IASA's Blog - All Years

Conference and Call for Papers : "La mamma" as an Italian Stereotype

(Feb 14, 2012)

"La Mamma: Interrogating a National Stereotype"

Workshop organisers: Dr Penelope Morris (University of Glasgow) and Prof Perry Willson (University of Dundee)

Workshop: "The Maternal Role and Representations of Maternity in Late C19th
and Early C20th Italy" (University of Dundee, Scotland, 4 May 2012)
"Incomparably loving, servant and owner of her children, often tearful but
always on her feet holding the family together...Adored, feared and
caricatured, in discussions about the Italian family 'la mamma' has become a
glorious archetype... the enduringly popular image of the Italian mother is of
a strong woman who dotes on her son and dedicates herself to him intensively.
In exchange she gets the right to veto his choices, his constant attentions and
an unrivalled emotional and symbolic dependency.’ (‘Madri fra oppressione ed
emancipazione’, in A.Bravo *et. al*., *Storia sociale delle donne nell’Italia
contemporanea*, 2001, p.78).

The idea of the ‘mamma italiana’ is one of the most widespread and recognisable
stereotypes in perceptions of ‘Italian national character’ both within and
beyond Italy. This figure (and its effects) makes frequent appearances in jokes
and other forms of popular culture, but it has also been seen as having a
profound effect on the lived experience of modern-day Italians. ‘Mammismo’ is
popularly considered, for example, to be a contributing factor to many of what
are perceived as current ‘problems’ with the Italian family including the
advanced age at which many Italian ‘children’ (particularly, but not only,
sons) leave home, the extremely unequal gender division of labour within
Italian households and even Italy’s dramatically low birth rate. 

These workshops aim to explore the origins, meaning and influence of the
stereotype. They will historicise and contextualise it by examining other,
contrasting, ways in which maternity, and the mother-son relationship, have
been understood and represented in culture and society over the last century
and a half in Italy and its diaspora. 

The workshops aim to open up a wide-ranging, interdisciplinary debate on this
often joked about, but rarely seriously discussed, deep-rooted part of the
Italian national psyche. By bringing together persons primarily interested in
representation with those interested in lived experience and in social policy
we aim to help formulate ideas which will give social policy-makers new

Papers are particularly welcome in the following areas (although other areaswill be also given due consideration)

- masculinity (particularly the mother-son relationship)
- religion and the Church
- discourses of maternity in film and the visual arts.

Speakers will include Prof Marina d’Amelia (La Sapienza), Dr Ursula Fanning
(UCD), Dr Kate Mitchell (University of Strathclyde), Prof Perry Willson
(University of Dundee), Prof Sharon Wood (University of Leicester). Also
present as part of the core advisory group: Dr Lesley Caldwell, Dr Penny Morris
and Prof Chiara Saraceno.

A limited number of additional places are available for those who would like to
present a short paper (15 minutes) at this workshop.

Some further places are available for persons wishing to attend the workshop
and participate in the debate but without presenting a paper.

There is no fee for the workshop but numbers are limited. Those wishing to
present a paper should send an abstract and the title of the paper plus a short
c.v. to: Emily Ryder, La Mamma Project Administrator (
lamammaitaliana@gmail.com ) by 8 March 2012. Those whose papers are not
accepted (numbers are limited) may be accepted to attend the workshop without
presenting. A bursary is available to fund the travel and subsistence expenses
(up to a maximum of £250) for one postgraduate student. The student must be
enrolled in a UK university. If you wish to apply for the bursary please
contact Emily Ryder.

If you wish to attend only to participate in the debate, but prefer not to
present a paper, please send a short c.v. to Emily Ryder, La Mamma Project
Administrator (lamammaitaliana@gmail.com), by 8 March 2012.

Emily Ryder
La Mamma Project Administrator
University of Glasgow