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Beyond the Municipality: toward a new Reading of local Politics (12th-18th centuries)

Progetti nazionali
Programma di ricerca
PRIN 2017
Ente finanziatore
Settore ERC
SH6_4 - Prehistory, palaeoanthropology, palaeodemography, protohistory, bioarchaeology
SH6_5 - Palaeography and codicology
18/03/2020 - 17/03/2023
Luigi Provero

Aree / Gruppi di ricerca

Partecipanti al progetto

Descrizione del progetto

The project is divided into two research units, in the Universities of Turin (coordinated by L. Provero) and of Eastern Piedmont (coordinated by A. Torre and V. Tigrino)

Aim of this project is to discuss the practices of local space, the ways the many shapes of society (individuals, families, clans, groups, etc.) acted on the local ground in the countryside in the period between the high Middle Ages and the Modern Age (1100-1800 c.). We speak about ‘local space’ and not about ‘villages’ to stress the fluid characterization of social and settlement patterns in which local practices take their places. Local space is indeed an elusive object of research, but this elusiveness is not something to circumvent, but to enhance, focusing our attention on the multiplicity of actors, practices and frameworks.

Practices of local spaces are expressed in many social forms, that cannot be identified with the municipality, an administrative framework which don’t include all functions and instances expressed by society. We would deconstruct the historical idea of municipality, showing that:

  • local political action is organized around many different places;
  • the idea of administrative municipality is a political and juridical construct, which is the result of a long and complicated elaboration process, which took place between the twelfth and eighteenth century;
  • social frameworks and instances other than municipality are today still alive and operational in local politics, and they cannot be considered as residual and folkloric remains of past social actions.

Aim of the project is therefore to dilute, or better segment, local space in a series of actors, to read their action in a perspective clearly distinct from the concepts of community, municipality or state. It is probably the first time that an historiographical research takes up such a target, which stake is the comprehension of the functioning of local spaces in Europe, and their real areas of autonomy. The problem is a politically crucial one: we could never comprehend the organizational logic of local political practices – such as the emergence of local political parties - if we do not deconstruct this question, and rearticulate it starting from the sources produced by the actors who really act on the locality.


Three research paths can frame the processes of thinking and building of local spaces:

  1. Segmentation of local space
  2. Forming a European Law of localities
  3. Recomposition of local practices


  1. Segmentation of local space.

In our first research path – practices and actors on local stage –  we need to study real practices and how the actors work in local spaces. It’s crucial to discuss the role of a series of alternative (and sometimes unexpected) actors who build up ‘jurisdictions’ through their actions and activities. Even the ‘political’ reading of such actors (and actions) is the result of an institutionalist (and from our point of view out of date) outlook; we would discuss these activities from inside, to comprehend the generative process of jurisdictions.


  1. Toward a Europen Law of Localities.

Those analyses will build the necessary framework to piece together local practices, and to discuss the (formal and informal) interactions between communities, local powers, and supra local powers. These powers usually want to standardise local heterogeneities through the use of municipal model, perceived as fit for their governmental needs.  We must underline the different ways in which local societies (and more specifically their different segments) react to these processes of standardisation: the municipality is indeed a political arena where specific groups, locally identifiable, work out their strategies and pursue their agendas, in cooperation or competition with other local actors.

To reach this goal, we must firstly study the way in which a ‘European Law of Localities’ was generated. This was a long-term process: local practices were channelled and focused in specific institutions, such as the territorial communities and, later, the administrative municipalities. How and why did the municipality gain its unique and exclusive role of expression of local realities? What is the legal and political tradition which lays under these interpretations?


  1. Recomposing local practices.

Local actors are not idle, but have built over time a laboratory of local practices, wrongly read in the past through the lens of ‘folkloric residue’. There is however an entire continent made of ‘local knowledges’, that we have to map, reconstructing its dynamics, cultures, and territorial management. Of course, historiography has showed a partial interest to these issues, focusing in particular on rituals and commons. What’s missed until today is an holistic analysis of all the practices focused on a peculiar locality, or, from another perspective, a thick description of a locality through the whole of the practices which build it. And it is only through a research of this kind that we could comprehend how a locality becomes and structures itself.


Ultimo aggiornamento: 18/04/2023 16:35
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