The Dialectics of Modernity: Modernism, Modernization, and the Arts Under European Dictatorship.

Project Details


The research project The Dialectics of Modernity: Modernism, Modernization, and the Arts under European Dictatorships is funded by the AHRC and runs from September 2016 to September 2018. The project investigates the arts system during the Italian Fascist dictatorship. Specifically, it researches how these debates shaped the Fascist discourse on cultural modernity and social modernization during the European age of totalitarianisms. To this end, the Dialectics of Modernity project analyses the interconnections between aesthetics and politics as they emerge from debates on literary, cultural, and artistic journals and from a selection of artefacts, spanning novels, buildings, paintings, sculptures, films, theatrical plays, photographs, newsreels, journal covers, and advertising posters. By gathering a vast amount of data and primary sources and adopting an interdisciplinary perspective, the project addresses questions on how arts and culture intersect and shape each other’s identity and social profile during times of political repression.

Research Questions

This project’s contribution to knowledge consists in the analysis of the unique synergy between artistic and political discourses about modernist aesthetics and totalitarian politics. Hence, by intersecting the aesthetic, political and social dimensions of the arts, the project will pose the following main questions:

1) How is the relationship between modernist aesthetics and social modernization articulated under a repressive regime?

2) How and to what extent did modernist aesthetics, debated and shaped in literary journals, interact with the official Fascist political project in order to foster social modernization and cultural modernity?


The outputs of this project include two monographs, a database of journals and artefacts, an innovative website, an online exhibition, and some conversations across the UK and Italy. In view of our belief in the constant permeability between artistic practices and their transferable social value, this project's main impact strategy consists in demonstrating the importance of the arts both in shaping the public sphere and in promoting the role of the individual in intellectual debates features in literary journals which have championed democratic participation. Through academic publications, a database/website, an exhibition, and a series of interconnected public events, this project will engage academics and broader audiences.

Short titleR:HAI Billiani - AHRC Leader
Effective start/end date1/09/1631/08/18


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