Mobility and agricultural economies in rural Italy. Sometimes the world can be seen more clearly from its margins

Domenico Cersosimo, Department of Political and Social Sciences — University of Calabria

Rosanna Nisticò, Department of Economics, Statistics and Finance “Giovanni Anania” — University of Calabria

This study examines how the Covid-19 pandemic crises has not only modified networks and rhythms of human movement and migratory flows on both a global and local scale; yet it also has weakened the hegemony of the prevailing paradigm that considers urban densification as “the” way to achieve resilience, innovation, and well-being. While recognizing that the factors of agglomeration favouring cities and densely populated places are still very significant in our contemporary society and economy, the study critically review the notion of the unidirectionality of progress and human and economic development from the metropolis to the rest, from the city to the countryside and the mountains. Rather, the analytical challenging perspective this contribute proposes is to adopt a new approach, able to take into consideration the “whole” and the complementary nature of its parts, by bringing rural places to the centre of public and academic debate and promoting the collective awareness that the future of the entire country also depends on the civil, social, and political enhancement of internal areas.

How will human mobility change in the post-pandemic period? What will inter and intranational migratory flows be like? What direction will the regional mobility of Italians take? How will demographic movement change between cities and the countryside, and between metropolitan and rural areas?It is difficult to accurately predict what the world will be like after Covid-19, not only because the crystal ball of social science appears increasingly opaque. As in all major systemic crises, we are dealing with a physiological “failure of the imagination”, an inability to predict how the future will be different. It is well noted that economists and sociologists are relatively good at predicting transformations and changing trends in established socio-economic systems, but they are far less equipped to predict what the world will look like after a paradigm shift. The extent, intensity, and duration of the pandemic foreshadow a real discontinuity in society, in the trajectories of established norms, in institutional frameworks, in entrepreneurial morphologies, and in well established systems of production.

As in Gramsci’s “interregnum”, today we are suspended between an old social order, which is becoming less and less capable of governing our collective life, and a new framework, still in its embryonic state, which has characteristics that are paradigmatically different from those that came before. From the point of view of mobility, what appears evident in this initial period of the epoch shift brought about by Covid-19 is the deconstruction of the net-works and rhythms of human movement and pre-pandemic migratory flows on both a global and local scale. It seems quite certain that the virus will force us to rethink the way people and businesses settle, and the relationships between densely populated urban areas and low-density regions.The pandemic has dematerialised regions, blurred their borders, and contracted the space — cognitive or otherwise — between far and near, large and small, urban and rural. It has suppressed the multipolar nature of our lives: working in one place, having family in another, and going to the gym in yet another. It has disrupted transnational families — family units in which at least one adult member lives in a different country — and it has put at risk “ontological security”, namely the sense of order, continuity, and significance in individual and relational experiences. It has broken down routines and long-established connections and has increased disorder and anxiety in the lives of individuals and families (Giddens, 1994). Formal and administrative borders have returned to the fore, not only between states but also between regions and, paradoxically, between neighbouring places and within cities themselves. At once, the virus has revealed an unlimited world that is both perfectly “flat” — porous to Covid-19 at every latitude — and also more “curved” than before, with new perimeters, new inequalities, and social, economic, and territorial asymmetries that overlap with pre-existing ones.

The international and intra-national mobility of people and goods, which collapsed dramatically in the first year of the pandemic, is very likely to remain low in the coming years. Further indicators seem to herald a permanent drop in the magnitude of mobility flows. Airlines, forced to comply with higher safety standards, will be compelled to raise the cost of flights while reducing the number of low-cost flights. Many activities that are currently being carried out online, such as business meetings, seminars, and conferences, are likely to continue in the same vein, given the travel restrictions in place. It is also possible that the reshoring of companies and the workers employed by them, often from faraway regions, will increase, which will be linked with a reduction in long-distance commuting. It is estimated that internships and apprenticeships for studying and working abroad will decline and, consequently, job expectations will be higher in one’s own country (Tirabassi, Del Pra, 2020). Due to the economic and employment crises that are also unfolding in foreign countries, it is reasonable to expect that many Italian citizens who had previously emigrated will return to Italy, especially those employed in low-skilled jobs, above all in the food and drink sec-tor. Employment problems are all the more serious in advanced countries that provide poor insurance cover-age for workers, particularly for younger people who have been resident outside Italy for less time and are employed as informal and unprotected workers: an incentive for them to return to their homeland, often permanently. Students studying abroad are also return-ing to Italy, especially from Romania, Australia, and the USA, while it is estimated that around 100,000 Italian nationals have already returned from all parts of the world due to Covid (Tirabassi, Del Pra, 2020). On the other hand, the Italian economic crisis, which threat-ens to be more severe than in many other European economies, is likely to result in large numbers of Italian workers migrating abroad to countries that have greater employment opportunities, thereby counterbalancing the number of people entering the country.


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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