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la società contemporanea / Re-thinking the quality of public space (I)

Mapping Change

Imagine Antico Corso: What Family Photo Archives Say About the Neighbourhood
Claudia Cantale
p. 97-116


The article illustrates the results of Imagine Antico Corso, a research project based on visual sociology approaches. The main objective is to explore the potentiality of the photo-elicitation method to analyse the quality of public space, and to engage the neighbourhood in the planning cultural activities for the development of the Antico Corso neighbourhood.

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Note della redazione

This research project would not have been possible without the contribution of the people involved, the family of Antico Corso, whose commitment was essential. I would like to express heartfelt thanks to Mario Giuffrida and Agata Guerrieri, Irene Isajia, Ciccio Mannino, Salvo Ruggieri and Elvira Tomarchio. I am deeply grateful to Luana for helping me to see the places in a new light.
Finally I would like to thank Natalia Scandurra and Giordana Pugliarelli for their precious contribution and support.

Testo integrale

1. Introduction

1Imagine Antico Corso is a collection of photographic documents whose aim is to create a digital archive of migration based on the family albums of the inhabitants of the Antico Corso in Catania, a working-class neighbourhood with great social disadvantages, but also an area of genuine revival of experimentation. The collection of images relating to specific places in the neighbourhood was carried out through the active involvement of families who reside or have resided in the area. The participants were asked to describe the content of the photos, according to the photo-elicitation approach. Images are used as tools and data for the analysis of social behaviours and the environment (Zuev, Krase, 2017). The goal of the project is also to collect useful material for the creation of new multimodal and multimedia products, intended for exhibitions and temporary exhibitions of the universities of the area (Faccioli, Losacco, 2003): the district becomes a “widespread cultural centre”. It is necessary to describe the change of the Antico Corso district, favouring a process of re-appropriation of public and shared spaces (Castrignanò, 2021).

2. Community, crisis and remembrance: theoretical framework

2The neighbourhood merits careful study because of its heuristic traits that show several relational networks originating in the welfare policies for inhabitants and city users, and because it is a place of representation, social identity and sense of belonging (Sampson et al., 2002; Castrignanò, 2021). An ontological definition of neighbourhood was provided by Borlini (2010), who emphasizes its political-administrative and economic nature as a unit of the city system, and at the same time as a space of relationships, networking and routine. The overlapping of the concept of community with the neighbourhood derives exactly from its composition of networks of relationships in a specific area and at specific times, which establish recognised norms and values (Gould, 1964; Nuvolati, 2007; Borlini, 2010; Sampson, 2004). According to Wirth’s work (1938), which is based on Tonnie’s reading, factors such as the number of people, density and heterogeneity of the urban population, along with technological innovations and the rise of mass society, might have created problems for a sense of belonging and solidarity ideals based on direct and informal relationships, favouring relationships based on more specialized and instrumental connections, linked to different social roles. The traditional definition of community was abandoned, also but not only because of the chronicization of individualism as a leeway of digital capitalism (Fisher, [2009] 2018). At the same time, technological innovation has played an active role in the creation of more free, open and “elective” (i.e., “chosen”) forms of community, connected thanks to mutual or affective interests (Jones, 1997). These are expressed in the choice of patterns of creative participation and democratic innovation (Manzoli, Paltrinieri, 2021), where the collective discourse has been shifted from the collective to the individual as a logical derivation of the culture of the present (Beck, 2009; Mongardini, 2009) and individual society (Bauman, 2002).

  • 1 Corso Decree Law 18th of April, 2016, no. 50 (Public Procurement Code).
  • 2 A state of the studies on the concept of foodification can be found in Cibo e trasformazioni urbane (...)

3Therefore, individualization and fragmentation, in addition to insularization (Carmona, 2015; Knoblauch, Löw, 2017) contribute to shaping our relationships and the social use of urban spaces. In this way, Knoblauch and Löw (2017) identify polycontexturalization, mediatization and translocalization as the main characteristics of the refiguration of public space. Contemporary ways of living, media consumption and modes of digital networking, post-pandemic solutions and other measures concerning the energy crisis confine our daily activities within our homes. For middle-high income people, living in increasingly more comfortable houses is a means of self-representation that shapes social identity. All this has accelerated processes of suburbanization. The capitalist and neoliberal State adopts instruments of collaboration to build and manage public works following the public-private model: for example Project Financing or Public Private Partnerships (Ppp)1 for the purpose of urban regeneration. These, however, cause commodification and displacement. Cities, which rely more and more on the Non Resident Population (Nuvolati, 2007) are being turned from places of production and social inequality into places of constant consumption and entertainment (Weber, 1950; Saunders, 1989; Codeluppi, 2014). According to the gentrification approach, the suburbanization of residential and suburban areas, but also the public-private investment in urban regeneration, have promoted the rise of «leisure activities and consumption – of goods, places, urban “experiences” – as it is still in the physical heart of urban settlements that the symbolic capital mobilized by the forces of commerce is concentrated» (Graziano, 2020, 86). The dynamics of gentrification intensify the contradictions in these city centres and social unrest widens the social gap. Furthermore, the inevitable process that links the touristification of historic districts to airification consequently results in a progressive decrease in the resident population, which perceives these areas with detachment (Picascia et al., 2017). As a matter of fact, it highlights the exacerbation of economic, social and cultural disparities where consumer experiences and selective narratives are aestheticized, thus consolidating trajectories of tourism, disneyfication and foodification2 of city centres and historic districts.

2.1 Antico

4Antico Corso is a working-class neighbourhood with a high degree of social disorder. Antico Corso has been the stage of regenerative experimentation since the early 70s when the University invested in a process of refurbishment and restoration of many public buildings. It bears symptomatic vulnerabilities of the peripheral area of the historic centre of Catania, social, economic and cultural fragilities resulting in exclusion and deviance phenomena. Antico Corso is still notorious for being a neighbourhood of organized crime. The lack of administrative and planning policies designed for the city of Catania has produced an underdeveloped and frayed system of connections between the peripheral areas of the historic centre, with Antico Corso seen as a strategic point. The consequences of the constant lack of efficient public transportation combined with an unsustainable lifestyle has resulted in years of inconveniences for the entire neighbourhood. Furthermore, we must also consider the density of public services such as hospitals, educational institutions, and university campuses – all extraordinarily densely-packed into a limited amount of space. Eventually, in the 90s the (unguided) conversion of the population from the low-income households to a student population (still low-income people, but with higher profits) began. The arrival of new residents perceived as privileged creates a process of otherness and alienation of the place for the original inhabitants. This can take the shape of a violent form of “dis-homing” when combined with physical and special changes (Elliott-Cooper et al., 2020; Bourlessas et al., 2022).

5Antico Corso also has a high concentration of cultural heritage and activities, pushed by a change towards the increasing touristification and airification of the entire area, especially thanks to the presence of a prestigious monument, the Benedictine Monastery, today the Department of Humanities with the significant presence of fruition services carried out according to the logic of public-private partnerships.

  • 3 “Community Heritage” project of Associazione Officine Culturali Impresa Sociale ETS funded by Walde (...)

6Recently, the major shift towards new uses of public buildings has led to an alteration in the urban fabric, with demolitions and new constructions. These are a direct consequence of the rationalization of public health, seen as a detachment from the quality and quantity of services and relocated flows. Empty construction sites and buildings are only the most visible sign of a change management process that began more than thirty years ago. Within this process the Antico Corso neighbourhood is an urban node strategically located between the city centre and the inner-ring of the outskirts, because of its status as a peripheral historic centre. The city’s rising touristic vocation, along with the two years of pandemic, changed the neighbourhood’s profile considerably, causing a shock when society re-opened. In fact, the total absence of student life hastened the conversion of Antico Corso from a people and student neighbourhood to a short-term residence area with a rich variety of hotels, B&B’s and vacation homes. Airification, touristification, and foodification have already affected the lives of Antico Corso inhabitants: the early mappings3 reveal that families and students report the lack of both public and private services. Essential elements for the citizenry such as easily accessible grocery stores or supermarkets have been engulfed by restaurants, takeaways, street food, 24-hour vending stores, typical of a “here today, gone tomorrow” type of consumer, following the logic of foodification. The retailscape of Antico Corso is now composed of versatile butcher shops selling meat (especially horse meat) cooked along the streets: we refer to the consumption of traditional dishes on behalf of a gastronomic populism that bolsters power asymmetries, producing once again exclusion patterns and fragmentation of relations (Carmona, 2019a; Graziano, 2020; Bourlessas et al., 2022).

7This exclusion also gave rise to a total absence of cultural and social life in the neighbourhood, and even in situations where bonds between people are strong, they do not produce any significant collective results/actions (Castrignanò, 2021). As for this paper, in a broader theoretical framework inspired by cultural and visual sociology, it is the search of symbolic forms, signs, materials, icons, but also a meaningful view for specific parts of the world (Krase, 2016; Spillman, 2022) that determines a call for the participation of resident and resilient communities in the construction of cultural citizenship (Paltrinieri, Allegrini, 2018). The construction of the imaginary and a sense of belonging to the urban public cultural sphere also involves the negotiation of symbols, values, and habits to use these spaces. In this case, recovering memory might mean the formation of a new version of what Durkheim called “expiatory rites” by defining meanings between members of different generations, and social and geographical belonging. Strauss ([1961] 2017) claimed that some events are remembered and celebrated to build up a city reputation:

If the dominant group of images documenting change represents it as a growth, development, an element of discontinuity, or considers it nonexistent, anyone making temporal statements about a city is in fact arranging an incredible number of events into a complex symbolic system.
Hence what is considered as a meaningful event will be highlighted by ignoring or neglecting others, seen as irrelevant (p. 26, pers. trans.).

8Nevertheless, memory is a perception and it is selective: establishing which men and women, events, places, and manners we need to use, remember, and keep, how we should use them, deciding how some of these past elements are combined in the dominant narratives of the collective memories, is an agency act (Barthel-Bouchier, 2018). It is about writing a story from small sketches, because every little change modifies the community horizon of expectation, and it also reveals the future scenario (Tota et al., 2018). It is still very risky to strengthen the social and cultural capital of dominant groups, because those participating in these communities are already endowed with cognitive, cultural, economic, and relational capacities, thus skilled in qualifying public practices (Paltrinieri, Allegrini, 2018). The challenge is to start building a tool that allows communication between people and spaces in such a way as to make spaces meaningful and people perceivable within them (Knoblauch, Löw, 2017). In short, build new links between public spaces and the neighbourhood.

3. Theoretical Framework: Visual Sociology

9The apparent irrational need, defined by Calvino as the “frenzy of the viewfinder”, to “immortalize” some spontaneous moments of our life, such as a holiday, the birth of children, weddings, house parties (Rizzarelli, 2008), is linked directly to the birth and spread of photography in the context of technological innovations. The iconophilia that characterizes our age has been growing in large cities, in highly urbanized and industrialized contexts, which should also be understood as cultural industries (Gemini, 2015). Gombrich (1985) had already defined our age as “visual” because of the bulimic representation and spectacularization of one’s everyday life (Debord, 1967; Barthes, 1980; Gombrich, 1985). To immortalize a scene is a desire to make something eternal in memory (Bourdieu et al., 1965). When we take a picture we select a portion of reality to allow an event that only happened once to be repeated (Barthes, 1980). Then that episode will be shown to those who were absent at the time of the photo as proof of the event. The evolution of image-recording technologies during the 20th century not only affected our attitude toward photography, but also our point of view, the way we perceive ourselves and social reality (McLuhan, 1964). As a device for production and preservation, photography poses problems related to the creation of social and individual memory (Eco, 2011). Bourdieu stated that photography is not supposed to have a fixed practice like other forms of art commonly considered nobler, because automation is itself inclusive. Both aesthetic and ethical values are invoked by one who decides to take a picture (Bourdieu et al., 1965). Moreover, they are affected by the “affordances” of social media/platforms. This means that photographers will betray themselves since they belong to a specific age, social class, or an artistic and cultural group (ibidem).

10As a sketch of reality, photography records sources and in turn becomes a source from the point of view of visual social research, it is a keeper of data (Parmeggiani, 2006) that are precisely the result of the photographer’s manifestation behind the camera. According to Mattioli (1996; 2009), the image is able to portray a social phenomenon in its connectedness and contemporaneity.

11The use of images in research has had and still has different purposes, from documentation to dissemination, from supporting thesis based on diagnostics and analyses both in the biomedical field and in cultural heritage to becoming an object of study itself (Faccioli, Losacco, 2003; Krase, 2016).

12The use of photography and images in general is a practice already planned in the observation stages of sociological research (Bourdieu et al., 1965; Grady, 1996; Krase, 2016). But in the case of visual sociology it is both a methodological and analytical tool. Indeed, when it is supported by other survey techniques, such as questionnaires or interviews, the use of images gives new and promising points of view to the analysis of social reality. It is clear that images, especially if static and photographic, are characterized by a certain degree of semantic ambiguity due to the inner weakness of its codes (Eco, 1975; Barthes, 1980). Images, as we know, are polysemic (Barthes, 1980). The subjectivity of interpretation and the process of meaningfulness of some objects depicted by researchers is thought to amplify the weakness of the denotative codes of images. Paradoxically, this weakness turns out to be the strength of the visual approach (Faccioli, 2008). Decoding uses both denotative tools (iconic and iconographic) and connotative tools (pertaining to values, aesthetic, informational, symbolic, etc.) (Barthes, 1980), in order to bring out evident and hidden meaning. In fact, visual stimulation acts on the sensorial profile that awakens the emotional sphere. The process of objectification aimed at the creation of categories occurs through the interpretation of the meanings given by the subject to the image. The understanding of the symbolic meanings of images and the identification of connections between images and the social context in which they were produced are an expression of a certain degree of reflexivity of the visual sociology study. In this perspective, images can be interpreted as potentially heuristic tools. Furthermore, the use of images produces an asymmetric situation because of the lack of a marked code and structure typical of verbal discourse (Faccioli, 2008). The use of images eases the relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee because it makes the level of directiveness weaker, favouring an open, collaborative environment. It allows the researchers to constantly identify with the point of view of the observed (Losacco, in Ciampi, 2007), because together they can build meanings, evaluating each other’s ideas about a third object. In this regard, the approach of this research is not far from grounded theory: the stages of collection and observation take place directly in the field, coding is prompted by privileged witnesses, followed by the stages of categorization of data and theory elaboration. As Bourdieu et al. (1965) argued, it is a methodologically valid assumption. Indeed, we have statistical methods that help us to connect social categories on one hand, and the analysis of subjective experience on the other hand.

4. Research Design

13The focus of this work stems from the underlying relationship between the city and the photographic image as a memory. According to Strauss ([1961] 2017) the former is a fleeting concept, it constantly changes its form and is never totally accessible. The latter, on the other hand, has the ability to cut borders, to pick a portion of the city at a given moment, permanently impressing some features on memory.

14Following this premise and investigating household photo albums, a project to collect photographic documents related to the Antico Corso neighbourhood of Catania was launched in 2022. According to the visual approach and the study of ordinary streetscape (Zauv, Krase, 2017), the aim of the collection was to analyze modes of self-representation, and to choose photographic images presented by people telling life stories, bringing out the connection between the world of experiences, ways of living and the relationships the subject has established in the spatial environment. Through mapping we are able to digitalize, and thus recover a photo selection otherwise destined for oblivion. Similarly, the process has a documentary value (Peters, 1973) not only here and now, but also for a future outlook. As already stated, the developing archive operates as a device for the preservation and production of participatory actions in the cultural life of the neighbourhood’s public buildings, through the co-design of exhibitions and multimedia products. These materials are meant to create tools of engagement. The attempt is to rethink public space as a «meaningful and social space» (Carmona, 2015, 400; 2019b, 54), that is, a place of sharing and interaction. By sharing their photo albums, users are invited to interact with each other and with the space. If the process is successful, the space becomes meaningful and more attractive to participants who will return again and again (Carmona, 2015). Indeed, according to Losacco visual sociology allows an immediate communication of scientific research because it is able to give back «the empathetic feeling that is created between observer and the observed phenomenon» (Ciampi, 2007, 128). In summary, as a recognized method of collecting and returning data collected in the field (Bateson, Mead, 1942; Becker, 1986), it is possible to achieve a greater involvement of target audiences through visual or audiovisual language.

15This paper illustrates an initial analysis of cultural, historic and social data, aiming to describe the symbolic and value system, even the imaginary one, through the eyes of the observers. The research conducted on and with pictures required two reading levels: the first involved the interpretation of the subjects’ life stories, the second involved the factors that influence photo production as a way of consumption (Faccioli, Losacco, 2003). The first group of participants (four families) joined the research in summer 2022 (August-September), the second in winter (December 2022-January 2023). The second group was chosen on occasion of some public events, following the recommendations of the first group. The mediators, who were in charge of choosing the participants for the first group and introducing the goals of the project, were chosen from among activists, active residents and stakeholders in the neighbourhood. They are all linked by a common life experience: daily attendance at the Centro Popolare Occupato Experia. Preparatory meetings with the subjects were held to build greater trust between the interviewer and the interviewee. Three cultural mediators, also considered facilitators, were involved in the selection of the first nucleus of families. They all had previous political and social experience at the Centro Popolare Occupato Experia. This allowed them to recognize the main nodes of the neighbourhood and have strong ties with some historical residents. Their role was therefore to decrease the degree of mistrust between the interviewer and the interviewee through preparatory meetings with the subjects (Cardano, 2011, 117; Corbetta, 2014, 374). In addition to selecting the families of participants, the cultural mediators were called upon to introduce the project objectives. The families were asked to choose a maximum of 10 photos from their family albums. Participants had freedom of choice as long as the pictures matched certain guidelines:

  • Photos and slides had to be taken before 2010;

  • photos had to represent recognizable people in a public or non-domestic space: a square, a street, a church, a courtyard;

  • photos had to belong to a family, and a personal archive of the interviewee.

  • 4 In addition to Harper, we refer to Van Aukena et al. (2010), Visualising community: using participa (...)

16The interviews were recorded and were based on the ‘photo-elicitation’ method4, in which the weakness of the code and the polysemous nature of the image become the highlight of the research model because they are merged with the interpretation made by the research subject. A comment about the context for each photo chosen was requested. As one can see, these are pictures that existed before the project, therefore they were not taken for research purposes, but rather as a moment in which a memory, a moment of life, was being recorded (Harper, 2002). This allowed us to understand how changes were seen, to feel how habits and customs changed in space and time. According to Harper (1993), the process of deep reworking of information made by the subject about the world contained in images allows the interview to become a phenomenological tool. Only those who belong to the world of those images can bring out details, definitions, ideas or associations that would otherwise be neglected (ibidem), relating to the people, the represented spaces, the approximate date of the shot. Showing, drawing our attention to an object, a theme, and proceeding by connections highlight the heuristic qualities of photography. Following this point of view, the choice to use existing images, precisely from family albums, led to the creation of a substitutive function for the attendees, together with the documentary one.

17The gathering of pre-existing images paves the way for different opportunities of analysis: not only thoughts about content and tastes, customs and consumption, but also about compositional choices and intermediality. In our specific case, indeed, the selection of images is bound by aesthetic factors, that is, by the beauty and the expressive value of the whole thing that contributes to their meaningfulness (Pink, 2011). However, it must be taken into account that in this specific project the idea of giving a material return is essential: subjects tend to choose images with greater expressive value because they know that they will publicly represent them (Goffmann, 1963; Chaflen, 1987). In fact, initial feedback on the data collected was displayed as a photographic exhibition (Grady, 1996; 2001) on a timeline at the Museo della Fabbrica in the Benedictine Monastery, at the Sharper Night 2022. The Museum is located inside the huge monastic building, today used as the Department of Humanities, with great symbolic and historical value for the inhabitants of the Antico Corso. The events of the last fifty years of the Monastery are strictly linked to the change of the neighborhood itself (Cantale, 2020).

18With this simple event, the symbolic representativeness of residents’ stories in a well-known, cultural, unique context was publicly recognized. Indeed, an additional goal of the project is the spontaneous formation of a virtuous system, in which other residents decide voluntarily to give material to the archive, thus enriching it.

5. Preliminary Results: Self-Referentiality and Family Stories

19This opening stage of analysis, based on the involvement of the first 8 households, produced the selection of 50 photographic images narrated by the attendees involved using the photo/stimulus technique. Twelve interviews were carried out, each lasting approximately from 60 to 90 minutes. The interviews were conducted in the neighborhood and in the same places that were portrayed in the photo collection.

20Becoming involved in the image collection was welcomed in a positive way by the attendees for at least three reasons. Firstly, and probably the most trivial: the presence of well-known facilitators in the neighborhood, who all had strong bonds with participants. Secondly, this first circle of residents or former residents corresponds to the active subjects within the neighborhood boundary. They were involved in sports, politics, or managerial activities for the community: giving a contribution to the collective growth of the neighborhood is their daily habit. Finally, the last reason is related to the opportunity to take part in a cultural project that primarily allows them to represent themselves in a public and physical space that is recognized by the community as extremely valuable. This aspect was repeatedly emphasized in the interviews and it was useful to understanding what motivated the selection of the pictures.

  • 5 Maxqda was used for the categorization and tagging.

21Macro-categories, seen as relevant for the qualitative analysis of the images5, refer to the subject and the theme of activities taking place in the spaces recognized by the interviewees. The main categories are divided as follows:

  • People: these are photographic accounts and commentaries that have people as their focus. In the subcategories, jobs, parental, friendship relationships or even poses were highlighted. The subject represented in the photo may or may not correspond to the interviewee.

  • Places: this category sheds light on spaces portrayed as the background or – rarely – as the main element of the picture where activities are held and narrated by the interviewees. Some components, although without a determined artistic or historical value, were labelled as “cultural heritage” because they were judged in this way by attendees.

  • Activities: the subjects interviewed selected posed photos or convivial representations of their family in spaces in the neighborhood.

22Family collections represent the idea of family unity, and through the event records, personal success is seen as representations of full adherence to social norms. Therefore, there is no room in these collections for photographic images of failures or deviance from these norms: the picture does not represent objective reality, but the reality of the people who use it (Chalfen, 1987; Conti, 2016). The observation of the images was supported by the labelling of the interviews made using the same macro-categories. This approach, inspired by the home mode of communication, brought out the inner meaning given by attendees on the one hand, and on the other the account of daily events of the neighborhood following a more self-referential interpretive key. The subcategories for the labelling also revealed aspects related to feelings, the assessment (positive/negative), values and counter-values.

23The interviewee appears in almost every photo, demonstrating self-referentiality, and the narration of self was the most commonly manifested in conversation.

24By gathering photos it is clear how the choice to self-represent themselves through sports or art performances and the recorded events have the purpose of bringing life to the space, showing their own interpersonal skills, physical and managerial practices. For example Giovanni tells how he built the tennis court in the Benedictine Monastery’s courtyard, and it was used to organize tournaments where all family members were involved (Image no. 1 that he shows me after talking). These events were the right opportunity to organize parties and dinners. The same can be said of the portrayed weddings (Image no. 2 at the Chiosco in Piazza dei Miracoli: in such a manner the picture immortalizes the daily meeting point).

25Generally, the photographic stories that merge into the activity category, where convivial moments, games, parties are brought to life, follow neither aesthetic-photographic criteria nor were they chosen by the subjects for reasons related to the beauty of the image. However, they still reiterate the centrality of the relational aspect and cohesion. The subjects emphasize the acquired value of certain places related to the quantity and quality of collective activities that took place as a result of the affective events of their friend or family group (Sampson, 2004; Castrignanò, 2021).

  • 6 See Van Aukena et al. (2010) on potential of the photo-elicitation method to involve participants i (...)

«I am not in this photo», said Tony_D as he handed me Figure no. 3, but he emphasized its historical value because everyone in the neighborhood went to the Club to play cards and stay together. He told me with passion «it is important that you show it in the exhibition»6.

26When it is not clear from the picture, the analysis is supported by the external elements of the collection, i.e. biographical family stories fed by photographic memory, as in the case of sisters Mara and Vera (Figure no. 4 – diapositive series), whose contribution is mainly focused on the definition of cultural heritage. The narrative trend of the sisters is intended to tell how “the staircase that allowed access to their home was destroyed”. The story and the pictures of the staircase are highly symbolic because since the destruction of the staircase the “S. sisters” have seen a matching progressive decay of the Garden due to the University, which represents for them the principal subject responsible for their grandparents’ eviction (1989) and, as a consequence, their departure from that garden (Krase, 2016). Their staircase represented values and was a symbol that represented a community heritage: «it was made of lava stone»; «it represented the Baroque style»; «it was antique». Then they showed how much they cared: «we used to wash it everyday», «we used to turn on this light in the middle of the terrace […], my aunt Rita turned on that one next to the entrance of the library. There, we had the street light for the road maintenance». This memory is opposed to the sense of oppression and marginalization they now feel returning to the Garden of Via Biblioteca after more than 30 years, describing it as a dark, dangerous and scary place, ideal as a hangout for junkies (Carmona, 2015), caused by the “disorganization” and lack of care of the institutions (Castrignanò, 2021).

Figure no. 1

Figure no. 1

Photo: Giovanni_C-dinner after tournament. Year : the second half of the 1970s / Location: East Courtyard of the Benedictine Monastery (courtyard of «Home»)

Figure no 2.

Figure no 2.

Photo: Iano – «This man is a neighborhood. He got married and came to me… Giampiero got married and celebrated here… they came to me, to my kiosk». Year: Early 2000s / Location : Chiosco Piazza dei Miracoli

Figure no. 3

Figure no. 3

Photo: Toni_D-A group of men posing in front of the Catania sports club – The photo is framed on the wall of the respondent’s CAF (Tax Assistance Center). Year: 1992 / Location : Piazza Dante (Ultras – Piazza Dante Section)

27The aesthetic selection is different when it refers to pictures of their mothers: they are always framed in a highly expressive pose, representing the canonic roles of beauty and love in the process of neighborhood development (Figure no. 5).

Figure no. 4 (diapositive series)

Figure no. 4 (diapositive series)

Photo: Mara and Vera Sister – Series of diapositive depicts the twin sisters intent on playing at the Garden of Via Biblioteca. The stone staircase behind them provided access to the Monastery and the home of the sisters. Year: 1967 / Location : Giardino di Via Biblioteca (The Stairway of Via Bibliotreca, Stairway of «Home»)

Figure no. 5

Figure no. 5

Photo: Isabella_B (mother) and Mario_B (son) – « my mother represented everyone, every culture in this courtyard » Year: 2003 / Location: Courtyard of Via Daniele

28Giovanni shows his mother smiling while sitting on the hood of a car: it is the incentive to tell me how his father was hired as a nurse at Vittorio Emanuele Hospital thanks to the intercession of a San Nicolò l’Arena priest, their neighbours. He said «as long as she lived, my mother always told me: you need to give Father Bonaccorsi a present box every Christmas, and so we did every year». It confirms that in the neighborhood ecosystem the access to certain professional, cultural or simply affective benefits were based on gift logic (Castrignanò et al., 2011; 2021).

Figure no. 6

Figure no. 6

Photo: Luana – « I actually don’t have any phoyos of the street, other than this one. I dont’t have any photos of the place where we lived» […] And I think the real reason is because my mother didn’t like the place where we lived. Year : 1990s / Location: Via Plebiscito (Experia area)

  • 7 See Hirsch (1999) on relationship between self-representation of the family and photography.

29The theme of the mother is investigated within the context of relationships where she represents strong bonds and emancipation. Luana proposed an interesting narrative direction; she tells me about her experience as a resident who came back to the neighborhood, showing me a little photo album that illustrates her mother in the upper or middle class city districts, showing me her appearance, habits and her car7. Only one picture depicts her with her mother in Via del Plebiscito, in Antico Corso. Luana claims she has a sense of belonging as a “Girl of the streets”, even though she moved to the hinterland when she was young, so she never lived in those squares and streets, as all her pictures testified (Figure no. 6), and she was the only one of the group of attendees that does not show photos in public spaces. The opportunities that same neighborhood gave her – she studied at the University located there – undermined any snobbish sentiment she may otherwise have had. Without giving her experience a strained generational interpretation, the self-referential photo story became for Luana a key to turn her stigma into an emblem, an opportunity not taken by other family units.

30This opportunity presented itself through participation in the collection of Family photo album for the creation of an exhibition about the neighborhood. The transformation from stigma into emblem became possible through self-representation and reappropriation processes, using images, photos of public spaces long perceived as denied and prohibited. Thus, attendees value in a different way popular customs typical of the neighborhood culture – traits of their lives for which they have long felt marginalized or alienated –, now finally appreciated. Basically we found a meeting point between the visual research requirements and the attendees’ environment: the wide range of photographic memories have been used by the subjects of the research as a passkey to access historical buildings, archives and libraries.

6. Conclusion

31In summary, the results of our analysis prove the disappearance of certain themes that have always characterized the debate on the Antico Corso neighborhood, such as the poor reputation of the neighborhood related to organized crime, or the social, economic and cultural problems due to the recent and progressive emptying process of public functions. The removal or replacement of narrative patterns is a pattern in the logic of representation (Czarniawska, 2018) when we want to exhibit a cohesive image that suits social norms. Since districts are not homogeneous communities, stigmatization is perceived differently, as in the case of Luana. As Strauss ([1961] 2017) says, a citizen will tend to highlight some events that he or she values as more coherent and important and he/she will tend to forget others. It will provide us with a layered mosaic of stories to use, when we need them, in the project of building the Imagine Antico Corso archive.

32As Carmona (2015) underlined, in the neoliberal era the use of the categories of loss, “decline” and commodification outline the dominant narrative of public space. They describe the logic of nationalized privatization. In our case a reading of this type does not emerge as dominant. Rather, disappointment over the progressive loss of public space as a space for relationships and ritual expression was forcefully expressed. The lack of safety, beauty or “genuineness” of spaces is, according to the participants, a consequence of the sudden change in spatial and technological relationships. They understand that this has necessarily influenced social relations and therefore communication processes (Knoblauch, Löw, 2017). In summary, a proposal to overcome insularization in favour of socialization is central in this phase of planning activities for public places, in the direction of quality. This means reconnecting people, with their stories, to spaces (ibidem). In this way, participation in the project by sharing family pictures is a tool of “individual agency” that shows the urge to take part in co-planning as a reaction to the feeling of mistrust towards institutions. Generative social action can be nurtured through personal satisfaction in the creative and collaborative direction (Castrignanò, 2021; Paltrinieri, 2022). The choice to take part in the project with the prospect of joining future activities at the Benedictine Museum is undoubtedly the most intriguing result, even in the modalities of photo selection. All the interviewees perceive a mental boundary to some places as a result of the so-called “privatization” of the University. They have lived in the shadow of a cultural heritage and recognize its universal importance, but not in terms of personal culture. Following this direction, the involvement in the project counterbalances this thought because residents of a working-class neighborhood can claim the values of their “alternative” culture, crushed by the dominant one from above.

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1 Corso Decree Law 18th of April, 2016, no. 50 (Public Procurement Code).

2 A state of the studies on the concept of foodification can be found in Cibo e trasformazioni urbane. Varianti di foodification from Panos Bourlessas et al. (2022).

3 “Community Heritage” project of Associazione Officine Culturali Impresa Sociale ETS funded by Waldensian Evangelical Church’s Otto per Mille (8X1000).

4 In addition to Harper, we refer to Van Aukena et al. (2010), Visualising community: using participant-driven photo-elicitation for research and application, where the photo-elicitation method is used as a methodological tool and a way to involve residents in urban planning.

5 Maxqda was used for the categorization and tagging.

6 See Van Aukena et al. (2010) on potential of the photo-elicitation method to involve participants in the planning of cultural and local development activities.

7 See Hirsch (1999) on relationship between self-representation of the family and photography.

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Indice delle illustrazioni

Titolo Figure no. 1
Legenda Photo: Giovanni_C-dinner after tournament. Year : the second half of the 1970s / Location: East Courtyard of the Benedictine Monastery (courtyard of «Home»)
File image/jpeg, 523k
Titolo Figure no 2.
Legenda Photo: Iano – «This man is a neighborhood. He got married and came to me… Giampiero got married and celebrated here… they came to me, to my kiosk». Year: Early 2000s / Location : Chiosco Piazza dei Miracoli
File image/jpeg, 392k
Titolo Figure no. 3
Legenda Photo: Toni_D-A group of men posing in front of the Catania sports club – The photo is framed on the wall of the respondent’s CAF (Tax Assistance Center). Year: 1992 / Location : Piazza Dante (Ultras – Piazza Dante Section)
File image/jpeg, 460k
Titolo Figure no. 4 (diapositive series)
Legenda Photo: Mara and Vera Sister – Series of diapositive depicts the twin sisters intent on playing at the Garden of Via Biblioteca. The stone staircase behind them provided access to the Monastery and the home of the sisters. Year: 1967 / Location : Giardino di Via Biblioteca (The Stairway of Via Bibliotreca, Stairway of «Home»)
File image/jpeg, 359k
Titolo Figure no. 5
Legenda Photo: Isabella_B (mother) and Mario_B (son) – « my mother represented everyone, every culture in this courtyard » Year: 2003 / Location: Courtyard of Via Daniele
File image/jpeg, 681k
Titolo Figure no. 6
Legenda Photo: Luana – « I actually don’t have any phoyos of the street, other than this one. I dont’t have any photos of the place where we lived» […] And I think the real reason is because my mother didn’t like the place where we lived. Year : 1990s / Location: Via Plebiscito (Experia area)
File image/jpeg, 354k
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Per citare questo articolo

Notizia bibliografica

Claudia Cantale, «Mapping Change»Quaderni di Sociologia, 91 - LXVII | 2023, 97-116.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Claudia Cantale, «Mapping Change»Quaderni di Sociologia [Online], 91 - LXVII | 2023, online dal 01 avril 2024, consultato il 22 juin 2024. URL:; DOI:

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Claudia Cantale

Dipartimento di Scienze Umanistiche - Università di Catania

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