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Visions of Rome: Contemporary Society and Politics in the Eternal City

Instructor: Prof. Gregory Smith [see profile]
Disciplines: Sociology, Urban Studies

Vision is a multifaceted concept in its contemporary usage. Among the facets explored in this course is the vision of the city as a physical site, as well as its social and political dimensions. We focus mostly on the period following the Second World War and draw from various sources in our explorations. One source is the vision of the city present in literature. Another is film, especially drawing from significant Neorealist works produced in the early postwar period. A historically situated vision is explored in terms of the aspirations of the founding figures of the Italian nation. The image is inevitably composite, and our historic explorations include attention to Rome’s important and long-standing Jewish minority. 

The course also encompasses a host of more specifically sociological issues. Patterns of urban growth are a fundamental part of our exploration, shaped by a complex set of laws and practices. Family is part of community image, fragmented by decisive cleavages, especially gender. Immigration is a critical contemporary dimension. Soccer identity is explored, as is the Catholic Church. Organized criminality is part of the overview. Politics permeate the exploration, with cleavages between neoliberal orientations, progressive principles of solidarity, and new populist movements. In addition to more conventional class activities, students perform guided research in selected Rome neighborhoods as a way of grounding the concepts explored. On-site activities include a tour of major public housing projects in the urban periphery.


  • a midterm
  • two field research papers (8-10 total pages)
  • a final exam