Sense of place and festival in Northern Italy: Perspectives on place, time and community

Howell, Francesca Ciancimino (2011). Sense of place and festival in Northern Italy: Perspectives on place, time and community. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis focuses on the concept of sense of place in relation to five calendrical, place-based festivals in two regions of northern Italy: Lombardy and Piedmont. Drawing from interdisciplinary critical thought, including archaeology, environmental philosophy, ritual studies and performance studies, among others, the thesis examines how place is honoured, experienced and embodied. The thesis reviews critical thought on the interanimation of place and society, demonstrating how the agency of place can emerge in ritualised community celebrations, such as feasting and festival. The fundamental argument put forth is that in heterotopic and polychronic space such as that offered by ritual and festival, a bridge can be created showing profound communication between humanity and place.

The symbolic actions and traditions observed and studied here manifest local or regional identity, with specific gastronomic and agricultural customs that offer uncommon performances of place-based traditions in annual community gatherings. Politics, history, identity and foodways are examined through the lens of engagement with place as well as with community. Theories on the agency of place, on temporality and materiality figure centrally in the argument, which illustrates how bonds and communication between place and humanity exhibit a sometimes surprisingly profound relational epistemology in late modem Western society.

The analysis springs from both heuristic and hermeneutic philosophies of methodology, which maintain a historical, philosophical and ecological perspective. Based upon an extensive examination of the critical literature and the thesis' ethnographic surveys, the Italian festival fieldwork is analysed through the use of an indexed 'Scale of Engagement'.

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