Redefining Urban Citizenship: Southern Italian Migrants and Housing Activism in 1970s Italy and West Germany

Sarah Jacobson, Leibniz Institute for European History

This paper examines the efforts of southern Italian migrants to obtain adequate and affordable housing during Italy's and West Germany's economic miracle. By highlighting their precarious living spaces, southern Italian migrants showed the post-war welfare state to be much more selective for marginalized groups of residents than the successful safety net popularly portrayed. Through rent strikes and housing occupations, migrants pushed back on their treatment as second-class citizens, both within and beyond the political boundaries of their country. They also confronted and co-opted widespread norms about high standards of living perpetuated by what historian Victoria de Grazia has labeled America's "Irresistible Empire." This paper focuses specifically on the languages and registers migrants used in claiming decent housing as a social right associated with the individual, rather than bounded by a particular nation-state. By so doing, they reshaped definitions of citizenship and the administration of social services once city officials responded positively to their housing claims. As such, this paper builds on recent conceptualizations of citizenship that point to the city as a crucial site of contest, illustrating how citizenship is built from below just as much as it is dictated from above. In addition, by illuminating the similarities (and particularities) between southern Italian migrant experiences in Turin and Frankfurt am Main - including discriminatory rental practices, protest methods, and city responses - I demonstrate how migrant housing activism in the 1970s prefigures what Etienne Balibar has labeled the "transnationalization of the political" in which the territorial power of the nation-state has eroded in the face of globalization processes.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 21. Framed by larger trends: Residential migration patterns