“The Italian Sociological Tradition”, AIS Journal of Sociology”, 2, 2013, pp. 143-58.

Roberto Cipriani



Even if the origins of sociological thinking in Italy go back to the age of Enlightenment, it was in the nineteenth century, characterized by the intellectual vivacity of Italian positivism, that we can speak of a first form of sociological inquiry. Italian sociology contributed to the development of the very first studies of social sciences in Europe, but it lost ground and fell behind other national European sociologies. Perhaps a sufficient explanation can be that the fascist movement was in power from 1922 to 1945. But other reasons are at the origin of the impossible continuation of such a scientific approach. Some subtle links are between a quite promising starting phase of studies and the new steps which occurred by the middle of the twentieth century, after the slow down during the period between the two world wars, in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. Shall we say that there was an interruption, a hiatus which separates the first moment, far off now, and a second moment, relatively more recent? Probably the past dynamics and those acting now are much more complex than might apparently seem without a deep investigation.


1. The Far Off Beginning

The vigour and rigour of Italian sociology’s development can only be explained by going back to the past, to the time of the Enlightenment in the seventeenth century, a movement begun in 1600 by Galileo Galilei, by the Florentine Accademia del Cimento («trying again and again»),  and by the Accademia degli Investiganti in Naples. In addition a number of Italian scholars and scientists were influenced by both René Descartes and Pierre Gassendi, especially using the deductive approach (which anticipates abduction and retroduction in Peirce, founder of American pragmatism).

The most significant contribution was that of Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), an anti-Cartesian thinker who became well known for publishing Scienza Nuova (The New Science), which means history as science, as the real and concrete knowledge of typical human activities (it is impossible not to see in such a perspective the anticipation of sociological taxonomies). A fine «connoisseur» of Bacon and Grozio, and of the social, historical and legal thought of France and the Netherlands, Vico considered the fact as «what had been done». He had therefore an obvious inclination for the fact, which is the basic element of sociological investigation based on methodological guidelines. He was aiming at a deep analysis of a sensitive world, and therefore at a knowledge based on reality. The unfolding of history was a preferred object of study. Peculiar was his proposal for the specific environment where a certain event had taken place. In the end the only form of knowledge was history because it was «true», in other words real.

Meanwhile, in Italy, Newton’s experimental concept and the empirical one of Locke had many followers, despite some hindrances from the ecclesia especially for Locke’s contribution (who was put into the Index of forbidden books by Pope Clemens XII in 1733).

However, in 1737, just a few years later, Francesco Algarotti (who was active in France, Germany and Russia as well) succeeded in diffusing, and not only among intellectuals, the Newtonian approach to analysis, experiment and observation, owing to his writing Newtonianismo per le dame (Newtonianism for Ladies).

As time goes by, the social-cultural atmosphere appeared more keen on less abstract developments in the conception of social reality. Owing to the importance that the Vatican exerted in Italy from long ago, it cannot be denied that during the 18 years of his pontificate (from 1740 to 1758) the Bolognese Prospero Lambertini had a conciliatory attitude (and to a certain extent a quite liberal outlook), leading to many socio-political agreements and to special attention to science (as in the case of his help to the archeologist Winckelmann for the foundation of an Academy).

The open mindedness and faith towards science also spread thanks to the action of some universities of international importance such as Bologna (seat of the famous university, endowed with a well equipped library), Padua and Pisa, but also Naples (where the empiricist Genovesi taught).

Many Italians used to travel abroad, and they would bring back new ideas and scientific proposals. Among them we can remember Pietro Verri from the Accademia dei Trasformati in Milan, who was editor of the review Caffé. He was the one to persuade the economist and jurist Cesare Beccaria to write in 1764 the famous Dei delitti e delle pene (On Crimes and Punishments),  influenced by the ideas of Hume, Rousseau and Montesquieu (whose Esprit des Lois was discussed in Milan, Naples and Florence).

Another forerunner of Italian social science was Gian Domenico Romagnosi (1761-1835), a teacher at the University of Pavia (who taught in private to Giuseppe Ferrari and Carlo Cattaneo); he also collaborated with the Annali di Statistica (Annals of Statistics).

The  nineteenth century was characterized by the intellectual vivacity of Italian positivism, which started with Carlo Cattaneo (1801-1869), collaborator on the Annali Universali di Statistica (World Annals of Statistics) and founder of Il Politecnico (The Polytechnic), defined as the «monthly report of applied studies to culture and social prosperity». Il Politecnico was published from 1839 to 1844 and from 1859 onwards and Cattaneo also authored, in 1844, Notizie naturali e civili su la Lombardia (Natural and Civil Reports on Lombardy) and, in the period from 1859 to 1866, Psicologia delle menti associate (Psychology of Associated Minds), as well as Del pensiero come principio di pubblica sicurezza (On  the Thought as Principle of Public Security).Giuseppe Ferrari (1811-1876) – who would refer either to Vico (of whom he edited the Opera Omnia) or to Domenico Romagnosi – supported the principles of emancipation from religion (as a professor at the University of Strasbourg he was against the clergy) and of political innovation, taking ideas from the most famous examples, as explained in his Corso sugli scrittori  politici (Course on Political Writers)of 1862. In 1843 he had written, in Vico’s style, Teoria dei periodi politici (Theory of Political Periods)His last work was L’aritmetica della storia  (Arithmetic of History),based on a sort of statistical determinism.

However, the real master of Italian positivism was Roberto Ardigò (1828-1920), author of the book Sociologia (Sociology) (Ardigò 1886).  He probably had the keenest intellect, as well as the most international attention: thanks to him a crucial work in the history of social science, William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience, published in 1902, was translated into Italian in 1904. William James was one of the fathers of American pragmatism and therefore one of the major supporters of empirical sciences; his thought has also been defined as an example of absolute positivism. Ardigò, who never wanted to read Comte and read just a few writings of Herbert Spencer (who was of great influence in Italy following the publication in 1862 of First Principles), strongly supported the empirical character both of the physical world and the psychical one, from a growing point of view passing from the indistinct to distinct. He had left a wide number of publications collected in Opere (Works), consisting of 11 volumes, published between 1882 and 1918.

The first teaching of sociology in an Italian university occurred, as far as we know, in 1874 by Giuseppe Carle, Vico’s follower, at the University of Turin, where he was professor of philosophy of law (Carle 1874). Another course dates back to the academic year 1878-79 at the University of Bologna: it was about theoretical sociology and was taught by professor Pietro Siciliani, a  devoted follower of Spencer’s thought. The official recognition of sociology from the minister of the sector (Guido Baccelli) occurred in 1898 with the chair assigned to Errico De Marinis (1901) – a socialist and follower of the Darwinian evolutionist Ernst Haeckel – in the University of Naples, at the Faculty of Law. Before that, some unofficial courses had been taught by Alfonso Asturaro (1897) at Genoa, by the socialist economist (with idealistic tendencies) Achille Loria (1900) at Padua, by the law philosopher Icilio Vanni (1886) at Perugia, by the political economist Salvatore Cognetti de Martiis at Turin and others at Siena (Filippo Virgilii), Messina (Ferdinando Puglia), but also in Rome (Enrico Ferri) and Catania (Giuseppe Vadalà-Papale).

The spread of positivism in Italy (Espinas 1880) stressed the tendency to bring out the data of experimental sciences, therefore facts versus metaphysical abstractions not directly experienced by human kind. Saint-Simon’s thought and that of Comte largely influenced Italian positivism, and it is especially true more for the former than for the latter, whose «Religion of Humanity» has never had the same number of followers and intellectual response in Italy as in Brazil, Mexico or at Liverpool.

What has remained, however, is the tendency to consider reality as a fact with its own evident and immediate meaning, which allows for the creation of classifications and typologies from the empirical materials of analyzed events, without metaphysical interferences or suppositions which cannot be verified. Social-historical sciences took advantage of all that and gained a good start for such sciences which, unfortunately, did not have the same development in the following years.

As Filippo Barbano rightly noticed,

the philosophical and methodological assumptions of the first Italian sociology, besides the fact of not being “critical,” which is to say that if they did not develop a criticism of  the positive concept of science, neither were they completely adherent to Comte’s concepts (…). In such conditions the affirmation of sociology in Italy occurred in a lively and tumultuous way, but with uncertainty. Sociology wasn’t linked to any cultural or intentional structures other than its own, and most of the energy was used for meta-sociological premises and for the philosophical question of the “autonomy” of sociology. We also have to keep in mind that the interest in matters such as “autonomy” was not an accident, as there must  have been many strong necessities for our sociologists to defend themselves from a hostile cultural environment, and this probably had a strong influence on disorienting the choices that were made at the very beginning. Also the interdependence on rising socialism is not to be undervalued (1970, pp. XIII-XIV).

In fact, the attempt made by Enrico Ferri (1894) to  conflate socialism and sociology cannot be ignored. Ferri was pupil of Ardigò and teacher of penal law in Bologna, as well as in Europe and South America. Before that, Pietro Siciliani (1879) had studied the relations between sociological approaches and socialist ideas. But really

it was for those and other reasons that in Italy a refusal of sociology developed: among those reasons there is idealism at first and fascism after (besides the drawback and physical repression that fascism represented). Those were not the main reasons for such a refusal, as is often said; the cultural “dictatorship” of Benedetto Croce and idealism can partially justify the setback of sociology in Italy, but they cannot and should not become a convention, nor should they be overvalued.  (In 1925, within the University of Padua, there was a School of Political Sciences, whose teachers were, among others: M. Boldrini, F. Carnelutti, C. Gini, N. Tamassia e F. Carli, whose lessons had been published: Le Teorie Sociologiche [Sociological Theories], Padova, 1925) (Barbano, 1970, p.  XIV).

As a matter of fact the most interesting developments concerned ethnographical and anthropological research. In  these fields the Italian school has offered considerable contributions. The initiator of such studies is considered Paolo Mantegazza (1831-1910), medical doctor and anthropologist, follower of Darwinian theories and founder, in 1870, of the Italian Society of Anthropology and Ethnology (SIAE) and of the review Archivio per l’Antropologia e l’Etnologia (Archives for Anthropology and Ethnology). His work anticipates similar initiatives  in sociology, which will occur respectively forty and twenty-four years later.

Idealism was at the time approaching, and especially owing to Benedetto Croce (Losito 1995), it was to become the major obstacle to the development of social sciences, started under the enthusiasm of positivism.

2. The origin and role of the Rivista di  Sociologia (Review of Sociology) and Rivista Italiana di Sociologia (Italian Review of Sociology)

La Rivista di Sociologia (Review of Sociology) was founded in 1894 and was published until 1896 (Pusceddu, 1989). Directed by the sociologist Giuseppe Fiamingo (1893, 1895), by the lawyer Giuseppe Vadalà-Papale (1883) and the statistician Filippo Virgilii (1896), the review had more of a political-philosophical and economical tendency than a sociological one. It was characterized by continuous research of the proprium of sociology, which remained attached, following Comte, to a «philosophy of social facts». It would not show a particular interest in international sociology, unlike the later Rivista Italiana di Sociologia (Italian Review of Sociology), which was indeed much more open to Durkheim’s work, as well as that of Weber and Simmel. The Rivista di Sociologia did not seem to appreciate empirical works, and was more keen on discussing epistemological issues. Its line remained mostly based on biological and psychological positions. But there was also an interest in the historical methodology. However the theoretical approach was mainly an organicist one, founded by Giuseppe Fiamingo. Another contribution came, with a biological point of view, from Giuseppe Sergi who believed sociology to be just «an appendix of human biology» (Sergi 1895, p. 20). Of this same idea was De Marinis (who was later active in the Rivista Italiana di Sociologia). The moral philosopher Alfonso Asturaro (1896) was oriented towards historical materialism but also towards positivism; he was more  interested in considering the «serial» dimension of the phenomena. He considered biology and psychology as fundamental theoretical sciences and sociology as a derived science. The evolutionist Vincenzo Tangorra (1896) had a different point of view; he did not agree that sociology derived from psychological premises and he was against Simmel’s analysis of associations and relations, which is to say «sociability». Therefore, Tangorra did not understand the real importance of Simmel’s thoughts. Vadalà-Papale as well forced Simmel’s sociology into the structure of Spencer’s evolutionism. Even less easy to understand is the harsh criticism of Giuseppe Fiamingo towards Durkheim’s Les règles de la méthode sociologique, which he deemed«simply unsuccessful» and the work of an author «confused and close to metaphysics».

Finally «such an approach, which conferred to sociology the role of omnicomprehensive science of every social event and which was the central point, from an evolutionist perspective, on continuity-differentiation among the biological and social, remained a common element and quite homogeneous among all writings considered by the Rivista di Sociologia»(Pusceddu 1989, p. 93). The true intent was to define the scientific situation of sociology, and to give it autonomy in respect to other sciences, while remaining within the structure of an old and inescapably Spencerian line. The sociology of the Rivista di Sociologia did not have any future. Therefore, it was not by chance that it stopped publication in 1896, after only three years. Despite its short life and the inherent scientific misunderstandings, that attempt had some links to the Italian pre-sociology of the late nineteenth century. Times were ready for a change, which could bypass the «crisis of sociology».

The inheritance was taken up by the Rivista Italiana di Sociologia, just one year later, almost without any chronological interruption. This review produced, in its twenty-five year life span, an extraordinary amount of sociological writings: essays, studies, research, surveys, reviews, notes, chronicles, communications, etc. For each number an average of 350 book titles and articles were announced. 102 numbers were published with a total of 17,421 pages. Two hundred thirty two authors wrote a total of 658 articles. The total reviews were 3,106 (Garzia 1992). The promoter of the review was an expert of public administration, a teacher at the University of Rome, Guido Cavaglieri, whose death in 1917 did not stop the publication, at least until 1921.

The Italian sociologist Mino Garzia (1992), of the University of Trento, has developed a careful study of the role of the Rivista Italiana di Sociologia, trying to reconstruct the founding intents, its typically Italian approach, open consideration of non-Italian sociologists, political autonomy, and its peculiarly scientific profile. The Programma (Program) of the review, published in the first number, dated July 1897, Year I, Vol. I, signed by the Direction, says:

A journal of sociology, therefore, in order to be in some way useful, and in order to make an effective contribution to sociological science, must keep this science within its natural bounds and transmit exact knowledge about it […]. The Rivista Italiana di  Sociologia will tread its own path entirely independently of any party or school and guided solely by the ideal of the broadest possible scientific  freedom […]. Although the task that the journal has set itself is not an easy one, we are made confident of our success by the desire generally felt, we believe, among social scientists to direct their research to a higher end, by our love for sociological studies, and by the tradition of Italian public spiritedness. […].

In 1899 the first Italian congress of sociology was held in Genoa and in 1908 another publication was founded in the field of socio-artistic and literary interest with the title of Rivista di Sociologia e Arte. Scienze Sociali e Estetica (Review of Sociology and Art. Social Sciences and Aesthetics). In 1923 the short and unsuccessful experience of the Rivista di Sociologia Hallesista (Review of Hallesist Sociology) came to an end.

The Italian Society of Sociology was founded in Rome in 1910 (and  reconstituted in 1937, under the direction of Corrado Gini) and had Raffaele Garofalo as first president, Giorgio Arcoleo, Errico De Marinis, Enrico Ferri and Giuseppe Sergi as vice-presidents, and Giuseppe Fiamingo as secretary. The society organized the 8th congress of Institut International de Sociologie, which was held in Rome. We have to remember that the idealist philosopher Benedetto Croce, who would later define sociology as «ill science» (Croce 1950), was the same one who, before fascism, had fostered the development of such a discipline, writing about «pure economy» (in the November-December 1899 issue) and of «history as a science» (in the March-June 1902 issue). Croce’s work was reviewed many times in the Rivista Italiana di Sociologia, for which he had announced – but never published – other two essays: one on «social economy» and the other on  «sociology as an autonomous science». The theme of the autonomy of sociology was to overwhelmingly consume the interest of the scholars between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, though with a strong resistance by Pareto towards such themes: «we have far better things to do than to loose our time to find out whether sociology is or is not an autonomous science» (Pareto 1916, I, p. 1). On April 25th, 1893 Pareto was nominated as teacher at the university of Losanna. He stayed in Switzerland for 30 years, during which he produced many studies and publications which made him well known throughout the world and became classics of the discipline. Pareto is the only one belonging to the Italian tradition who was to reach such a high level and unanimous recognition. Unlike Fiamingo, he considered the importance and value of Durkheim’s research very carefully, even if he did not deny his heavy criticism of the French sociologist. Referring to Durkheim’s study on suicide Pareto wrote: «it is a well written and interesting book», but a few lines down he added:  

the reasoning is, unfortunately, throughout all the work, lacking of rigour. Unfortunately it is a common defect of many sociological works nowadays. Authors are not keen on discussing the sources of their data and use any kind of data during demonstrations which should be more rigorous (Pareto, 1898a, p. 78).

From there Pareto began a series of relevant and  timely critical observation on methodology. In other words, Pareto was treating Durkheim as an equal and he would consider him without particular deference when he said «let us know with what real facts he could explain other facts» (Pareto, 1898a, p. 80).

The uncomfortable feeling that Pareto expressed regarding the discussion of the autonomy of sociology was mostly directed towards the Real Academy of Moral and Political Sciences in Naples in 1905, with many occasions for speeches and discussions among those in favor of sociology and philosophy. It was therefore an extension of an earlier debate on the «social question» promoted by Pareto and Croce between 1900 and 1901 in four issues of the Giornale degli Economisti (Journal of Economists). By the end of the meetings in Naples, they all decided not to ask for chairs of sociology in the universities.

Supporters of academic sociology prepared a Memoriale (Memorandum) in order to legitimate the request for academic chairs for sociology, but they did not propose theoretical issues and they did not define the methods and contents of the discipline.  The supporters «preferred to deny their scientific engagement without defending the discipline or keep working on it as an interest other than militancy» (Burgalassi 1990, p. 132).

3. Fascism and Sociology

Pareto, author in 1916 of the Trattato di Sociologia Generale (Treatise of General Sociology), was not a good prophet when it came to politics; Earle Edward Eubank (who in 1934 visited the major proponents of European sociology) even referred to him as «father of fascism» (Scaglia 1992, p. 300). As a matter of fact, in the same year of his death Pareto wrote to Carlo Placci, three months after the fascist  «March on Rome»:

Mussolini stayed for a while in Losanna and came to my courses, but I never met him personally. He himself revealed as the kind of man that sociology was waiting for. And I could finish at this point my two volumes with the same words used by Machiavelli at the end of  «The Prince» (Giacalone-Monaco 1957, p. 105).

He was thinking of  «The new Prince», the «Redeemer», the liberator of Italy from the barbarians. Pareto’s peculiar destiny paralleled that of Weber when he suggested the 8th article to the Weimar constitution, which practically allowed the advent of Hitler into power, with the assignment of German government to an extraordinary «Prince».

It is not right, though, to believe that fascism was the only  factor that kept sociology from official affirmation in Italy. We have to consider that in full fascist government, after the brief teaching of De Marinis in Naples, which ended with the end of the Baccelli ministry (but after him other ministers opposed a clear refusal: to Loria in 1903; to Zerboglio in 1904) the first official chairs of sociology appeared with the reform of the school in 1923 promoted by Giovanni Gentile, philosopher and collaborator of Croce, as well as minister of the fascist government from 1922 to 1924. The chairs were for the Christian sociologist Filippo Carli, teacher at Padua (and then to Pisa) and collaborator with the Rivista Italiana di Sociologia; the economist Francesco Vito in Milan, successor of father Agostino Gemelli as rector of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan and founder of the Rivista internazionale di scienze sociali (International Review of Social Sciences); and in Rome the quantitative and neo-organicist Corrado Gini (founder of the review Genus, anti-paretian and successor of Worms in the direction of the Revue Internationale de Sociologie). Despite fascism in Italy, a section of the Institut International de Sociologie, founded in 1893, was maintained.

Moreover, at least two sociological streams survived after the experience of the Italian protosociology at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the  twentieth: on the one hand there was the Scuola di Statistica (School of Statistics), the important center for the education of quantitative sociologists, founded in Rome by Gini.  On the other hand, there was the less formalized Catholic stream referring to the idealistic, kantian and religious Igino Petrone (1905), to Romolo Murri (priest and politician, excommunicated in 1909 and reintegrated by the Catholic Church only in 1943), and to Giuseppe Toniolo (1905, 1907-1921); this approach had in Filippo Carli (1925) a valid  proponent. Another particularly important figure in this second stream of thought was Luigi Sturzo, a sociologist, priest, and politician who lived in exile in Great Britain for almost all the fascist period. Sturzo’s thought had a spiritualist tendency which was not particularly accepted by the non-religious sociologists and this, along with some of his political positions, left him quite marginal within Italian sociology.

Another Catholic sociologist was the lawyer Luigi Bellini (1929, 1938), an antievolutionist and inspiration to Agostino Gemelli.

Robert Michels, of German origins, became an Italian sociologist (he taught at the University of Perugia), because he lived for a long time in Rome until 1936, the year he died. He belonged to the school of elitists (together with Gaetano Mosca and Vilfredo Pareto), which is to say the «normative approach» (as he defined, in terms of thought of conservativism) and he wrote an important essay on Italian sociology (Michels, 1923-24, 1924-25, 1930).

In 1922 there was only one university course of sociology in Italy, at Padua (by Filippo Carli). Michels  believed that while the Italian government did not really prevent sociology from developing, it also did not foster any initiative for it. Actually, the premises were quite promising: Francesco Cosentini had already published a volume entitled Sociologia (Sociology) (Cosentini 1912), and had founded and directed the review La Scienza Sociale (The Social Science) from 1898 to 1910 as well as the Revue de Sociologie. In 1919 he had also founded in Turin the Istituto internazionale di sociologia e riforme politiche e sociali (International Institute of Sociology and Political and Social Reforms), which organized two world congresses in Turin in 1921 and in Vienna in 1922, in competition with the older Institut International de Sociologie, founded by Worms in Paris. Cosentini also organized in 1924 in Rome, for his institute, an international congress with Ferdinand Tönnies as chairman.

In addition Michels remembered the admirable action of Alessandro Groppali (1905), critic of evolutive positivism (Rinzivillo, 2000) and that of Sighele (1903) and Rossi (1900) both of whom took a socio-psychological approach. Vilfredo Pareto had said rightly about Pasquale Rossi (1898), when reviewing one of his books: «the book deserves to be read and to occupy a good place in the bibliography on crowds» (Pareto 1898b, p. 851). Squillace (1905) was from the South (as was Rossi), and was the author of a Dizionario di Sociologia (Dictionary of Sociology). Finally, Michels complained that Weber was not well enough known in Italy. But he also noted that Italian sociology, even if started before German sociology and of a better quality, did not have any influence over German authors. The sociology of Pareto was to be considered on an equal footing with that of Weber, and therefore deserving more attention. Furthermore, an extraordinary attempt to render sociology more popular was undertaken by Fratelli Bocca, publishers in Turin. Finally, as Michels said (1924-1925, p. 331) in his review: «About Italian sociology multis et multum can be said” which is to say “a lot can be said to many people».

The historicist and sociologist Guglielmo Ferrero enjoyed significant popularity both in francophone and anglophone countries (especially in the United States) (1893). Of less interest  were the works of Michelangelo Vaccaro (1903), a Darwinian critic, antigumplowiczian and antilombrosian, mindful of the  influence of environment in relation to crime. He was also the president of Institut International de Sociologie.

The majority of the authors quoted  above lived during fascism and some were active until the Fifties. Sociology had not completely disappeared (Lentini 1974). That is why in Turin an international congress of sociology was held in 1927 and from 1928 to 1940 the Rivista di Sociologia started publishing again.

As a matter of fact

despite the loss of the «humanistic» components of the discipline’s original activists and its questionable but diffused configurations of the nineteenth century, […] Italian sociology […} opened however […] a new  and interesting phase of life, characterized by an initially «cryptic» situation, with which it was able to keep up the ideological ostracism of a totalitarian regime intolerant towards such an antidemagogical and «corrosive» discipline, and within which the conditions for its quick  growth again could take place (Burgalassi 1990, p. 140).

4. The new start of sociological studies after the two world wars

Even if fascism did not completely interrupt the sociological tradition in Italy, the new start of sociology after the war is quite distinct from the approaches that emerged in the first decades of the twentieth century. Above all, during the regime years the discipline was lacking the empirical research on persistency and changes which characterized the Italian society, on processes of transformation in rural sites, or on industrialization and urbanization which, despite the backwardness of wide areas of Italy, had started to emerge. The necessity of a careful study of the social reality of the country had already been underlined by Antonio Gramsci (1975) in Quaderni del carcere (Jail Notebooks), written during the time he spent in prison. In particular, the reflections on the transformations of industrial work (1932-35) and on the issue of the problems of the South (Gramsci, 1930) were already suggesting areas of empirical research which would be reconsidered later on after the end of the fascist regime. An important role was played, in this phase, by two factors: on the one hand, the end of the exile for some scholars who had contacts with the social sciences abroad, especially in the United States in the years between the two world wars (Gaetano Salvemini, Renato Treves, Gino Germani); on the other hand, the direct commitment of some sociologists and anthropologists, especially from North America, who carried out a lot of research, mostly in the south of Italy.  The most  well-known of  these researches is with no doubt  that conducted by Edward C. Banfield in a small community of Basilicata (1958), where the author identifies in the so-called «amoral familism» the cultural factor responsible for conditions of backwardness. Banfield’s research was not an isolated case. In that period a large set of research studies on communities was carried out by Unesco (Rossi-Doria, Giugni, Ardigò), by reconstruction programs (Musatti 1955), and by the Parliamentary Commission of inquiry on poverty (Ambrigo 1954).

It can be said that in this phase of the discipline, when Italian sociologists are learning directly from the fieldwork, by praxis of an empiric experience and outside academic institutions, the main themes are as follows: 1. the analysis of rural reality and backwardness of the south; 2. the study of industrial relations in the period of the rise of great industrial plants.

Among the centers of research which operated on such themes in that period, special consideration goes to the Center for Specialization and Economic-Agrarian research in Portici (which was publishing the review Nord e Sud [North and South] and where sociologists such as Gilberto Marselli and historians like Vittorio De Capraris and Francesco Compagna used to work), the sociological sections of Svimez (directed by Giorgio Ceriani-Sebregondi and Giuseppe De Rita), and the Center of Sociological Research of the firm Olivetti (with Franco Ferrarotti, Alessandro Pizzorno and Luciano Gallino).

During those years, sociological teaching was almost completely absent among the university disciplines. The only chair of sociology was that of Camillo Pellizzi at the Faculty of Political Science «Cesare Alfieri» in Florence. Pellizzi was a scholar whom the government had sent to London before the second world war as cultural attaché, and who therefore had direct experience with the British anthropological tradition. In fact, at the first ISA Congress in Zürich  (1950), four Italian representatives were invited (Corrado Gini, Francesco Vito, Vittorio Castellano and Alfredo Niceforo). These scholars studied economics and statistics, and today we would hardly consider them sociologists.

5. Institutionalization of the discipline

The institutional establishment of sociology started in the second half of the fifties (Barbano 1998) thanks to researchers of already well-established disciplines. Through the international circulation of ideas, such researchers felt the urgency to foster sociological studies in Italy as well. They were jurists (Renato Treves, Adolfo Beria D’Argentine), philosophers (Nicola Abbagnano, Felice Battaglia, Franco Lombardi, Pietro Rossi), economists (Francesco Vito, Giovanni De Maria), psychologists (father Agostino Gemelli, Cesare Musatti), and statisticians (Livio Livi, Vittorio Castellano, Francesco Brambilla).

The process of institutionalization developed along different dimensions. The first led to the publication of new professional sociology journals: Quaderni di Sociologia (Sociology Notebooks)founded by Franco Ferrarotti and Nicola Abbagnano, first published in 1951. Abbagnano was a philosopher who was very critical towards the idealist tradition of Benedetto Croce and in favor of the modern wave of social sciences. Nearly ten years later, in 1960, Camillo Pellizzi founded the Rassegna Italiana di Sociologia (Italian Review of Sociology), with Franco Ferrarotti, Franco Leonardi and Giovanni Sartori as members of Editorial BoardIn 1963 Studi di  Sociologia (Sociological Studies) was published from the Catholic University of Milan; the review was directed by Francesco Vito and Francesco Alberoni. In 1967 Franco Ferrarotti founded La Critica Sociologica (Sociological Critique), and in the same year Sociologia (Sociology) was published in Rome under the direction of Felice Battaglia at the Institute Luigi Sturzo. Other reviews either of general or specialized sociology would be founded in the following decades. At the moment, there are at least twenty sociology reviews in the Italian language.

The second dimension regards associative structures. In 1958 the first National Congress of Social Sciences was held in Milan and the Italian Association of Social Sciences was founded (AISS) with the aim of promoting not only sociology’s development, but also that of anthropology and social psychology. In the AISS  one finds almost all Italian sociologists of the first post-war generation (Achille Ardigò, Filippo Barbano, Giorgio Braga, Silvano Burgalassi, Franco Ferrarotti, Angelo Pagani, Luigi Pennati, Camillo Pellizzi, Alessandro Pizzorno). In the same years other  institutions  promoting sociology became well-established, such as: the Luigi Sturzo Institute in Rome; the National Center of Prevention and Social Defence in Milan; the group working for the review and the publishing house Il Mulino in Bologna. The first outstanding congresses were then organized by AISS, the National Center of Prevention and Social Defence and Il Mulino. The themes discussed in such congresses reveal the interests of sociologists at the time: the relationship between philosophy and sociology, the integration of social sciences, the relationship between sociologists and power, the connections between cities and the country and migratory processes, schools, technological progress, regional differences.  Evidence of the international openness of the «new» Italian sociology was the 4th World Congress of ISA, held in 1959 at Stresa and organized by AISS and the National Center of Prevention and Social Defence. The development of the discipline, on the one hand, and the cultural and political situation by the end of the ’60s, on the other hand, changed the position of AISS so that it was no more considered representative of sociology in Italy, especially by the second generation of sociologists.

After 1969 AISS entered a lethargic period, and it would take more than ten years, until the Congress for the Foundation of the Italian Association of Sociologists (AIS) at Viareggio in 1982, to reconstitute an association of sociologists. AIS, which is divided into thirteen thematic sections, organizes a national congress every three years and has a membership of at least 1000 sociologists, mostly of them academic.

The third and crucial dimension of the process of the institutionalization of sociology involves the recognition of the discipline within academic institutions. Such recognition not only was a late one but, at least in the beginning, received strong opposition from more traditional academic sectors. In 1960 only 19 sociological teachings courses were activated in Italian universities, of which only one was taught by a full professor. Within six years, though, this number would triple. However, the most widespread presence of sociology within the academy occurred by the end of the 1960s and the first half of the ’70s. In 1972 and 1973 the number of sociology teaching subjects had risen to 233, among which 12 were held by full professors. Not only was the first «Faculty» of Sociology founded (in the new and «peripheral» town of Trento), but also the teaching of sociology multiplied, especially at the Faculties of Political Sciences and Education,  and less so in the Faculty of Economics and Law. The reasons for such a development are to be found in the extraordinary spread of higher education in the ’70s and in the responses of academic institutions to student movements in the ‘60s and ‘70s. As occurred in other countries, on the one hand the push for a mass university was experienced more in relatively young ”faculties” where sociology was starting to be widespread than in traditional ones. On the other hand sociology seemed to be particularly apt for  answering the need of students for cultural innovation. This growth kept on in the following three decades and currently there are more than 100 bachelor courses. Besides higher education, the profession of a sociologist is starting to be affirmed outside universities, in research institutes, local government administrations, and in health and social services, confirming in Italy, as well as in other countries, the close relationship between sociology’s development and social policies.


Ambrigo, G. (1954), «Povertà e storia nella  comunità di Grassano», in Atti della  Commissione parlamentare d’inchiesta sulla miseria e sui mezzi per combatterla, Roma, Camera dei Deputati, XLIII-290.

Ardigò, A. (1958), Cerveteri tra vecchio e nuovo, Bologna, Centro Studi Sociali e Amministrativi.

Ardigò, R. (1886), «Sociologia», in Opere filosofiche, vol. IV. Padova: Draghi.

Asturaro, A. (1896), «I fenomeni sociali e la loro serie»,  Rivista di Sociologia, III, pp. I-II.

Asturaro, A. (1897), La  sociologia. I suoi metodi e le sue scoperte, Genova, Libreria Editrice  Ligure.

Bagnasco, A. (1977), Le tre Italie, Bologna, Il Mulino.

Balbo, L., Chiaretti, G., Massironi, G. (1975), L’inferma scienza, Bologna, Il Mulino.

Banfield, E. C. (1958),  The Moral Basis of a Backward Society,  Glencoe, Free  Press.

Barbano, F. (1970), «La sociologia in Italia ieri e oggi; con  riflessioni sulla scienza sociale e il socialismo», in M. Viterbi  (a cura di), Bibliografia della sociologia italiana (1945-1970), Torino, Giappichelli, pp. VII-LXIII.

Barbano, F. (1998), La sociologia in Italia. Storia, temi e problemi. 1945-60, Roma, Carocci.  

Bellini, L. (1929), Note di sociologia, Milano, Vita e Pensiero.

Bellini, L. (1938), Schema di sociologia,  Milano, Vita e Pensiero.

Burgalassi, M. M. (1990), Il destino  della sociologia. Un modello interpretativo della prima sociologia italiana, Pisa, Giardini.

Carle, G. (1874), Saggi di filosofia  sociale, Torino, Bocca.

Carli, F. (1925), Introduzione alla sociologia generale, Bologna, Zanichelli.

Cosentini, F. (1912), Sociologia. Genesi ed evoluzione dei fenomeni sociali, Torino, U.T.E.T.

Croce, B. (1950) «L’utopia della forma sociale perfetta», Il Mondo, 28.1.1950.

De Marinis, E. (1901), Sistema di  sociologia. Naturale concezione del mondo sociale, Torino, Un. Tip. Torinese.

Espinas, A. (1880), La philosophie  expérimentale en Italie, Paris, Librairie Germer Baillière et  C.ie.

Ferrero, G. (1893), I simboli in rapporto alla storia e filosofia del diritto, alla psicologia e alla sociologia, Torino, Bocca.

Ferri, E. (1894), Socialismo e scienza positiva (Darwin,  Spencer, Marx), Roma, Casa Editrice Italiana.

Fiamingo, G. (1893), «Le leggi sociologiche», Rassegna di Scienze sociali e politiche, n. XI, pp. 290-305.

Fiamingo, G. (1895), «Sociology  in Italy. The Sociological Tendency of Today», American Journal of Sociology, I November, pp. 335-352.

Garzia, M. (1992), «For the History of  Sociological Analysis. A Scientific Laboratory: The Rivista Italiana di Sociologia of Guido Cavaglieri (1897-1921)», Rivista Italiana di  Sociologia. Introduction and Indexes, reprint edited with an introduction by Garzia, M., Bad Feilnbach 2, Schmidt  Periodicals, pp. V-CXLII.

Giacalone-Monaco, T. (1957) V’P’ dal carteggio con Carlo  Placci, con 40 lettere inedite, Padova, Cedam.

Giugni, G. (1961), «Ricerca su  una comunità rurale interessata alla riforma agraria: Gravina (Bari)», Bollettino delle ricerche sociali, I, n. 3-4, pp. 249-252.

Gramsci, Antonio (1930) «Alcuni temi della questione meridionale», Lo Stato Operaio, IV, n. 1, pp. 9-26.

Gramsci, A. (1975), Quaderni del carcere, 4 voll., Torino, Einaudi.

Groppali, A. (1905), Elementi di  sociologia, Genova, Libr. Mod.

James, W. (1902), The Varieties of Religious Experience. A Study in Human Nature, New York, Longmans.

Lentini, O. (1974), L’analisi sociale durante il fascismo, Napoli, Liguori.

Lentini, O. (1988), Breve storia dell’analisi sociale (1600-1980), Napoli, Liguori.

Loria, A. (1900), La sociologia. Il suo compito. Le sue scuole. I suoi recenti progressi, Verona, Drucker.

Losito, M. (a cura di) (1995), Croce e la sociologia, Napoli, Morano.  

Michels,  R. (1923-24), «Elemente zur Sociologie in Italien», Kölner  Vierteljahrshefte für Soziologie, n. 3, pp. 219-249.

Michels, R. (1924-25)  «Nachtrag», Kölner Vierteljahrshefte für Soziologie, n. 4, p. 331.

Michels,  R. (1930), «The Status of Sociology in Italy», Journal of Social Forces II, n. 1, pp. 20-39.

Musatti, R. (1955), «Storia di  un’inchiesta: Matera città contadina», Comunità, n.33, pp. 28-35.

Pareto, V. (1898a), Recensione di «É. Durkheim Le suicide»Zeitschrift für Sozialwissenschaft I, pp. 78-80.

Pareto, V. (1898b), Recensione di «P. Rossi L’animo della  folla»Zeitschrift für Sozialwissenschaft, I, p. 851.

Pareto, V. (1916), Trattato di sociologia generale, Firenze, Barbera, 2  voll.

Petrone, I. (1905), «Della sociologia come scienza autonoma», Atti della Reale Accademia di Scienze Morali e Politiche di Napoli, Napoli, Stabilimento Tipografico della Reale Università, pp. 23-50.

Pusceddu, A. (1989), La  sociologia positivistica in Italia (1880-1920), Roma: Bulzoni.

Rinzivillo, G. (2000), Genesi e prassi nella sociologia in Italia, Roma, SEAM.

Rossi, P. (1898), L’animo della folla, Cosenza, Riccio.

Rossi, P. (1900), Psicologia collettiva. Studi e ricerche, Milano, Battistelli.

Rossi-Doria, M. (1961), Studio di una comunità rurale interessata alla riforma agraria: Scandale (Catanzaro), “Bollettino delle ricerche sociali,” 234-242.

Scaglia, A. (1992), La  sociologia europea del primo Novecento. Il conflitto fra sociologia e dittatura, con la traduzione di Avventure sociologiche di Dirk Käsler. Milano,     Angeli.

Sergi, G. (1895), «Il dominio della  sociologia», Rivista di Sociologia, II, n. I, pp. 20-21.

Siciliani, P. (1879), Socialismo, darwinismo e sociologia contemporanea, Bologna, Zanichelli.

Sighele, S. (1903), L’intelligenza della folla, Torino, Bocca.

Squillace, F. (1905), Dizionario di sociologia, Palermo, Sandron.

Tangorra, V. (1896), «Il metodo psicologico nella sociologia», Rivista di sociologia III, n. I-II, pp. 77-83.

Toniolo, G. (1905), L’odierno problema sociologico: studio storico critico, Firenze, Libreria Editrice Fiorentina.

Toniolo, G. (1907-1921), Trattato di economia sociale, Firenze, Libreria Editrice Fiorentina, 3  voll.

Vaccaro, M. (1903), Saggi critici di sociologia e di criminologia, Torino, Bocca.

Vadalà-Papale, G. (1883),  Darwinismo naturale e darwinismo sociale. Schizzi di scienza sociale, Torino, Loescher.

Vanni, I. (1886), Saggi critici sulla teoria sociologica della popolazione. Vol. I: Teoria biologica e teoria sociologica della popolazione. Vol. II: Questioni Malthusiane in Germania ed il momento etico della teoria della popolazione, Città di Castello, Lapi.

Virgilii, F. (1896), La statistica e le scienze sociali, Torino, Bocca.