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I giochi dell'incertezza

Paolo Macry

Napoli, L'Ancora del Mediterraneo, pp. 190, euro 22,00 2002

Those familiar with Macry's work will immediately recognise the topics discussed here: the calculations, expectations and mythologies that drew every sector of Neapolitan society to play the numbers of the lottery game; the complex world of survival, recommendation and patronage that dominated the worlds of the elites and the petty bourgeoisie; the circuits of material and cultural exchanges that bridged the separate world of the wealthy and the poor, the upper and the lower cities; the carefully regulated family and marriage strategies employed by the wealthy to protect patrimonies against the prevailing conditions of uncertainty. What made the collective social stratagems of the Neapolitans distinctive was that they engaged all social classes (albeit in different ways and with different aims) and not just the classically insecure, the poor. Lottery numbers and the logic of the cognome were different strategies by which different social groups sought to negotiate their daily struggles for survival in prevailing conditions of insecurity. Insecurity is what gave the different responses, or giochi, a common matrix and made the city's long term development distinctive. Macry's emphasis on the external nature of the forces that constrained the development of those forms of civil society that political scientists identify as the premise for collective action and trust reflects the best insights of recent historiography. Yet typically his carefully documented reconstruction of the rationality of these responses also exposes the uncertainties and ambiguities embedded in received paradigms of ?civil society?. These essays reveal Macry's remarkable skills as a social historian: an eye for the unexplored theme that reveals complex layers of meaning and connection that finally led to the logic that guided behaviour that at first sight might appear merely arcane or irrational; a deftness in subverting the easy generalisations of anthropological and sociological models, without succumbing to the tyranny of empirical data and without evading the need to draw conclusions. Although the author claims to offer no ?rivoluzione copernicana rispetto a tanta, spesso ottima, storiografia su Napoli? (p. 10), this slim volume provides coherent and persuasive answers to the issues that for over a decade have dominated debate on the city's past, present and future. It firmly rebutts the image of a city hopelessly locked in an immobile past, but also shows that the history offers little comfort for those who live in the hope of regaining some earlier rinascimento. With respect to the more fanciful recent flights of historical revisionism that have led some to question the existence of a ?Questione Meridionale?, Macry's position is also unequivocal. Although observers frequently erred in their insistence on Neapolitan exceptionality, the vast documentary and archival base that is unobtrusively marshalled to underpin these elegant essays lends compelling weight to Paolo Macry's assertion that the city's social and cultural norms have nonetheless to be considered ?atipici nel quadro italiano e occidentale'.


John A Davis