Identity and politics in Italy and Argentina

Claudia Mariotti, University of Roma Tre

Alberto Marradi, Emeritus, University of Florence


This research stems from a project designed by Alberto Marradi and has been developed by his Italian and Argentinean students and former students — who form a sort of school, known as Marradi’s school — under his supervision. This community is formed by academicians — professors at different levels; researchers, Ph.D.’s., and Ph.D. students — who share his criticism of the inferiority complex openly shown by many a social scientist vis a vis physics and natural sciences sharing positivistic and neo-positivistic orientations (Marradi 2015; 2017).The consequence of the above complex has been the spread of the idea that a social scientist is bound to do nothing else than verifying preexisting hypotheses, by paying no attention to the fact that the properties interesting the social scientist are hardly measurable, and the objects of these sciences hardly — if ever — allow for bona fide experiments and — above all — they thoroughly exclude the presence of laws, i. e. of controllable propositions concerning men, cultures, and societies all over the planet, from the most remote past to the most distant future, and make ridiculously meaningless the search for them.More than two centuries ago, the protopositivist Saint Simon’s advocated for “the passage from the idea according to which the various phenomena are governed by particular laws through the idea according to which everything will be governed by a single law which — could one doubt it? — will be the law of gravity” (1813, XL: 161).

In reading some “modern” texts in the philosophy of science, and above all some research reports in social sciences, the impression is that not enough steps have been moved beyond the nomothetic excitement of early positivists. This comparative research is widely different from other social research due to three main reasons:

  1. It didn’t rely on public or private funds. This entails complete freedom from a patron’s interests and desires, and the absence of bureaucratic deadlines which regularly go with public funds. The absence of a patron allowed us to investigate issues close to the interviewees Lebenswelt, inducing them to explore their inclina-tions, identifications and motivations. The interviewees showed to appreciate the original questionnaire: as a consequence, none of the almost 7 thousand face to face interviews was interrupted. The choice to realize self-supported research allowed the adoption of a perspective of longue durée (Bergson 1889) which is a guarantee of quality — as many academicians know, the pressing need to respect deadlines can dramatically affect deci-sions on every phase of a project’s implementation.
  2. It did not follow the model set by the first international survey in comparative politics (Almond, Verba 1963): the questionnaires — drawn up by American social scientists according to the guidelines of their culture — should simply be translated into “local” languages and directly submitted to respondents in other countries, by taking in no account cultural differences4. On the contrary, the questionnaire of this research takes into accounts the cultural differences of the two countries. This is why the two questionnaires are not equal in form, but rather equivalent in meaning (Przeworski, Teune 1966–67; Nowak 1976; Mokrzycki 1982).3. This research enterprise has been carried through thanks to the voluntary work of more than 300 researchers spread on two nations’ territory which realized almost 7,000 face-to-face interviews. All the interviewers were not professionals, but researchers who were informed of and shared the research spirit. The behaviourist tenet that interviewers should behave like robots in repeating the same questions in the same order and with the same intonation5 is not compatible with the spirit of this research. The interviewers/researchers were all part of the team for the entire duration of the study. This made them able to adequately satisfy any request for clarification, evaluating the opportunity and the time to intervene. On the contrary, even the highest quality comparative research is bound to have recourse to professional interviewers who are hardly aware of the research aims, and by no means are expected to share its spirit.


The first part of this research refers to the literature on social identity, based on experiments in social psychology, stating that any form of group-belonging activates both positive feelings in evaluating one’s own group and negative feelings in evaluating outside groups (Tajfel et alii 1971; Billig, Tajfel 1973). This process starts through the development of the so-called in-group biases (seeing one’s group in a favorable light regardless of the actual situation). It tends to gain force in a situation of conflict with other groups (Druckman 1994; Iyengar, Sood, Lel-kes 2012), in particular in the presence of a polarizing electoral campaign aimed at developing conflict (Druckman et alii 2020). A specific American school of thought (Iyengar, Sood, Lelkes 2012; Richey 2012; Westwood et alii 2018; Iyen-gar et alii 2019; West, Iyengar 2020) connect the causes of affective polarization to the role of partisanship meant as a social identity, which fosters in-group favoritism and out-group hostility.

Through numerous academic contributions, this research tradition assumes that party identity has now become a central factor in the development of voters’ social identity — equally, if no more, than race and gender identity (Iyengar, Westwood 2015).Unlike most studies on affective polarization, we explore the role of religion, family, profession and class consciousness in order to understand if these social categories can be considered a driver of political identification meant as a social identity.The last part of this essay refers to the literature on individual personalities. Politics in many Western democracies have become increasingly personalized (Caprara, Barbaranelli, Zimbardo1999; Caprara 2002; Giddens 1998; Ricolfi 2002) and as a consequence, the individual personalities of voters, besides their social identity, become decisive for political choices (Caprara, Zimbardo 2004). However, research aimed to connect the study of personalities with political choices faces several problems, as Caprara et alii (2006) pointed out: “early research on personality in politics dealt mainly with individual differences in the dispositions, attitudes, and motives of voters and leaders.

Researchers proposed politically relevant constructs such as alienation (Seeman 1959), conservatism (McClo-sky 1958), dogmatism (Rokeach 1960), and power (Browning, Jacob 1964; Winter 1973). The absence of a general theory of personality functioning limited this research, however, as did the lack of agreed-upon methods to assess personality. No integrated conceptual vision guided the early research, nor did it adequately attend to situational factors that might interact with personal dispositions (Greenstein 1975). It was therefore difficult to compare findings and build cumulative knowledge (Brewer-Smith 1968; Knutson 1973). A broad literature attests to the merits and limitations of these early approaches (e.g., Knutson 1973; Simonton 1990)” (2–3). The authors have kept all the above criticism in mind while performing a remarkable piece of research in Italy (Caprara et alii 2006). They examined two aspects of personality that may influence political choices (traits and personal values) using the Five Factor Model of personality traits6 and the Schwartz (1992) theory of basic personal values. They relied on a data-set composed of 3044 voters in the Italian general election of 2001 and found a relation between the five traits of personality mentioned in the above footnote and the vote for center-right and center-left coalitions. On the con-trary, this research enterprise relied on indirect questions aimed at revealing specific personality traits (such as the aggressivity directed towards humans and non-humans animals).

Another branch of research in personalities and politics investigates how some traits of personalities can affect the relationship between voters and the political system. Very recent research (Baird, Wolak 2021) based on the responses from a module of the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study found that electors with low self-esteem and a weaker sense of control over their fates are more likely to blame the political system for the challenges they face in their lives. In our questionnaire, we asked almost 7000 interviewees how they consider their life (dull/gratifying and hard/easy) looking for a possible relationship with their political choices. However, this part seems the most influenced by social desirability — as explained in paragraph 5.A well-articulated debate on the role of individual and social identity is still going on in psychology, sociology, and political science (Vignoles 2018).

According to the Oxford Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology (2nd ed), the two processes need to be considered together because only “understanding identity as both personal and social reveals the crucial role of identity dynamics in mediating the relation between the individual and society” (Vignoles 2018: 14). This is why our questionnaire investigates both the social and the personal dimensions of identity.


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University of Florence

University of Florence


The University of Florence is an important and influential centre for research and higher training in Italy