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Anita Bressan

Start date

Dec 2013

Submission date

Nov 2014

Anita Bressan

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The 1950s Italian women migrants to Australia. A journey towards a new self


My research is a feminist, self-reflexive, ethnographic project based on oral history and participant observation aimed at contributing to the Italian feminist record.

The study focuses on the Italian women who migrated to Australia in the 1950s, whose post-WWII departure from the institutionally patriarchal and poverty-stricken state disappeared from the Italian national narrative and is only partially recorded in the Australian. Beginning with the premise that these women left their country of origin when it was on the verge of the social and cultural changes that culminated in the radical movements of the late 1960s and 1970s, it examines the emancipatory and/or liberatory potential of migration: (how) did the transformation of habitus contribute to allowing these migrant women to acquire the freedom, independence, and sense of entitlement that non-migrated Italian women had meanwhile been achieving (also) thanks to the (predominantly middle class and/or intellectual) Italian feminist movement? How were the (non-white, peasant or working-class) women migrants positioned with respect to both mainstream (white) Australian society and the cultures of their birthplaces? What opportunities did migration give to the subjects of this research to acquire rights, re-arrange gender roles, and detach themselves from patriarchal (self-)framings?

As the investigation is conducted through (the analysis of) the voices of the participants, my thesis also examines the theoretical and methodological ruses entailed in the ethnographic (im)possibility of doing justice to their narrations. Given that the unfeasibility of providing stable definitions is complicated by the epistemological projections that influence interpretation, the questions to be answered are as follows: (how) can the subjects be grouped into a dominion that they inexorably permanently escape? How does the agent frame or liberate their speech? Which factors intervene in the translation of the life of the other-ed?

Exploring the ways in which the feminist, self-reflexive, ethnographic approach creates its subjects of study, the inquiry moreover enters the debate over the insider/outsider status of the anthropologist and provides an outline of the advantages of self-reflexivity. The informants’ narrations are hence constantly juxtaposed to my queer feminist perspective.

The analysis shows how the instances that favour emancipation and liberation can act on intimate and/or communal levels and along circumstantial and/or controversial paths.

Why my research is important