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Reproducing Italians: contested biopolitics in the age of ‘replacement anxiety’

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In national and international discourses, Italians are often represented as a greying population failing to reproduce itself. Italian women are targeted for their very low birth rates, while migrant women are scrutinized for their ‘excessive’ fertility and abortion rates. These demographic concerns over differential reproduction reflect ‘replacement anxiety’ about the below-replacement rates of Italians and the replacement of Italians by immigrants. Demographic anxieties coalesce with the intensifying of Catholic ‘vitapolitics’ manifesting in the paradox of pro-natalist interventions coexisting with the curtailment of fertility-enhancing reproductive technologies. The children of migrants emerge in some population discourses as a threat rather than a contribution to the reproduction of the nation. Drawing on multi-sited ethnographic research in Milan, this paper examines how reproduction in contemporary Italy has emerged as a contested social, political, and moral issue that invests Italian and migrant women in different ways, engendering different forms and terms of resistance and contestation. On what terms are subjects governed and called upon to govern themselves to be more ‘rational’ and ‘responsible’ reproducers of the nation? What subjectivities and local responses are engendered by the politics of reproduction in Italy? As different rationalities and notions of responsible reproduction circulate, ethnographic research sheds light on how anxieties over low birth rates are reappropriated and redeployed against the state, suggesting that subjects are not so easily governable by population and reproductive discourses. This research contributes to the literature on critical demography and the politics of reproduction and migration in the new Europe.

Keywords: Italy; biopolitics; migration; population; reproduction

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Anthropology,University of Massachusetts, Amherst,MA, USA

Publication date: August 1, 2012

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