Towards a Political Economy of Italian Competitive Festivals.


In Central Italy a recurrent feature of popular festivals is an event entailing competition among territorial or other divisions within the urban-centered polity. The Palio of Siena and the Ceri of Gubbio are of particular interest because they have historical continuity of several centuries and because they exhibit contrasting versions of the general pattern: competition in the Palio being among territorial units (contrade), while in the Ceri it is among occupational categories. The elaborate cultural forms of such festivals have invited interpretation emphasizing their symbolic meaning, but they must also be understood as political-economic phenomena. The hypothesis that the territorial pattern has the effect of impeding class-based alliances is examined in the light of historical evidence on Siena, and in relation to the multiplication of territorial festivals in the twentieth century. Comparison with Gubbio suggests that occupational competition has a similar effect of supporting the social order, but through a different mechanism.

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Silverman, S., (1984) “Towards a Political Economy of Italian Competitive Festivals.”, Ethnologia Europaea 15(1), 95-103. doi:


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Sydel Silverman (City University of New York Graduate School)



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