The Construction and the Negotiation of Ethnographic Voices Notes From an Italian Post-Industrial Area
Oral sources vary according to their specific use in a particular social arena. In this respect, the ethnographic encounter is a
context where significant discourses and narratives about the past are produced, both at the institutional and individual level. Even if less
immediately evident, also written sources are the products of specific historical, political, and cultural agendas. This paper is intended as
a methodological reflection on the socio-political construction of oral and written sources in the context of extensive fieldwork, carried out
between 2008 and 2010, in a post-industrial area of the city of Milan, Italy known as Bicocca. Today, the University of Milano Bicocca, the
Theatre Arcimboldi, CNR, and Siemens Italia, among others, occupy the site. However, until the 1980s, the same area hosted the Pirelli
Industries, one of the major Italian plants for the production of plastics, tires, and cables. Even if the site has subsequently been
transformed into a “technological integrated area”, it is still permeated with both material and immaterial historical traces of its industrial
past. I consider here the historical archive of the Pirelli Industries and my conversations with former unionists and workers of the Pirelli; I
focus on the accounts of the years 1968-1969, also known as the “Second Red Biennium” or the “Autunno Caldo”, an exceptional phase
of two years of intense demonstrations and strikes. I explore both archival sources and personal accounts, in short: the plurality of voices
that are part of the site’s memory, past and present. My analysis will stress a specific methodological issue that is the need of a
multidisciplinary approach in the context of my fieldwork research, given the malleability of the concept of memory itself and considering
the fruitful collaboration between anthropology, oral history and the sociology of memory.
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