Blaming the southern victim: Cancer and the Italian ‘Southern Question’ in Terra dei fuochi and Taranto

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In this article, the author addresses two critical environmental situations in southern Italy: the Terra dei fuochi (Land of fires) near Naples, characterized by a history of illegal disposal of toxic waste, and Taranto, where the Ilva steel plants have a record of exceeding the legal emission limits for several pollutants. Despite a recognition of these situations, public political discourse in Italy still tends to link the higher than average incidence of cancer in the two areas to lifestyles rather than to environmental factors. The author locates this phenomenon within the larger context of the ‘Southern Question’ – the historical stigmatization of southern Italy as backwards and uncivilized. She argues that this same stereotype not only stigmatizes a geographical region, but also facilitates the stigmatization of the people who become ill in Taranto and Terra dei fuochi as the result of lifestyle rather than environmental factors. Furthermore, this same stereotype also stigmatizes social movements against the pollution as irrational and uncivilized. Previous studies have linked situations of environmental injustice to the Global South or to specific areas with racialized stereotypes; here it is argued that the whole southern half of Italy can be considered a new geographic scale in which phenomena of environmental injustice, denial of environmental causes of disease, and geographic stigmas, intersect.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-19
JournalAnthropology Today
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


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