Is there an indigenous knowledge in the urban North

Est.Soc. [online]. 2014, vol1, n.20

IS THERE AN INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE IN THE URBAN NORTH? Re/inventing local knowledge and communities in the struggles over garbage and incinerators in Campania, Italy


Marco Armiero1



This paper deals with the narratives about environmental struggles over garbage facilities in Campania, Italy, a region which, in the last decades, has become the worldwide icon of the failure in the management of its own metabolism. In particular I analyze the narratives about the activists involved in the struggles and their creative interaction with scientific knowledge. My thesis is that ecological conflicts--at least in this specific case--have been producers of communities and knowledges. Instead of reinforcing the narrative about “natural” communities living in a space of radically otherness and oppressed by global villains, I would like to explore the interstitial South, mixed with the North and its science and contradictions. Using a collection of interviews and some grassroots documentaries about the crisis and the mobilization, I analyze the rising of a collective knowledge and the making of communities through the very experience of resistance to the governmentality plan of waste disposal.


Environnemental justice. Garbage. Knowledge. Nápoles (Italy)



Este artigo lida com as narrativas sobre as lutas ambientais contra as facilidades de lixo em Campania (Itália), uma região que, nas últimas décadas, tornou-se o ícone mundial da falha na gestão do seu próprio metabolismo. Em particular, serão analisadas as narrativas dos ativistas envolvidos nas lutas e sua interação criativa com o conhecimento científico. Minha tese é que os conflitos ecológicos - pelo menos neste caso específico - foram o que produziu as comunidades e seus saberes. Em vez de reforçar a narrativa sobre as comunidades "naturais" que vivem em um espaço de alteridade radical e oprimidas pelos vilões globais, busco explorar a situação do Sul intersticial, misturado com o Norte e sua ciência e contradições. Usando uma coleção de entrevistas e alguns documentários produzidos por movimentos sociais sobre a crise e a mobilização, analisarei o surgimento de um conhecimento coletivo e a fabricação de comunidades através da própria experiência de resistência ao plano governamental de eliminação de resíduos.


Justiça ambiental. Lixo. Conhecimento. Nápoles (Itália).


1. Introduction

“I curse all of you for what you are doing to our land! May you be cursed forever. Because we are defending the health of our children!”2

A woman is repeating these words, while leaving, defeated, the battleground to the police. Such a scene could have occurred in many parts of the world; she might be an indigenous woman fighting against a dam in India or an oil factory in Nigeria or Ecuador. We could picture the scene, we could imagine hearing the woman speaking in some exotic language, dressed in appropriate ethnic clothes and, of course, surrounded by some remains of the “land” she is trying to defend. But actually that woman is from Naples, Italy; she is not wearing anything ethnic--more probably something cheap from a nearby mall and a faraway sweatshop in China--and the land she talks (actually yells) about is anything but the remains of a lost paradise; rather it looks like a peripheral neighborhood covered by low-priced housing and poor roads. She is not an African-American woman in the racialized U.S. and, probably, she does not even fit into a strict Marxist framework of class oppression--more likely she owns one of the apartments in the ugly buildings surrounding the battlefield.

In general terms, this paper deals with the narratives about environmental struggles over garbage facilities in Campania, Italy, a region which, in the last decades, has become the worldwide icon of the failure in the management of its own metabolism. Placing “narratives” at the center of the analysis does not imply the option for a post-materialist approach to the issue of garbage struggles in Campania; in other words, I do not assert that this is only a discursive matter. Instead, as I will show in the article, I strongly believe that it is indeed a materialistic matter embodied in space, power, and the body. However, following Arturo Escobar’s definition of discourse, I use here the world narratives as “the articulation of knowledge and power, of statements and visibilities, of the visible and the expressible. [Narrative] is the process through which social reality inevitably comes into being” (ESCOBAR, 1996, p. 46). Furthermore, I think that narratives are powerful tools of both empowerment and oppression; as I argue in this article, it is through narratives that activists acquire and transmit their knowledge but it is also through narratives that corporate and political powers try to delegitimize or even criminalize activists. Hence, these are the reasons why in this article I have chosen to focus on narratives--at least in Escobar’s sense.

In particular, after illustrating the main characteristics of the waste crisis in Campania, I will analyze the narratives of/about the activists, their representations, their narratives about the crisis and themselves, and, especially, their knowledge of the crisis vs. the experts’ science. As Boaventura De Sousa Santos puts it, considering the “otherness” of the South seriously implies challenging the very categories and narratives through which we understand the world through binary oppositions: modern/primitive, scientific knowledge/traditional knowledge, civilized/primitive, natural/cultural (DE SOUZA SANTOS, 2004, p. 161). I will examine how those binary categories have worked in the Campania case, that is, in what I define as an interstitial South mixed with the North and its science and contradictions. I will also apply Jason Corburn’s category of “street science” to the activists’ knowledge which has been created in the almost twenty years of waste emergency in the Campania region. I will explore the dynamics and tensions between activists’ knowledge and “scientific” knowledge; while challenging this very binary vision, which separates science and other knowledges,3 I analyze how the struggles over garbage and incinerators in Campania have also been struggles for “cognitive” justice, that is, using Shiv Visvanathan’s words, for the recognition of the plurality of knowledge systems and of their relationships with livelihood and lifestyle (VISVANATHAN, 2005, p. 92).4

The main sources employed in this research are a collection of oral history interviews I have gathered between 2009 and 2012 and several video-documentaries, which have been produced by grassroots organizations; nevertheless, I also use institutional sources, secondary literature, and newspapers’ articles. I have also relied on my field-notes as observing participant; I prefer this expression instead of “participant observation” because it helps in overcoming the separation between the researcher and the objects of the study.

2. The emergency is served

At the end of June 2004, Italy was again divided in two. This time it was not a matter of national borders, foreign occupants, or political choices, as had already occurred in the history of Italy before the accomplishment of the political unification (1860) or during the Nazi-fascist occupation (1943-1945); this time it was a matter of garbage. All along the railroad in the area of the city of Salerno people occupied the tracks blocking the transit; they were citizens from Giffoni Valle Piana, Serre, Acerra, Giugliano and other municipalities, which were destined to become the “solution” to the cyclic waste crisis in Campania region.5 While protesting against the opening of a new landfill in the municipality of Campagna, those people more generally opposed a policy of waste disposal based on dumps and incinerators, both of them to be put, obviously, somewhere far away from the metropolis--Naples--and its rich neighborhoods. Although the crisis was framed once again as an emergency, in 2004 it had already been ten years since the Campania region had been unable to manage its waste in a proper and ordinary way.

Chronology of the waste crisis in Campania

Graphic layout by Aniello Barone, Issm-Cnr

As a matter of fact it was in 1994 that the Italian government had proclaimed the “state of emergency” for the management of waste disposal in the region. At that time several landfills in Campania were closed, some exhausted, others illegally or improperly managed, although we do not have totally reliable data about the real capacity of the landfills in the region (ARMIERO, D’ALISA, 2011). While 1994 was the starting point of the official emergency, the problems with waste had begun much earlier in Campania, probably in the 1980s; according to the criminal investigation code name “Adelphi”, a joint venture among local corrupted politicians, Camorra families6, and entrepreneurs from Central and Northern Italy choose that area as the cheap and illegal trashcan of the nation.7

Actually, the history of this crisis can be traced even earlier in time if we consider the urban planning of Naples, the making of its peripheries in the 1970s or the birth year of the gigantic landfill in Pianura neighborhood, Naples, in the 1960s. After all, in 1973 the city of Naples experienced the last of a long series of cholera epidemics, a clear demonstration that there was something wrong in its relationship with waste and hygiene.8 While it is beyond the scope of this article to analyze the entire history of Naples' relationship with waste, it is enough to say that since the beginning of the official emergency in 1994 it was clear--at least to those who wanted to see it--that the issue of urban waste was strongly connected to the illegal waste disposal.

Too often in the following years the emergency had been reduced to the issue of the bagged trash in the streets;9 as I will stress later in this article, the activists’ knowledge has challenged that vision, linking illegal toxic dumping and the disposal of urban waste. Although being a historian I am aware of the underlying roots of this crisis, I still believe that the 1994 declaration of the “state of emergency” must be considered a turning point in the trash history of Campania, especially because it has become a strange, permanent emergency, lasting for seventeen years, therefore, deeply shaping the material and immaterial landscape of waste in the region. The emergency regime has given legislative, financial, and rhetorical tools to deal with and narrate the waste crisis in Campania, leaving its traces in the land, soil, bodies, public finance, and discourses. The first and more significant manifestation of the emergency logic has been the creation, with the Cabinet order of February 11th, 1994, of Commissariato di Governo per l’emergenza rifiuti in Campania (the Committee for the Waste Emergency in Campania, hereafter CWE), a governmental agency with special powers in the derogation of ordinary rules. The option for the "emergency regime" has implied overcoming the regular rules regarding not only waste but more generally public administration, for instance in regard to procurements; it has enormously increased the power of the decision makers, that is, of the public officer appointed by the government, conversely reducing the spaces of democracy and confrontation; finally, in the name of the emergency, it has brought an incredible amount of money to the area and squandered it by investing in building a complex network of political patronage.10

There are several examples of how the emergency regime has affected every aspect of the waste issue in Campania. For instance, the Environmental Impact Assessment for the incinerator in the town of Acerra has never been properly undertaken because, as one officer from the Ministry of the Environment clearly stated, the political decision about the incinerator was already taken without any technical opinion on the project.11 Even more striking is the case of a public agency, which was created to offer information about the waste cycle, and actually never functioned, costing about 4 million euros of public money.12

Besides its legal characteristics, the state of emergency has been a powerful rhetorical tool; framing the waste crisis in terms of emergency has been instrumental in imposing governmental and corporate choices and timings over recalcitrant communities always under the pressure of one of the cyclical waves of garbage flooding the streets of Naples, the city capital of Campania. Actually, according to the prosecutors who have investigated the criminal aspects of the crisis, the corporation in charge of the waste facilities in the region together with the government agency has often intentionally created the “emergency”, allowing the waste to accumulate in the streets of Naples to easily impose their decisions on the local communities (RABITTI, 2008, p. 138). Finally, in 2008 Berlusconi’s government finalized this emergency regime with the Decree 90/2008, which became law 123/2008; with those measures Berlusconi shifted the emergency regime from the administrative realm to the repressive one.

Under the state of emergency it became possible not only to derogate to administrative, financial, or procedural rules but also to derogate to the basic rights of citizens, impeding them to protest and even freely circulate. According to the new law, landfills and waste facilities are strategic sites of national relevance protected by the army, a norm that evidently represents a strong embitterment of the penalties against any form of opposition.13 Berlusconi has largely employed the army in his plan to deal with the waste emergency in Campania; at the beginning the soldiers were used to clean up the rubbish but later they were utilized to patrol waste facilities implementing de facto the militarization of entire areas of the Campania region.

Elsewhere I have already stressed the significance of the “state of emergency” employing Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine framework (ARMIERO, D’ALISA, 2012); in Campania the imposition of a state of emergency has meant at the same time the suspension of democracy and the opening of incredible opportunities for private corporations. Speaking of that, the other key date of the crisis was 2001 when the chair of the CWE signed a contract with the corporation, which had won the public tender for the management of waste and the construction of the facilities, including the incinerator in Acerra.

Paolo Rabitti, a consultant of the prosecutors in the trial against the CWE and the corporation, has shown that the public tender in 1998 and the signing of the contract in 2001 were two significant steps in the construction of the crisis (RABITTI, 2008). According to his analysis, Impregilo, the corporation which won the tender, had presented the worst project in terms of both technology and feasibility of the waste cycle, but in spite of that recognition it was selected on the basis of two main reasons: the lower budget and the shorter time of realization of the plants. Once selected, the CWE offered a very favorable contract to Impregilo; in particular, the corporation gained the possibility to choose the locations for the waste facilities--therefore, we can speak of a privatization of the decision process on a such controversial matter--and storage the Refused Derived Fuel (RDF), better known in Campania by the name of ecoballe, pending the construction of the incinerator in Acerra where those ecoballe should have been burnt. Actually, as Rabitti has uncovered, the storage of the ecoballe was a deliberate deception in the contract, since in the draft the RDF had to be burnt immediately in other incinerators. Why was the storage of the ecoballe so significant for Impregilo? The explanation for this lies in the special financial support--the so-called CIP6--, which the Italian government has granted to the companies producing energy from the incineration of waste. According to this norm, the incineration of garbage has been assimilated into the production of energy from renewable sources, an interpretation which has been condemned by the European Court in 2008. In the legal framework of the CIP6, it is extremely profitable for the corporation to accumulate RDF, which is the equivalent of the accumulation of profits; according to some estimates, the value of the ecoballe amassed in Campania amounts to one billion euros.

The production and storage of millions of ecoballe14 clearly demonstrates that the waste crisis in Campania is a case of accumulation through contamination proposed by Joan Martinez Alier (MARTINEZ ALIER, 2012, 58). As Federico Demaria and Giacomo D’Alisa have explained, the capitalistic system expands itself contaminating the environment and the body of subaltern people, without paying in any way for this; in other words, the accumulation of profits occurs through the socialization of the environmental costs caused by the expansion of capitalistic production (DEMARIA, D’ALISA, 2013).

Furthermore, the Campania ecoballe have never been either produced or stored in an appropriate manner; according to the Parliamentary Committee on the Waste Cycle15 and criminal investigations, those bales of garbage do not meet the requirements for burning: “They contained too high a percentage of both arsenic and humidity, and entire objects have been found in them, for instance, a wheel with rim and tire, which proves the absence of any kind of screening”16. As the NGO ASud observes in its report on the Campania crisis, the EROI (Energy Return On Investment) of the ecoballe is negative due to their high rate of humidity -more than 30%-, because the energy to burn them must be superior to the energy produced in the process. This observation reinforces the relevance of the CIP6 in pushing towards incinerators (GREYL et al., 2010).

On the 31st of December 2009 the government proclaimed the end of the state of emergency and the local institutions were again in charge of waste management in the region; nevertheless, the situation in Campania is still critical especially due to the large extension of land needing reclamation because of toxic contamination. According to the Campania Agency for Environmental Protection there are about one thousand illegal dumps full of all kinds of toxic waste coming from Northern Italian factories.17 As a result Campania has the largest contaminated areas in the nation with four “Sites of National Interest”--that is, places highly contaminated and needing reclamation--including in their territories seventy-four municipalities and an incredible number of illegal dumps. The provinces of Naples and Caserta have a miserable primacy on this matter.18 The Italian NGO Legambiente, the inventor of the term “ecomafia”, has estimated that thirteen million tons of wastes have been illegally disposed of in Campania between 2006 and 2008 (LEGAMBIENTE, 2009, p. 79). Therefore, this hidden underworld, mostly invisible to lay people, is the main issue in the nevertheless, the two aspects--the bagged trash and the toxic waste--should be understood together as two sides of the same coin.

3. A South at hand is always useful

In 2007, at the verge of one of the cyclic waves of emergency in Campania, the President of Italian Republic Mr. Giorgio Napolitano, while defining the situation in Campania as an “environmental disaster”, invited all citizens and local institutions to cooperate for a positive solution.19 According to Mr. Napolitano, it was not time for particular interests; the consideration of the general good had to prevail. Instead, 2007 ended in a spiral of urban riots against the governmental waste plan, culminating in the so-called revolt of Pianura (December 2007-January 2008), the harshest episode of confrontation between the State and the citizens over the re-opening of a landfill in the Pianura neighborhood (Naples). Why did the President’s call for cooperation not work? Indeed although it looks fair and reasonable, unfortunately, the matters were more complicated than his plea for cooperation. The very concept of “common good” is at stake since, according to the activists, it cannot be framed in the dichotomist relationship of particular vs. common interests. While the President’s narrative sustained the existence of only one path to exit the emergency, this assumption has always been controversial. While struggling with landfills and incinerators, the activists have also fought over the very legitimacy of knowledge, claiming the possibility for them to understand the issue and propose different solutions.

The waste crisis in Campania is an example of the risk society theorized by Ulrich Beck (1992); in particular, the issue of visibility vs. invisibility is rather crucial: if on one hand toxic contamination is by definition invisible to the naked eye, requiring professional tools and knowledge to be detected, on the other hand, it is also true that people experience toxic contamination through their bodies, sometimes through their senses, as, for instance, when they see the dark smoke coming from the fires, when they cannot breathe or when their eyes burn. Nevertheless, something can be annoying but not necessarily noxious while the contrary is often true, that is, something can be noxious without being annoying at all, for example, dioxin contamination. Experts and labs are needed to evaluate the presence and percentage of dioxin in the environment and then in the animal and human body; nobody can evaluate by eye or smell. Emphasizing the invisibility of the threat implies entrusting the knowledge and therefore the solutions to the official experts with their tools and labs, while recognizing the possibility of experiencing the toxic contamination means opening up the canon of scientific knowledge to lay people. Probably in the Campania case what Beck indicates as the standard definition of the ordinary people made by the elite is too optimistic; according to the German sociologist:

In the eyes of the technological elite, the majority of the public still behaves like engineering students in their first semester. They are ignorant, of course, but well intentioned; hard working, but without a clue. In this view, the population is composed of nothing but would-be engineers, who do not yet possess sufficient knowledge (BECK, 1992, p. 58).

Campania is a space of harsh conflicts, and hence this idea of “ignorant but well intentioned” people does not fit well with the high rate of confrontation, which has become characteristic of that situation. The activists fighting against landfills and incinerators are often described simply as an irrational mob, opposing any kind of solution, savages and rebels rather than “want-to-be engineers”. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi defined the activists as “an organized minority of troublemakers”20, able to stop any solution to the crisis. The president of the Parliamentary Committee on Waste Cycle criticized the activists because, according to him, they oppose everything, including also what is “completely safe”; the prefect of the city of Salerno spoke of a demonization of any kind of plants connected to waste; in the newspaper La Repubblica the journalist and opinion maker Francesco Merlo (2008) defined the movements in Naples as characterized by “local stickiness, ecological stupidity, and plebeian spasms”. Several books published on the waste crisis in Campania offer the same unflattering assessment. Marco Imarisio (2008, p. 32-34), correspondent for the newspaper Il Corriere della Sera in Campania, seems to have no doubt: the revolts are wild and irrational, led by “obsessed localisms”. Descriptions do not fare better with the historian Adolfo Scotto di Luzio (2008, p. 54; 69) who criticized rather harshly the movements against the landfills and incinerators in Naples, again pre-political and violent; according to di Luzio they are part of a national movement against the modernization of infrastructures which has “significant responsibility in the paralysis concerning waste management in Campania”. The writer Francesco Durante (2008, p. 92) expresses the basic critique shared by most of the public opinion: “where were all those protesters when the Camorra was filling the region with toxic waste?”. According to Durante, environmentalists become courageous only when the enemy was the law.21 Of course, also the benevolent and paternalistic vision of ignorant and well-disposed citizens has been in place in the narrative about the waste crisis; this kind of attitude has been the basis of several initiatives aimed at training local people in recycling and informing them about the “real” characteristics of waste facilities.22 As in every governmentality plan, the pedagogical project has been the other side of repression; both pedagogy and repression envision local people as savages, even if in one case as the “noble savage” in need of training, while in the other as the wild savage who can be only tamed. The connection between savage and knowledge is at the core of this article and of the ecological conflict in Campania.

According to Boaventura De Sousa Santos (2007a), the savage is one of the “resilient subaltern figures”, with woman and nature, who are instrumental in the construction of the Western canon of knowledge.23 The creation of the savage, in the version of both the noble and the uncivilized savage, is the by-product of Western colonialism and evidently it is the main category through which imperial knowledge has articulated its relationships with the Global South. The savage implies two corollaries regarding knowledge and time which are somehow related: the savage does not have knowledge but only beliefs and exists in a time which is not contemporary with the one of the Western observer.

The concrete and epistemic world lying on the other side of what Boaventura De Sousa Santos has brightly defined as the “abyssal line” has neither real knowledge nor present, being suspended in an eternal and archetypical past; the non-contemporaneity is both the chronological and epistemic condition of “being behind” in respect to the North which owns the present and the knowledge to move to the future. As Shiv Visvanathan has synthesized “it is a world where expert knowledge is presented as high theory and the layperson’s ideas as a pot-pourri of practices, local ideas and raw material. There is no principle of equivalence.” (VISVANATHAN, 2005, p. 89).

While Shiv Visvanathan is writing about India and De Sousa Santos’ categories are evidently built around the Global North/Global South relationships within the framework of colonial and post colonial power, I believe that it is an interesting exercise to apply them to the waste crisis in Campania. First of all, it is astonishing how the three resilient subaltern figures proposed by De Sousa Santos--nature, savage, and woman--are so central in the story of trash and resistance in Naples’ region.

One might say that nature is what is at stake in the crisis; and somehow this is true as we explore different meanings of nature. Actually, activists, official experts, and policy-makers generally do not refer to nature in their discourses about the crisis. Rather they prefer to speak about health issues, chemical pollution, and technological solutions for the disposal of waste, or they--especially the activists--use the words “environment” and “community” to indicate the complex association of things, networks, and beings which are at the very centre of their concern (LATOUR, 2004, p. 21). As Bruno Latour has stated, while “dissolving nature’s contours and redistributes its agents,” political ecology focuses mainly on the production of uncertainty about those relationships, blurring what was before “the clear separation between things and people” (LATOUR, 2004, p. 25). As a matter of fact, if there is one distinctive characteristic of nature in the environmental justice paradigm, I believe it must be the notion of inter-relationship, or, we may say, the overcoming of the separation between external nature and internal nature, body and the environment. We might also use Stacy Alaimo’s concept of transcorporeality to open up “a mobile space that acknowledges the often unpredictable and unwanted actions of human bodies, nonhuman creatures, ecological systems, chemical agents, and other actors" (ALAIMO, 2010, p. 2).

The notion of nature as connection, which overcomes the separation between things and bodies, is central in the Campania case where production and consumption, trash and landfills, bodies and toxics, science and politics have merged. Of course, this is not unique to the Campania case, but rather it is common to all struggles for environmental justice around the world, which have challenged a dichotomist vision of the nature/society divide. However, in Campania as elsewhere, while activists have contributed in exposing and somehow exploiting this merging, at least choosing to deal with its mess, "normal" experts and corporate power have instead tried to separate what has been blended, imposing the logic of capitalistic profit and the governmentality plan through the force of both repression and scientific knowledge.

Nevertheless, the savage can offer another understating of nature and, therefore another relationship with it; the savage refuses the governmentality project, rejects the separation between human and nature, claims the possibility of knowing nature through different paths, not necessarily coincident with those of official science. Although different in several respects from the “classical” version, the savage in the Campania case acts almost in the same way confronting the governmental and corporate plan and its project of managing garbage and understanding nature. Finally, the diversity of the savage embodies itself in the gender difference; women are the extreme others in the masculine Western culture. Several studies have enlightened women’s agency in the counter-hegemonic practices of resistance in the Global South (AGRAWAL, 1992; GUHA, MARTINEZ ALIER, 1997, p. 32-33); however also in the North women have been at the forefront of the struggles, as in the Campania case.

Nature, savage, and woman--those are the key figures in the Western/North vision of the rest of the world. This triad is embodied in so many cases of resistance in the Global South; it can perfectly describe, for instance, an indigenous woman defending a river and her community from the construction of a dam. However, the Campania case shows that those categories work also for the interstitial South which is mixed with the North, confused with it, nevertheless, irremediably other from it.

The interstitial South is the otherness within the North; therefore, it can be defined essentially in relation to the North rather than in absolute terms. The interstitial South is, of course, a matter of money; the poor are everywhere, even within the rich societies of the so-called developed countries. The urban space reproduces segregation and social stratification, creating the interstitial South of ghettoes. As one Neapolitan activist stated in an interview, in the process of appropriation of the more valuable urban spaces, the elites produce social dumps into which to transfer unwanted people, production, and services.24 The foundation of social dumps lies in class articulation and income; nonetheless, those economic variables do not explain completely what the interstitial South is. The marginality of those communities is a reality overcoming a strict class articulation; without any doubt, low-income groups are expelled from the city--at least in the case of Naples –and forced towards the outskirts where they can find affordable housing. The average per capita income speaks clearly: in 2009 in Naples the income was about 26,000 euros, while in the municipalities around the city, those most affected by the waste crisis, the income was between 18,000 euros in Terzigno and 20,000 in Giugliano and Marano25. Generally speaking those peripheral areas around Naples are rather hideous, with few services, roads in poor condition, and few connections to the city; they have been deeply marked by the combination of illegal building, many times controlled by the Camorra, and gigantic projects of public housing, socially and materially in dreadful condition. But those suburban areas also provide an affordable American dream, with single family houses and gardens, or at least large apartments with terraces and parking spaces which would be much more expensive in the city.

People from the same social group may live in the city renting a small flat or choose the outskirts and perhaps own a single-family house or a large apartment. For this reason, even if income and class segregation are significant variables in the making of the interstitial South, I still believe that they do not explain everything. The concept of marginality is a useful tool to understand the situation in Campania. Marginality is evidently a spatial concept, which refers to a geographical positionality in respect to some kind of centre on a map. However, despite its spatial character, I do not envision marginality as a fixed ontological condition, determined by the position occupied on a geographical map; rather, I think that marginality is a social construct coming from the dynamic adjustments of power relationships among groups which entail the creation of both spaces and hierarchies.

The interstitial South remains geographically and socially marginal even if its income does not differ dramatically from that of the metropolis. Suburban spaces define identities, automatically placing people on an inferior level in the social hierarchy; the arrival of waste, which in many cases came much earlier than the so-called emergency, contributes in constructing a negative identity for those marginal communities.

Garbage is a powerful marker of places and people; it has a contaminative quality which goes beyond the actual chemical contamination; garbage contaminates places and people with a negative imprint which does not need to be tested in a lab. Living on the edge of a landfill or close to an incinerator transforms everything and everybody into waste, objects to be managed and disposed of. In the Campania case, the situation is even more patent and intricate at the same time; as a matter of fact, while the outskirts of Naples are the interstitial South of the region, shaping marginal communities with negative identities, many times also marked by a strong presence of the Camorra, on a national level the entire region is an interstitial South.

Campania is geographically, socially, and historically the South of Italy; the average per capita GDP in Campania is the lowest of the country--about the 67 percent of the national average.26 It is beyond the scope of this article to examine the historical roots of the differences between Northern and Southern Italy; it is enough to say that since the political unification of the country in 1860 the South has been considered a “problem” for the nation--the so-called “questione meridionale” or the Southern Question. The economic backwardness of that part of the peninsula has gone hand in hand with its social problems, such as a strong influence of criminal organizations and of what has been defined as the weak civic spirit of its inhabitants.

For a long time the Southerners have been described as the provincial savages, uncivilized in their ways of behaving and thinking, a race apart from the rest of the nation. After all, US immigration officers used to classify Italian immigrants in two different categories, the Northern Italians, closest to the other European races, and the Southerners, relatives to the other “Mediterranean races” (GUGLIEMO, 2003).

Hence, it is no surprise that this interstitial South has become the trashcan of the rich part of the nation which has dumped there the toxic waste and unwanted results coming from their modern and civilized factories. We might say that the industrial fortune of North and Central Italy depends upon the possibility of using a huge “social dump” in the South for placing waste and for draining--at least for a long time--cheap labor. The interstitial South is a prized resource for the North because it is not only a dump ready to be used but it also offers a narrative about what is happening.

The waste crisis, for instance, is not framed as a story of accumulation through contamination in which the entrepreneurs from the North have been able to socialize the costs of the disposal of their toxic waste, contaminating an entire region, but it follows the plot of the interstitial South: savage people unable to manage properly their garbage and unwilling to accept any technological and scientific solutions--that is, incinerators--due to a blind defense of particular interests. Those are, evidently, the main arguments of political parties such as the Lega Nord, born with a rather strong anti-southern feeling; it is also the opinion of some not particularly informed foreign journalists;27 and it is also the view of a well educated scholar, who acting as anonymous referee for my book proposal on the political ecology of waste in Campania, does not find it disturbing to state that:

the citizens of Campania--or the greater part of them--are not prepared to engage in selective waste collection since they do not attach great importance to environmental problems until these have reached such dimension as to considerably affect the quality of life.

And with the same secure tranquility, the referee states that “the citizens of the southern regions appear to be much less inclined, than those of the centre-north, in engaging in selective collection” (emphasis added).

Why does the anonymous referee not feel uncomfortable making such a generalization, basically accusing the southern Italians of being uncivilized, while I would assume that s/he would never say anything like that speaking about Chester, Pennsylvania, or any other community deeply exposed to environmental injustice in the Global South? Probably because Campania people are neither black nor are they in the proper Global South, and therefore any racist comment is admissible. Instead, the Southern question has also been a racial question since the 19th century when the Italian positivistic school of anthropology “racialized” the differences between Northern and Southern Italians. According to that tradition, the South was a provincial but still radical otherness, a repository of primitiveness, savagery and archaism, the archetypal land of any kind of pre-modern rebellion (Armiero 2011b: 62-75). Seen through a Foucauldian approach, the border between race and class becomes less sharp:

We can say that two races exist when there are two groups which, although they coexist, have not become mixed because of the differences, dissymmetries, and barriers created by privileges, customs and rights, the distribution of wealth, or the way in which power is exercised (FOUCAULT, 2003, p. 77).

Obviously, I am not saying that it is inappropriate to study the performance in consuming and recycling in Campania, in Chester or in Delhi, but I would prefer to analyze the findings in terms of political opportunities, incomes, trust in the local institutions and many other variables rather than on the basis of some kind of natural willingness/unwillingness. The ghost of the savage is always at the door of such argumentation.

4. Doing science among rubbish

According to De Sousa Santos et. al. (DE SOUZA SANTOS, ARRISCADO NUNES, MENESES, 2007, p. xxxv), the creation of the three classical subaltern figures is a parcel of the working process of Western knowledge which excludes what is beyond the abyssal line of thinking. Other ways of knowing and understanding have simply been denied or sometimes studied as traces of past beliefs. Vandana Shiva (1993) talks about the monocultures of mind imposed by the Western Empires over the colonies, aiming at destroying even the possibility of alternative cultures. For this reason Boaventura De Sousa Santos (2007a) argues that every project of emancipation must be a project of epistemological emancipation towards what he defines as the ecology of knowledges. In his research on the struggles for environmental justice in the Global South, Joan Martinez Alier comes to similar conclusions, calling for a partnership between academics and activists in the construction of knowledge (MARTINEZ ALIER et al., 2011). Especially in the field of environmental studies and anthropology many scholars have worked on TEK (Traditional Ecological Knowledge), demonstrating the capacity of indigenous populations to adapt to local environments;28 nevertheless, several scholars have also addressed the articulation of lay knowledge in the global urban North. Jason Corburn dedicates his book precisely to the exploration of local knowledge in the archetype of the urban North, that is, New York City. As he writes:

Generally, local knowledge can be understood as the scripts, images, narratives, and understandings we use to make sense of the world in which we live. When combined with insights, tools, and techniques from disciplinary science, local knowledge forms the basis of street science (CORBURN, 2005, p. 12).

According to Corburn (2005:44), street science is “a practice of science, political inquiry and action”. Even if Corburn does not explicitly theorize it, I believe that street science is deeply connected to the conflict for environmental justice; in the conflict activists forge a popular environmental knowledge blending “traditional” notions, new experiences, and scientific findings. In empirical cases many times street science is born from some kind of opposition to the official science and its experts; after all, if everybody were satisfied with them, there would be no need for experiencing other ways of knowing. Nevertheless, the confrontation with what Funtowicz and Ravez (1993) call “normal science” should never be confused with some kind of rejection of scientific knowledge per se. The idea of laypersons refusing scientific knowledge because they are trapped in their beliefs is exactly the by-product of the savage paradigm; the dichotomy between science and no-science is at the core of that approach. Rather than a fixed border, as Tom Gieryn has shown, the distinction between the two realms is a flexible one, made of the historical adjustments of “boundary work” which continuously redraws the limits and identities of what science is (GIERYN, 1987). Along same line, the street science paradigm does not reproduce that same binary opposition; lay people are interested indeed in science which they do not dismiss, but rather they claim to be among the producers of science and the peer reviewers of its results. In any environmental justice conflict activists always seek experts who can help them in making evaluations, contrasting opinions of other experts, tracing causal connections and, generally using their expertise for the cause. These actions imply the epistemological exercise of “exploring the internal plurality of science;” (DE SOUZA SANTOS, 2007b, p. 70) for a scientist who supports incinerators, for instance, there is always another one, equal and opposite, sustaining the exact contrary29.

Therefore, street science is not necessarily an alternative to “normal science”; the relationships between the two are not given once and for all, but rather they are molded into the conflict itself and change through time and groups. On some occasions and at times they may combine in what Corburn (2005:215) has defined as the “jazz of practice”, meaning with that the merging of professionals’ and activists’ knowledge. However, many other times the dynamics between the two are less harmonious, resulting in reciprocal delegitimation and harsh criticisms; often, normal science shapes its agenda on the basis of street science claims, sometimes to support them, at other times to prove them wrong.

However the relationships between street science and normal science work in the empirical cases, it is certain that any conflict over environmental justice is always a conflict over the legitimacy of knowledges. Joan Martinez Alier (2005) has written about the incommensurability of values and the deep divergence in the languages of evaluation among actors involved in environmental conflicts. The cases of religious beliefs regarding ancestral territories or of traditional ecological knowledge of determinate species are classical examples of that incommensurability. Hence the question is: is that incommensurability of values and conflicts of knowledges relevant also in the Global North where it seems that there are no significant differences within a relatively homogeneous culture? I believe that the answer to this question is yes because the North always produces its interstitial South through patterns of inequalities, dispossession, and injustices which also involve the delegitimation of other ways of knowing.

Again the Campania case is an excellent example of how environmental justice struggles always become struggles over knowledge. In the grassroots documentary Una cosa importante da dire30 (Something important to be said) one activist states clearly that while protesters ask for having a public debate between “their experts” and those of the counterpart, the State has answered by sending the army. It is evident that there is no rejection of science in this approach; rather, there is a strong sense that science could solve the problem. More than street science, I am referring here to the exploration of the plurality of science; activists have recognized that there is no one “scientific knowledge”, but different knowledges competing with each other. Protesters are able to uncover and then exploit the contradictions within normal science. In the auto-produced video documentaries about the waste crisis there are several “experts” supporting activists’ argumentations; medical doctors, geologists, engineers, chemists express the main reasons for opposition to the waste government plan.31

In about twenty years of “emergency” activists have been able to create a network of experts supporting their claims; although this development is quite common in every environmental struggle, nevertheless, it never is an easy task. In the Campania case there has been a reluctance of academics to deal with such a controversial topic as the garbage crisis. The Neapolitan University, for instance, has been conspicuously absent in the waste crisis; it has even refused to offer spaces to host the Zero Waste Conference which was held in Naples 2009. Several activists interviewed have expressed their discontent with the Neapolitan academics; “they are all barons--stated Crescenzo referring to the faculties of the Neapolitan universities,32 while Roberto argues that they have been just indifferent to the crisis.33 Personally, I have been involved in the presentation of Paolo Rabitti’s book Ecoballe (2008), the bible of the Neapolitan activists, which occurred in the School of Sociology of the University of Naples “Federico II”, but in a room squatted and controlled by a students’ collective. The testimonies of the few experts who have been willing to support activists’ claims confirm the problems with the “normal” scientists. Antonello Petrillo, professor of sociology and author of an excellent Foucauldian account of the waste crisis,34 says in the interview that:

Probably our research is the only one on the subject coming from the social sciences and humanities. The behavior of the Neapolitan intellectuals has been really bad. In the local newspapers the big names were all against the movements. It is the two cities, again, the well-educated city, in contact with the world, and the plebeian city which acts as ballast for the other. What can I say? It must have been still the wound of 179935.

Angelo Genovesi, professor at the Veterinary School, speaks of the indifference of his colleagues and the difficulties in advancing his academic career (even if more connected with his independent thinking rather than with his involvement in the waste movements),36 while Alberto Lucarelli, professor of public law, sincerely declares, without mystification, that he would probably avoid taking the activists’ side so strongly if he were not already a full professor; “I am not an hero”--he honestly recognizes.37 The geologist Franco Ortolani, while asserting that he has not had any problem with his engagement with the resisting communities, quotes a letter from the president of the association of the Italian geologists who stigmatized his behavior especially in regard to the participation on a very popular television talk show in which Ortolani has defended the reasons of the protesters.38 Nobody more than Antonio Marfella, medical researcher at the National Institute for the Study of Tumors “Fondazione G. Pascale”, has been explicit in denouncing the difficulties he has faced in his career for exposing himself in the struggles over landfills and incinerators “they [the administration of the Institute] did not make me head physician, but in this way I am even more free”.39 For Alfredo Mazza things were even clearer; after he published his famous article “The Triangle of the Death”40 his career in the Italian Civil Protection ended irremediably; as he stated, someone from that agency told him: “you make us spend too much money to contradict what you wrote in that article”.41

The politics of science and how it works in relation to highly controversial issues are beyond the scope of this article and, unfortunately, beyond the data I have collected. Surely, siding with the protesters means something in the professional life of a researcher; personally, when I published an article titled The racism of the dumps42 in one of the most widely read local newspapers someone from the political party in power in the region told me: “Well, with that article you have closed with any future possibility of getting funding from the region”.

The activists have sought those experts for help and advice; they have discovered that not all “experts” were the same; they have employed the authority of those experts, especially using the authority emanating from the institutions in which they work, as noted by Corburn (2005:67). In this way, activists have experimented with the “plurality of knowledges” pushing towards a more democratic approach to science, including themselves in the peer review process which constructs the paradigm of scientific truth. It is striking how social movements have interacted with science; in their interviews, several activists argue that the publication of an essay in a highly specialized academic journal has been the turning point of their personal and collective experience.43 However, I wonder what has actually been the relationship between those experts and the activists. Were those “alternative experts” already there, waiting to be employed by the movement? Or rather were they produced somehow by the movement itself? I argue that there has been rather a co-production of science between activists and those alternative experts. Exploring the personal biographies of several experts, I realized that some of them came from a history of political engagement which had been frozen in the long winter of the political ebb.

From this point of view, the movement has offered an opportunity to those people to be reconnected with a part of themselves, which was dormant. However, I also believe that in this case we should talk of a co-production of knowledge because without the collective experience of the movement the scientific studies that those experts have produced would have never seen the light of the day. But in several cases the agency of the activists has been even stronger and more conscious; in Campania the activists have deliberately created a sort of popular university, the Assise di Palazzo Marigliano, which has co-opted scholars coming from different backgrounds.44 Every Sunday morning, the Assise convenes a meeting to discuss special aspects of the waste crisis, generally with the participation of experts; geologists such as Professors Ortolani. De Vivo, and De Medici, physicians such as Marfella, Ciannella, and Comella, jurists such as Professors Lucarelli, Marotta, and Iannello have been at home to the Assise. The Assise has also published a periodical, which has been available online for a long time, containing materials on every aspect of the crisis, often written by the professional experts mobilized for the Sunday assemblies.45 On its website, the Assise offers pamphlets on the key issues of the waste crisis in Campania.46

Almost all the activists and experts interviewed in our oral history project have referred to the Assise as a point of reference in their personal and collective experience. The Assise has been a sort of collective brain aimed at supporting the struggles with strong scientific arguments; at the Assise the Campania activists have been trained in the complex matters which concern the management and disposal of waste. Today, many people recognize that one of the fruits of the crisis in Campania has been the remarkable competence developed by ordinary citizens regarding waste.

In grassroots documentaries this competence emerges clearly; in Una cosa importante da dire a woman stresses the importance of knowing about the CER codes to make a decision about accepting or opposing a landfill, while another woman speaks about the possibility of shifting from the incinerators to the Mechanical Biological Treatment through the revamping of the actual plants for the production of Fuel from Garbage. Actually, the revamping of those plants for the Mechanical Biological Treatment has been proposed by two architects and activists and it is part of the blueprint for solving the crisis made by the Regional Coordination on Waste (CORERI).47 Also several of the pamphlets published on the Assise website have been authored by activists; furthermore, it is not always easy to demarcate the line dividing professional experts and activists. As a matter of fact, this is a concern for some professional experts who indicate the necessity to distinguish between themselves and activists. For instance, Doctor Iannuzzi from the Italian National Research Council stresses that he “does not do scaremongering”;48 the physician Alfredo Mazza says that the experts are not supposed to “throw stones”, meaning be part of movements,49 while another physician Ernesto Burgio argues that experts might be consultants for the activists but without becoming activists themselves.50 Of course one may argue that the border between pure science and activism is rather blurry.

Several times experts have become activists--or have returned to their history of activism; almost always, activists have turned out to be experts, able to address complicated issues in a very competent way. The websites of the activists are full of “scientific” materials produced by both the experts close to the movements (again Ortolani, Marfella, Ciannella, among others) and the activists themselves.51 It is evident that when they become active citizens protesting against landfills and incinerators, people start studying intensively and acquiring competence and notions needed to defend their arguments. While I was interviewing Teresa, an activist from Chiaiano, she received a telephone call and started discussing with her interlocutor about reclamation and contamination with cadmium and heavy metals; Teresa is a physiotherapist and I would say that reclamation and heavy metals are neither parts of her professional training, nor typical topics of her day-to-day conversation. I discovered that Teresa was discussing those issues with the engineer Paolo Rabitti, undoubtedly one of the more informed experts on the waste crisis in Naples, a circumstance which seems to confirm the porosity between the activists and the “experts” side. Evidently activists have become familiar with scientific knowledge and employ it when necessary, but they have also used different kinds of knowledge.

In Una cosa importante da dire Raffaele De Giudice, current CEO of the municipal agency for waste disposal52 in Naples and a lifetime activist, follows the smell in the air to find the illegal dumping sites and states that he grew up looking at the different colors of the smoke in the sky. Stench is also at the beginning of the awakening of Lucia and her group of activists in Giugliano53. While they were studying English in a public education program, a terrible smell coming from the nearby dumps erupted in the classroom almost making it impossible to carry on with the class. I believe that Lucia’s case is a very symbolic one; probably the public sponsored English program was part of some kind of plan to pursue equal opportunity in education, but the stench coming from the dump was a reminder that environmental inequalities will always find a way to reach everybody, perhaps entering though the window. However, that odor did not stop Lucia and her friends from studying; maybe it stopped the English course, but they started studying life cycle energy, the effects of toxic waste on health, and the recycling and disposal of garbage.

Finally, Novella tells in her memoirs that it was through words and stories that she started to become interested in waste; they were the stories of too many women--her friends or friends of friends--who had mastectomies. As she wrote, “when you look around and see too many women with a scarf to cover the scars of chemotherapy, well this is time to start asking yourself questions”.54 Smells, images, and stories are the basic ways of knowing for many of those activists. However, as Javier Auyero and Débora Swistun have argued, while affected people experience and know contamination through their senses, nonetheless, this should never mean a naturalization of that experience. Instead, as they write:

experience of that polluted reality is (…) socially and politically produced; the meanings of contamination are the outcome of power relations between residents and outside actors. These produced meanings, in turn, shape those very same unequal relationships (JAVIER AUYERO; DÉBORA SWISTUN, 2009, p. 5)

As Corburn (2005, p. 12) has also stressed, narratives are an important part in the process of knowing; activists tell stories about what they know and transmit what they know through stories. Concrete cases, stories indeed, are the basic ingredients for the making of the activists’ knowledge, which is by definition empirical and particular. In his definition of what he calls “cultural rationality”, Frank Fischer has underlined exactly the significance of personal and familiar experiences as a way of knowing and making decisions which is different from “depersonalized technical calculations”. (FISCHER, 2005, p. 55). Jerry Ravetz has expressed almost the same point of view:

A particular discourse, ostensibly based on science, has been established to the exclusion of others based on personal experience. Thus there has been an effective creation of ignorance, as other perspectives on the issue have been inhibited from development and expression (RAVETZ, 2005, p. 44).

From this point of view, our oral history project is part of the knowing process, contributing as a research action to the construction of activists’ self-knowledge.

Memories and experiences are basic ingredients in the activists’ construction and reproduction of knowledge. They are indeed personal memories, but, again, we should never over-emphasize the dichotomy between personal and scientific. How should we classify the official medical records gathered by the activists in Pianura, a working class neighborhood in Naples with an extremely polluting landfill, and delivered to the prosecutors?55 Evidently, those medical records speak the language of the official science, and they even have the stamps and signatures of scientific knowledge--hospitals, laboratories, head physicians--nevertheless, they also tell personal stories, by definition private, even intimate, in their nature. The shifting between the personal and the scientific which is inherent to those medical records also become a political matter as activists decide to gather and use them as evidence in the construction of the scientific/judicial truth.

5. Conclusion

I must confess I do not know where to place myself. Of course, I am a scholar and I do research for a living, but I have also been an activist. Again, the anonymous referee of my book proposal learned this--actually I explained it in the proposal--and s/he was not happy about that discovery. Apparently a good scholar should never be involved in his/her object of study. Unfortunately, this is not my case. I am involved indeed. I have been invited to speak at the Assise, even if my expertise was not useful in understanding the waste cycle, the chemistry of garbage incineration, the consequences of toxic contamination on health, the geology of landfills’ sites and so on. I am a historian and therefore the activists invited me to tell them stories; they wanted to hear the stories of other communities around the world resisting environmental injustice; they have been especially struck by the similarity to the environmental justice movement in the U.S.--or at least those were the stories I knew best. But they wanted also to tell and hear their story, the story of the Campania movement. I have involved many of them in my oral history project and they have begun to be interested in their own story. The knowledge of those resisting communities have been built on narratives; telling what one has seen or experienced is always the key to transmitting an empirical, situated knowledge.

I have asked people to tell their stories in the movement and their personal story of the movement; more than interviews, I have gathered stories of life which go beyond the waste crisis. I am using those interviews for my research and academic publications, exactly as I am doing with this one. However, it is difficult to assert that the activists have been merely objects of my study. Indeed they have shaped my own research agenda, building with me the narratives of the movement and my interpretation of them. They have changed my own perspective and somehow they have healed the depressive sensation that history cannot help social movements in any way. As Naomi Klein states in the opening of the video documentary inspired by her book Shock Doctrine:

A state of shock is something that happens to us not only when something bad happens. It's what happens to us when we lose our narrative, when we lose our story, when we become disoriented56.

Hopefully, I have contributed to giving this history back.


1 Director of the KTH Environmental Humanities Lab, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm - Senior researcher at the Institute for the Study of Mediterranean Societies, Italian National Research Council. E-MAIL:

My research project “Lares – Landscape of Resistance. Science, Power, and Environmental Justice in the Struggle over Garbage and Incinerators in Contemporary Naples, Italy” has been funded by the Marie Curie Intra European Fellowship under the Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7). I am grateful to Giacomo D'Alisa e Salvatore Paolo De Rosa for their suggestions. Many thanks to Veronika Fukson for her editorial work on the language. Finally, my respectful thanks to the activists in Naples who have helped me in understanding the “garbage crisis”.

2 Insu^tv, “Chiaiano, jatevenne day. Le cariche” [Chiaiano: go home day. The police charges] (

3 On the boundary-work between science and no-science see Gieryn (1983).

4 On the concept of epistemic justice see also De Sousa Santos and Arriscado (2004).

5 Articles on this on La Repubblica newspaper: 27 June 2004, 28 June 2004, 29 June 2004.

6 Camorra is the name of Mafia in the Neapolitan area.

7 References to the “Adelphi” investigation are in the Parliamentary Committee on the Waste Cycle (hereafter PCWC) (PCWC 1998:XXIII712).

8 For a long period history of the cholera epidemics in Naples, see Armiero (2011a); Snowden (1995).

9 See on this Armiero and D’Alisa under review.

10 The Corte dei Conti (the Italian institution for safeguarding public finance) has stigmatized the waste of public money made by the CWE with sentence no. 4174/07, Corte dei Conti – Sezione Giurisdizionale per la Regione Campania. See also Armiero, M. (2009), ‘Seeing Like a Protester: Nature, Power, and Environmental Struggles’. Left History 13:1, 64-66. As reported by Guido Viale, according to the authority for the control on public tenders, in sixteen years the CWE has spent three billion and 548 million Euros (VIALE, 2010).

11 On the 8 February 2005 meeting of the Parliamentary Committee of the Waste Cycle Dr. Agricola, from the Ministry of the Environment, has significantly stated: “In this case [for the incinerator in Acerra] we are not doing a classical environmental impact assessment. Rather we are intervening in a process in which there is a general necessity which has led to some decisions, which for us is a starting point.” (PCWC 1998:doc. XXXIII/17:14).

12 I am referring here to the private-public society PAN created by the CWE and the Campania region which, according to the investigations, was essentially a way to hire unemployed people without any actual effects on the waste crisis. On this see PCWC xiv, doc. xxxiii/17, 38-39. With the judgement No. 4174/07 the Court of Auditors condemned the governor of Campania and chair of the CWE to pay Euros 3,921,304.17 as compensation for the economic damage caused to the Treasury due to the adoption of acts relating to the establishment of the joint enterprise Environment and Nature Protection Society (PAN). In Judgement no. 4174/07, Italian Republic, On behalf of the Italian People, The Court of Auditors, Campania region section.

13 According to the jurist Alberto Lucarelli (2008), expert in Italian constitutional law, that bill is even unconstitutional.

14 It is difficult to say the exact amount of “ecoballe” in Campania; they should be between 5 and 8 million.

15 This Committee was created in 1997 with the law 97/97 and it lasted from the xii to the xvi legislature. As every parliamentary committee in Italy, it has the same powers and limitations of the judicial authorities.

16 In PCWC, XXIII/12, 32. See also Court of Naples, Office of the Judge for Preliminary Investigations Rosanna Saraceno, SECTION XXXIII, RG.R.N. no. 15940/03; RG.GIP no. 21810/04.

17 PCWC, Resoconto stenografico della Commissione d'inchiesta sul ciclo dei rifiuti Seduta del 7/4/2004 Audizione del sostituto procuratore della Repubblica presso il tribunale di Santa Maria Capua Vetere, Donato Ceglie [transcript of audit of Donato Ceglie, public prosecutor at the Santa Maria Capua Vetere Tribunal].

18 In 1998 the PCWC defined the Campania region as the trash can of the country, using the data collected by the prosecutors officers in the investigation called “Adelphi”.

19 Mr. Giorgio Napolitano’s letter to the director of the newspaper Il Sole24 is available online at the official website of the Italian Republic President office

20 This is a quotation from Berlusconi’s press conference in Naples, May 21st, 2008.

21 For a punctual rebuttal of this critique see Armiero and D'Alisa (2012, p. 61-62).

22 In the summer of 2008 some newspapers started talking about three hundred psychologists ready to be sent in Campania by the CWE (CAPUA, 2008). Among the members of the PCWC someone stressed the necessity to increase the information about the waste facilities as the only way to break what he called the automatism of “refusing the refuse”: “Do you know what the mayors say? They say you should show a series of posters [explaining the measures] in the municipality meetings and then bring the citizens to visit the plans”; CPWC, xiii, Campania Mission, stenographic report, March 6th, 2001, senator Napoli. In an interview, the president of the Municipality of Scampia Carmine Malinconico states that he refused to go on an educational tour in the Northern and Central Italy organized by the CWE to show how safe and no controversial were the waste facilities there; Archivio della Conflittualità Ecologica (hereafter ACE), interview in the author’s possession. The ACE is a collective oral history project, a collection of stories from activists involved in the environmental struggles in Campania; for more information about the project see

23 De Sousa Santos, Another knowledge is possible, xxxv-xxxix.

24 ACE, interview with Brunello, in the author’s possession.

25 “Dati sul reddito imponibile persone fisiche ai fini delle addizionali all'irpef comuni della Provincia di Napoli. Elaborazione su dati del Ministero dell'Economia e delle Finanze relativi all'anno d'imposta 2009. Ordinati per reddito medio.” (

26 Istituto Italiano di Statistica 2009.

27 See Fisher (2007).

28 On TEK see De Sousa Santos, Nunes, and Meneses (2007, p. Xxxix). For a discussion on the use of Tek in environmental studies and management see: Nadasdy (1999; 2005).

29 As Michel Callon, Pierre Lascoumes, and Yannick Barthe write “nothing is more normal than scientists disagreeing with each other! Nothing is healthier than them being opposed to each other on how to conduct an experiment or interpret its results! Science is made of doubts, trial and error, and divergent interpretations” (CALLON, LASCOUMES, and BARTHE, 2009, p. 119).

30 Una cosa importante da dire, directed by Raffaele Manco and produced by Raffaele Manco, Nunzio Vitale, and Vincenza Cesario.

31 The physician Antonio Marfella speaks in Biutiful Cauntry, directed by Esmeralda Calabria and Andrea D’Ambrosio and produced by Lumiere, 2008; the physician Ernesto Burgio, the geologist Franco Ortolani, the engineer Paolo Rabitti are in Una montagna di balle, directed by Nicola Angrisano [which is the pseudonym of a media activists collective] and produced by produzioni dal basso, 2009; the physician Gerardo Ciannella and Ortolani, again, are in Una cosa importante da dire.

32 ACE, interview with Crescenzo, in the author’s possession.

33 ACE, interview with Roberto, in the author’s possession.

34 Antonello Petrillo (ed.) 2009.

35 ACE, Inteview with Antonello Petrillo, in the author’s possession. With “the wound of 1799” Petrillo refers to the historical events following the Neapolitan Republic in 1799, when the lower classes rebelled to the Jacobin Republic and helped the King to kill the intellectuals who were the leaders of the revolution.

36 ACE, interview with Angelo Genovesi, in the author’s possession.

37 ACE, interview with Alberto Lucarelli, in the author’s possession.

38 ACE, interview with Franco Ortolani, in the author’s possession. The talk show was Porta a Porta broadcasted by RAI1 on 10th January 2008.

39 ACE, interview with Antonio Marfella, in the author’s possession.

40 Senior and Mazza 2004.

41 ACE, interview with Alfredo Mazza, in the author’s possession.

42Armiero (2008).

43 I am referring here to the publication of Senior and Mazza (2004).

44 The Assise di Palazzo Marigliano has been the most influential group of professionals and academics engaged in the struggles over garbage in Naples. However, the Assise was not born out of the garbage; instead it was created in 1991 to fight against a massive urban development plan in downtown Naples that would have dramatically affected the historical features of the area. In 2005 the Assise was opened again to defend public water services from privatization. On the Assise and its role in struggles over garbage and incinerators in Naples see Armiero (2009, p. 59-76).

45 The bulletin is available at

46 The pamphlets are available at

47 Cristoforoni and Nugnes 2010.

48 ACE, interview with Leopoldo Iannuzzi, in the author’s possession.

49 ACE, interview with Alfredo Mazza, in the author’s possession.

50 ACE, interview with Ernesto Burgio, in the author’s possession.

51 See;;

52 With the 2011 election, Naples has a new left municipal government which has promised a new relationships with the anti-waste movements. The appointment of an activist such as Raffaele De Giudice as CEO of the waste management agency is heading in that direction.

53 ACE, interview with Lucia, in the author’s possession.

54 Novella Vitale, A ciascuno la sua sfida, personal memoirs in the author’s possession. This short essay is part of a guerrilla narrative project I have started entitled Teresa and the others. Women fighting for environmental justice in Campania.

55 Information about this in ACE, intervew with Giovanni, in the author’s possession.

56 Shock Doctrine, directed by  Mat Whitecross, Michael Winterbottom, produced by Renegade Pictures and Revolution Films, 2009.


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Artigo recebido em 19/03/2013

Aprovado em 18/06/2013


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