Manuela Vinai is an anthropologist, PhD student at the University of Turin (Italy) in cotutorship with the University of Aix-Marseille (France).
After her first degree in sociology (2001) she has been working as an independent social researcher for about fifteen years (2003-2019). During these years she has had the opportunity to experience the change of the Biella territory, particularly the process of impoverishment, through the “Osservabiella project.” Having moved to Turin in 2016, the need to better understand the social change faced during those years led her to enroll in the master’s degree in Changement politique, pouvoir, productions culturelles at the University of Nice and to graduate in Ethnology (2019). She then enrolled in the PhD in Anthropology at the University of Turin, which she is currently attending. Her intention is to deepen, through an ethnographic approach, the understanding of the social context of this Italian textile district and its challenge of coping with the deindustrialization process.
What happens to an area when it goes from an unemployment rate of 3% to one of 9% within five years? When the number of workers in a sector that has characterised the local economic structure falls by 2/3 within fifteen years? Although there are statistics on workers’ riots, what we saw happening in the Biella region was a slow slide into a kind of collective depression. The local elites, both entrepreneurial and political, faced the first period of awareness of a non-transitory crisis with the proposal to intensify the processes of excellence in the supply chain. Also clinging to this anchorage to the prestige of the workings was the community’s desire not to give up the wealth it had acquired, now the only element shared by the population, in an area that had already seen a radical weakening in the 1980s and 1990s of the feeling of worker unity and trade union claims.
Under these conditions, the further crises of 2009 and 2013 have affected in the direction of inevitable resignation, in a territory that shows one of the highest old-age index in Italy, the ones to pay the price are the younger generations, accustomed to the scenarios of disused factories and the resentment of parents who have been denied a way of life they had taken for granted. My thesis is an anthropological analysis of this social change in a northern Italian textile district.