Vital Subjects

BookOpen AccessVital Subjects

Vital Subjects

Race and Biopolitics in Italy 1860-1920

Transnational Italian Cultures, 1


April 22nd, 2016


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An Open Access edition of this book is available on the Liverpool University Press website and the OAPEN library.
Since World War II, Italy has struggled to recast both its colonial past and its alliance with Nazi Germany. For many years, pervading much intellectual and public discourse was the contention that, prior to the great influx of racialized migrants in the mid-1980s, and with the exception of the Fascist period, there simply was no race (racialized others, racist intolerance, etc.) in Italy. Vital Subjects examines cultural production—literature, sociology and public health discourse, and early film—from the years between Unification and the end of the First World War (ca. 1860 and 1920) in order to explore how race and colonialism were integral to modern Italian national culture, rather than a marginal afterthought or a Fascist aberration. Drawing from theorizations of biopolitics—a term coined by political theorists from Michel Foucault to Giorgio Agamben, Roberto Esposito, and numerous others to address how the life and productivity of the population emerges as a distinctively modern political question—the book repositions discourses of race and colonialism with regard to post-Unification national culture. Vital Subjects reads cultural texts in a biopolitical key, arguing that the tenor of racial discourse was overwhelmingly positive, focusing on making Italians as vital subjects--robust, vigorous, well-nourished, and (re)productive.
Honorable Mention in the Modern Language Association's Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Italian Studies 2016.


'Vital Subjects is an important and innovative contribution to our understanding of a period, after unification and before Fascism, when scholarly discourses have often fallen into generalizations about nation-building and forgotten to nuance or complicate charged notions, including racial discourse.'
Professor Elena M. Past, Wayne State University

'In Vital Subjects: Race and Biopolitics in Italy, Professor Welch does what many of us have wanted to do now for some time. And that is to critique incisively and broadly 20th century Italian culture from a biopolitical perspective. Reading at times with and against the grain of how we usually understand Italy from the Risorigmento to today, Professor Welch relentlessly traces just how deeply biology and the political came together over the last two centuries to alter bodies, subjects, and life itself in Italy. A primer on how to bring so called "Italian Theory" to bear on some of the unanswered questions about race that characterize Italy today, Vital Subjects will shake up how we understand contemporary and not so past Italy. Definitely not to be missed.'
Professor Timothy Campbell, Cornell University

Author Information

Rhiannon Noel Welch is Assistant Professor of Italian and Cinema Studies at Rutgers University

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Introduction: Vital Subjects15
1. Colonial (Re)productivity50
2. Immunitary Technologies93
3. Mutilated Limbs143
4. Biopolitics and Colonial Drive203