mind. In Italy, this fear of outsiders within is best illustrated by the Northern League, which long sought regional autonomy from what it considered the inefficiency and corruption of the central state run by and for southern Italians.
The Outsider offers an analytically rigorous and logically progressive exploration of the nature of prejudice with specific application to the prevalence of anti-immigrant attitudes in Italy in the early 1990s. Through a host of statistical manipulations, strategies, and tests (described in the text itself as well as six appendices), Sniderman and colleagues ensure the validity of the national survey on which their conclusions rest. The authors give a candid and edifying view of the discovery process of their research. And their prose is clear and, at times, witty, as in their description of the "Two Flavors" model: "This shape, if one has a sufficiently vivid imagination, resembles a martini glass lying on its side" (p. 66). The book's demonstration of the blind or categorical nature of prejudice and the wide appeal of political rhetoric that can easily be turned on immigrants and other outsiders are important lessons for students of immigration issues in contemporary Europe.
For researchers favoring qualitative methods, the book may well be of limited value. For those (including the reviewer) who seek to explore the contradictions and contours of Europeans' views of and interactions with immigrants through in-depth interviews and participant-observation, Sniderman et al.'s inclusion of factors external to the individual in the operations of prejudice signal the starting point rather than the conclusion of research. Of course there is scientific value in actually demonstrating the truth of commonly held assumptions, but the model of prejudice proposed seems simplistic rather than parsimonious. They have almost nothing to say about the manner in which immigrants make a living, their residential concentration or dispersal, or religious affiliation and expression--to name but a few of the factors that can strongly condition perceptions of newcomers. Indeed, there is an odd contrast in the book between stark formulae of prejudice and the occasional and subtle description of Italian politicians and politics. And despite the authors' frequent assertion that the Italian case offers insight into European trends, there is virtually no discussion of trends, parties, politicians, or rhetoric outside of Italy. The concluding chapter would have offered the ideal place for such considerations, but unfortunately the authors resolutely kept their distance from current events.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl.
Jeffrey Cole. Review of Sniderman, Paul M.; Peri, Pierangelo; Jr.., Rui J. P. de Figueiredo; Piazza, Thomas L., The Outsider: Politics and Prejudice in Italy.
H-Italy, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 2004 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at email@example.com.