From «Popular» to «Populism»:
The Rise and Fall of Demological Studies in Italy
In this paper, I discuss three major paradigm-shifts in Italian folklore studies of the second half of XX century. The first shift follows the publication of «Observations on folklore» in A. Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks. Gramsci proposed to connect cultural differences with social differences, treating folklore as the distinctive culture of subaltern classes. Scholars like E. De Martino and G. Bosio followed this approach, producing a radical break from previous positivist traditions. The second shiftis the birth of «demology», a new discipline which tried to reconcile the Gramscian theory with a continuity of folkloric studies and the centrality of their classical object (the peasant oral traditions). I argue that there is a crucial contradiction in demology: the refuse to investigate mass consumption and culture, that is the culture of present subaltern classes. The result is the decline of the hegemonic-subaltern topic and the third shift towards a «patrimonial» paradigm, influenced by Unesco «Convention for the Safaguarding of Cultural Intangible Heritage». The paradox is that scientific interest for the «popular» was abandoned in the same years of the great populist strategies of «berlusconismo», leaving scholars unable to understand the cultural bases of this political movement.