This post builds on the research article “Existential Damages: The Injury of Precarity Goes to Court,” which was published in the February 2013 issue of the Society’s peer-reviewed journal, Cultural Anthropology.
In this original article, anthropologist Noelle Molé studies the phenomenon of "mobbing" in Italy. Mobbing is a type of harassment in the workplace that includes anything from bullying to the blatant use of employees as scapegoats, as well as social exclusion and isolation. The use of mobbing by employers has become increasingly problematic in Italy, so much so that workers who bring charges against their employers are being awarded "existential damages," an entirely new category of damages in the Italian court system. Molé demonstrates that mobbing includes not only traditional forms of labor harassment, but also the absence of labor itself. In a society where considerable emphasis is placed on stable employment as a marker of success and self worth, a lack of labor can be more dehumanizing than other forms of emotional and physical harassment. As Molé concludes, mobbing represents the "strange void" of a society where individuals are taught to identify work as the culmination of success and self and are then stripped of the potential for actualization. Indeed, the emergence of the unprecedented judicial category of "existential damages" is reminiscent and indicative, according to Molé, the excesses of late capitalism and a new definition of the limits of "normal" labor.
Cultural Anthropology has published a number of related articles on labor, including Peter Benson's "El Campo: Faciality and Structural Violence in Farm Labor Camps" (2008), Yan Hairong's "Neoliberal Governmentality and Neohumanism: Organizing Suzhi/Value Flow through Labor Recruitment Networks" (2003) and Paul Eiss's and David Pedersen's Introduction: Value of Values (2002). Additionally, Cultural Anthropology has also published a number of articles that focus on issues within Italy, including Elizabeth Krause's "''Empty Cradles and the Quiet Revolution: Demographic Discourse and Cultural Struggles of Gender, Race, and Class in Italy" (2001), Mia Fuller's "Building Power: Italy's Colonial Architecture and Urbanism, 1923–1940" (1988), David Horn's "Welfare, the Social, and the Individual in Interwar Italy" (1988), and Andrea Muehlebach's "On Affective Labor in Post-Fordist Italy" (2011).
Questions for Classroom Discussion
1. What is an example of "mobbing"? Are there any famous cases of "mobbing" in the United States (or your state or country)?
2. What types of safeguards are in place to prevent and treat mobbing in Italy? Are these present in North America (or your state or country) as well?
3. Do you agree with idleness, isolation, and/or boredom being included under the definition of mobbing?
4. The author argues that mobbing and the feeling of being victimized results from the "exacerbation of fear and aggression about losing stable work," which is highly valued and prioritized in Italy. Is this mentality, that stable work is necessary to psychophysical well-being, prosperity, and success, shared by other cultures?
5. How does Molé relate mobbing to neoliberalism. Do you agree with Molé's conclusions?
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Edwards, Phil. "The Berlusconi Anomaly: Populism and Patrimony in Italy’s Long Transition." South European Society and Politics. 10.2 (2005):225–243.
Hacking, Ian. "Making Up People." In The Science Studies Reader. Ed. Mario Biogioli. Pp. 161-171. New York: Routledge. 1999.
Jones, Erik. "Wheelers Dealers: Silvio Berlusconi in Comparative Perspective." Journal of Modern Italian Studies. 14.1 (2009):38–45.
Leymann, Harold. "Mobbing and Psychological T error at Workplaces." Violence and Victims. 5.2 (1990):119– 126.
Weston, Kath. "Political Ecologies of the Precarious." Anthropological Quarterly Special Edition: Post-Fordist Affect. 85.2 (2012):429–455.