Welfare, the Social, and the Individual in Interwar Italy

Essay Excerpt

[In] Italy, the interwar period was marked not only by the emergence (however slow) of welfare institutions, but also by the extension of practices of insurance and prevention into a wide variety of new domains. And in contrast to the welfare practices developed by earlier, liberal regimes - practices that were centered on the moral responsibility and civil liability of the individual - practices of insurance and prevention articulated a "social" understanding of the problems of poverty and unemployment: a particular way of thinking about the relations between the social whole and its parts.

In this article, I would therefore like to suggest an alternative approach to the historical study of welfare institutions: an anthropological study of welfare practices in positive terms, which might be able to illuminate their specific rationality.' By "rationality" I do not mean that these interventions were "rational" as opposed to "irrational," or that they were part of a general trend of rationalization, but that they obeyed and developed a particular logic, a particular way of conceiving the relations between the individual and the social, the juridical and the moral, the public and the private, duties and rights, risk and responsibility, prevention and repression. A rationality is therefore a cultural and historical construction (396).

Horn, D. G. "Welfare, the Social, and the Individual in Interwar Italy." Cultural Anthropology 3.4(1988): 395–407.

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