Anthropologist Katia Ballacchino on the New Italians and Ancient Traditions Coexisting

La Gazzetta Italiana ha intervistato l’antropologa Katia Ballacchino, che da alcuni anni studia il folklore celebrato dalle comunità locali dell'Italia centro-meridionale.
L'antropologia è lo studio scientifico dell'uomo e del comportamento umano e delle società nel passato e nel presente. Oggi, il classico approccio antropologico mette in discussione le politiche dell'UNESCO relative ai processi di salvaguardia del cosiddetto "patrimonio culturale immateriale". La Ballacchino, oltre a insegnare all'Università di Salerno e alla Scuola di Specializzazione in Patrimonio Demo-etno-antropologico di Sapienza, si occupa di realizzare vari progetti di ricerca etnografica in queste aree.
Anthropology is the scientific study of humans and human behavior and societies in the past and present. Contributing writer Francesca Mignosa recently sat down with Italian Anthropologist Katia Ballacchino to discuss her work in this ever-important field.

Francesca V. Mignosa (FVM): How and where was your passion for anthropology born?

Katia Ballacchino (KB):  I started studying Cultural Anthropology at Sapienza University in Rome and I completed my degree in 2002. I chose the anthropological path right away and finished my degree with a thesis in Anthropology because I felt very comfortable with the research methodology that anthropological disciplines provide. Ethnography [the scientific description of the customs of individual peoples and cultures] is a way of producing very original scientific knowledge which is of great interest to me because, in a way, it involves the very life of the researcher, challenging her to overcome many of her limits and her ethnocentrism. Furthermore, what is called "participant observation" offers a precious opportunity to constantly experience ethnographic encounters in places and with people and groups that can only enrich the researched witnesses but also the researcher herself. I believe cultural anthropology is an extraordinary science.

FVM: What kind of work and research do you do now?

KB: For several years I have been researching folklore celebrated by local communities especially in central-southern Italy. Today, the classical study of Anthropology calls into question the UNESCO policies relating to the processes of safeguarding the so-called "Intangible Cultural Heritage." My job, in addition to teaching anthropological subjects at the University of Salerno and at the School of Specialization in Demo-ethno-anthropological Heritage of Sapienza, is to carry out various ethnographic research projects in these areas.

FVM: Are you working on any interesting projects in Italy or internationally?

KB: Since 2013, Letizia Bindi, a colleague from the University of Molise, and I have been researching and writing about the interesting ceremonies that take place in the lower Molise that involve men and animals. I’m also working on research on the extraordinary Carnivals of Irpinia in Campania with a colleague from Sapienza University, Alessandra Broccolini, among other things. 

FVM: The Italian population has changed drastically in recent years following the migration flows and their children are now the new citizens of Italy. Although this remains a sensitive issue, what is your opinion, as an Anthropologist, on the mix of new Italians and ancient traditions of our territory? How do they coexist?

KB: In short, I can say that our country can only be destined to a perpetual and continuous increase of processes of syncretism of cultures and that every cultural encounter should be seen by the State as an opportunity of growth for a growing country instead of calling it a "problem" from which Italy must take shelter and defend itself. My first research project after graduation was on the second generation of foreigners in Italy - in particular I worked on the case of Romania in the territory of Lazio - and the subsequent projects also expanded on the Italian migration territories. Migration, changes and mobility are important topics for Anthropology as they are for the contemporary world.

FVM: You’ve spent years deepening the study of an ancient tradition, Il Giglio di Nola, in Italy and America. Could you give us more insight into this study?

KB: The festival of the Gigli is a very complex festival that is repeated in different contexts of migratory dislocation precisely because it lends itself to mobility and change. Since 2013, this festival has been inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. I focused on research in Williamsburg, Brooklyn district, New York. My research took shape as a small documentary about the Williamsburg festival, “The Migrant Party. The Lily of Nola in New York.” I also wrote a book in 2015 called "Ethnography of a passion. I Gigli di Nola between patrimonialisation and change at the time of UNESCO.”

FVM: Our land is a vast and immense cradle of culture and ancient knowledge - what more could we do to keep this original cultural heritage alive?

KB: I believe that we need a national policy as well as local policies that focus on culture in an anthropological sense and that really value our extraordinary wealth of values, knowledge and traditions to make the country grow from the same communities of bearers of these precious assets.

For more information, contact Katia at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..