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I sindaci. Storia e sociologia dell'amministrazione locale in Italia dall'Unità a oggi

Roberto Segatori

Roma, Donzelli, pp. 163, euro 17,00 2003

Is this a book about the history of mayors? The first part of the title certainly suggests a focus on the mayors, but the contents of the book does more justice to its subtitle. It is essentially a sociological analysis of local government in Italy since Unification, with particular attention to the transformation of the civil identity of the mayor. The book consists of two parts, roughly equal in the number of pages but covering periods of markedly different length. In the first part the author discusses the period 1860-1970, characterized by a succession of hugely different political regimes but ? when it comes to the role of the mayors ? mainly oriented towards central control. The second part deals with the last three decades, and highlights tendencies ? particularly in the 1990s ? towards a larger autonomy of local government and its deeper integration into civil society. It is the author's assumption that the political and normative context has deeply influenced the civil identity of local administrators, especially the mayors. He defines civil identity as the image a person creates of himself as a member of an institutionalized and law-based community. The question as to how a mayor acquires, internalizes, and develops his civil identity is carefully avoided. The authors has clearly chosen to refrain from perspectives from within and personal experiences (very few mayors are mentioned by name). Particularly in the first part the mayor's identity is thought to emanate automatically from the legal and economic framework, in which local government had to operate. Communes had little room to manoeuvre. Hence, it is concluded that mayors first and foremost regarded themselves as representatives of ?the institutions and the central State?, rather than as advocates of the interests of the communities they governed. Difficult to deny, but not providing any new insight into the administrative reality of local government in Italy. ?Il Sessantotto? is seen as a decisive turning point in the ?self-awareness? of civil society, and therefore also in the identity of local administrators. Ideologically, politically, and psychologically mayors developed into a different species, determined to carve out a specific role for themselves and their communities. The new legal framework of the early 1990s (establishing among other things the direct election of mayors) reinforced this trend. The crisis and rebirth of the ?First Republic? resulted in a new system of ?rules and resources?, which enabled a new generation of mayors to rise, mostly representatives of new political parties. However, in contrast to earlier periods mayors and parties are depending on each other. The authors concludes with three theoretical considerations, which arise from his analysis: (1) no political system, in particular on a local level, can survive without taking civil society seriously; (2) in the long run elected officials are destined to fail without the support of political parties, associations, and interest groups; (3) political professionals tend to be more powerful and lasting in office than outsiders. Prospective mayors, you have been warned


Nico Randeraad