restricted access From the Mayor’s Viewpoint: Political Speech and the “Spatialization of the State” in Northern Italy

This article explores the ways the Italian state was represented as a spatial entity when the ascendancy of political forces with a neoliberal agenda challenged its role as the dominant framework for organizing the economy. Drawing upon ethnographic information collected in the Alps of Trentino, I discuss the role played by a mayor in “translating” between the world of officialdom and that of the local community, and particularly in affecting local perceptions of the state at a time of significant political transformations. The article draws parallels between the discursive practices of this mayor and those of media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, who was Italy’s Prime Minister for eight years. It highlights the contradictions that inform these politicians’ constructions of the Italian state. When they want to present themselves as the leaders close to the people, they represent the state as an entity protecting its citizens. In contrast, when they get into legal troubles or when state laws work against their economic interests as businessmen, they avail themselves of the language of business, and cast the state as a distant and bureaucratic entity that needs to be modernized and rationalized. The spatial dimension of the state figures prominently in such constructions. Yet, while state officials often use spatial discourse to “encompass” people and link them to a particular territory, the mayor casts the state as a space “outside” of the people he represents. In suggesting that representing the state as a spatial entity may also serve to cast it as the “Other,” especially at the local level, this article pursues the argument that examining the spatiality of different forms of government also entails understanding the localized social processes through which state “spatialization” takes shape.