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In this article we analyse the bottom-up response to the lack of social and cultural services in a post-industrial area of Milan (Italy) as a revealing experience of social innovation. Leoncavallo, a self-managed and Leftist social, cultural and political centre established in 1975, represents a peculiar approach to the management of collective services in a participative and informal way, based on the principle of autogestione (self-management). Through an interesting process of `flexible institutionalization', this collective agent has been able to survive the post-1968 era, evolving nowadays into an important political actor in the national and international scenes. From an organizational point of view, the analysis shows how social innovation processes (Moulaert et al., 1990) are strongly related to the social enterprise logic and to the spatial dimension (at different scales): both the management of sense-making processes and the `enactment' of physical spaces (frames) by the activists and by the users of Leoncavallo provide the opportunity to combine the economic, political and social dimensions. This leads in the direction of a `glocal' development, focused on human needs and potentialities as fields for the building of an active citizenship.
European Urban and Regional Studies 14(3): 255–266 Copyright © 2007 SAGE Publications
10.1177/0969776407077742 Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore,
Andrea Membretti
University of Pavia, Italy
In this article we analyse the bottom-up response to
the lack of social and cultural services in a post-indus-
trial area of Milan (Italy) as a revealing experience of
social innovation. Leoncavallo, a self-managed and
Leftist social, cultural and political centre established
in 1975, represents a peculiar approach to the man-
agement of collective services in a participative and
informal way, based on the principle of autogestione
(self-management). Through an interesting process of
‘flexible institutionalization’, this collective agent has
been able to survive the post-1968 era, evolving
nowadays into an important political actor in the
national and international scenes. From an organiza-
tional point of view, the analysis shows how social
innovation processes (Moulaert et al., 1990) are
strongly related to the social enterprise logic and to
the spatial dimension (at different scales): both
the management of sense-making processes and the
‘enactment’ of physical spaces (frames) by the activists
and by the users of Leoncavallo provide the opportu-
nity to combine the economic, political and social
dimensions. This leads in the direction of a ‘glocal’
development, focused on human needs and potentiali-
ties as fields for the building of an active citizenship.
autogestione (self-management)
citizenship empowerment enactment of spaces
flexible institutionalization social innovative services
The history: innovation in the wake of
urban social movements
Regarding its connection with social movements and
civil society, the history of Leoncavallo can be divided
into three main periods: this sequence of events shows
how the social centre has always been part of larger
urban and also national movements, even if in a
dialectical and innovative relationship to them.
The beginning: a territorial expression of
1970s urban movements
Leoncavallo social centre was born in Milan, in
1975, in a town still eminently industrial although at
a major turning point. The birth of the centre was
the initiative of a group of young people, coming
from the so-called ‘extra-parliamentary Left’. In fact
during that period in Milan, as in many other Italian
towns, the wave of social movements emanating
from the 1968 mobilization was still ongoing (Della
Porta and Diani, 1997): for this reason it was
impossible to identify something akin to a local civil
society, as the field of social aggregation was mainly
political action, even if based on expressions of
human needs, such as the demand for a house to live
in or for spaces for a free culture in the city
(Pickvance, 2003).
The founding act of Leoncavallo was the illegal
occupation of a former pharmaceutical factory, in
Leoncavallo Street, located in the North East of Milan,
just inside the core of the Casoretto blue-collar district.
Based on many other similar experiences around Italy,
the centre was set up with the aim of creating a self-
managed place, able to couple the bottom-up supply of
socio-cultural services to the neighbourhood (e.g. child
care, classes, concerts) with wider political action and
claims (Ibba, 1995). In that period, self-managed social
centres represented what has been defined as a
‘movement area’ (Melucci, 1984); that is, a network of
(g)local actors sharing a common counter-culture and
communicating/ interacting one with the other, even if
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not unified by a strong ideology or by defined common
goals. They represented the territorial and physical
expression of a social and cultural milieu, claiming new
rights of citizenship as they were defined from the so-
called ‘new movements’ of the 1970s (Melucci, 1984):
we can say that social centres were really rooted in
their neighbourhoods, in a relationship of osmosis
with them.
‘Ebb tide’: the dramatic end of a movement era
The end of the mobilization, started in 1968, drove
the centre to a phase of ‘regression’. Milan was
changing dramatically, both in its social composition
– with the decline of the working class and of the
related neighbourhood communities – and in its
urban structure – with the closing down of factories
and the residential suburban sprawl.
After the last spark of the 1977 youth counter-
cultural movement (Balestrini and Moroni, 1997) –
in which the social centre played once again an
important role – Leoncavallo’s activists, as in many
other social centres around Italy, started facing a
long period of crisis, characterized by drug abuse
problems, but also by urban violence (street fights
against groups of fascists) and by police repression.
The political action of the centre focused more and
more on very narrow and extremely Leftist
interventions, such as the ones concerning the
liberation of ‘Red Brigades’ prisoners in jail.
On the neighbourhood side, it was a period of
ongoing self-exclusion of the centre: in a territory
changing dramatically under the pressure of
gentrification, Leoncavallo became really dogmatic
in its ideological approach, in strong opposition to
every kind of political but also socio-cultural
institution at the local and national scale. The
defence of a ‘residual’ and in some way ‘tribal’
identity seemed to be the main reason for the
activists to hold on the centre.
New movements in town, a renewed role for the
social centre
In the middle of the 1980s, an inversion in these
‘regressive’ dynamics occurred (Mayer, 2000): on
the one hand, the centre was no longer really rooted
in its neighbourhood; on the other hand, the whole
metropolis was once again the territorial and social
arena for Leoncavallo. This was also due to the
merging with and contamination by new – and far
less ideological – students’ movements, protesting
against the privatization of public schools.
Leoncavallo therefore reverted to its original
openness to the city, gradually losing its former
social and political marginality. Through the
organization of counter-cultural public events,
the social centre became once again – and more
widely – the melting pot for different social and
cultural milieus; at the same time, pushed by these
dynamics of differentiation and enlargement, new
organizational and professional skills were deployed
by activists, setting the basis for the subsequent
debate about social enterprise and the role of
Leoncavallo in urban social change. In this sense, the
original idea, at the root of the occupation in 1975,
of a ‘territorial’ community organizing a self-
managed response to the needs of the
neighbourhood, was resuscitated and reinvented on
a metropolitan scale: in this sense, it was the
beginning of a new ‘glocal’ identity.
The year 1989 represents a fundamental turning
point: in a political climate dominated by neo-liberal
tendencies, the Mayor of Milan unequivocally
accepted the request by the owners of the building
occupied by Leoncavallo to evict the occupants. The
violent intervention of the police and the strong
resistance of the activists of the centre produced a
wide social and quite transversal support for
Leoncavallo, in Milan and all around Italy, thanks also
to the media which amplified the event. After a couple
of days the building, which meanwhile had been
partially destroyed by the bulldozers, was reoccupied
and, brick by brick, rebuilt. We can say that the period
of socio-political isolation of Leoncavallo finished with
1989: a new era of social rooting, not only in the
neighbourhood but in the whole city, was starting,
with a really enlarged social capital, represented by the
wide network of supporters (e.g. the association, other
social centres, students, individuals) gained in the days
of the city fights.
This new role was confirmed in 1990, when
another wave of the student movement, based in
universities and militating against the privatization
of culture and research, found social centres and
Leoncavallo above all to be ‘models’ of political
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action and, more, of sociality and cultural
production. The exposure to this movement pushed
Leoncavallo further into a process of de-
ideologization: although a strong Leftist connotation
remained, a growing pragmatism, first of all in the
relationships with political and socio-cultural
institutions, developed into a main element of the
centre’s identity. Associations, political parties,
journalists and intellectuals: all these representatives
of an ‘institutional environment’ which was strongly
opposed by the centre just few years before became
interlocutors. Thus, a growing network of
relationships has been developing until nowadays it
represents a major resource for the socio-political
legitimation of Leoncavallo and its claims (Moroni
et al., 1996).
Gaining legitimation, facing
In 1994, a political Right-wing campaign was
initiated against Leoncavallo and the occupants were
forced to leave the building. However, the support
coming from different sectors of a growing,
protesting civil society was on this occasion even
more effective.
After a massive people’s demonstration, called in
Milan by Leoncavallo in support of social centres, a
new site was illegally occupied: this is the actual
location of the centre, a former and really large
printing factory not so far from the previous site
occupied in 1975. On that occasion Leoncavallo’s
case, with its symbolic and political implications,
was discussed even in the national parliament, where
many members of Leftist political parties declared
the importance of this social actor to Milanese
cultural and political life. Meanwhile wide social
support spread among intellectuals, political groups
and artists in defence of the centre. Eventually, the
police and local institutions decided not to evacuate
the printing factory and the occupants remain inside
to this day. This solution was possible also because
the owners of the building did not formally ask for
the evacuation, in the belief that Leoncavallo would
be able, in the future, to become a formalized
organization and pay a rent.
In the year 2000, however, as no agreement had
been reached with the owners, the Court of Milan,
asked by the company, ruled that the centre had to
leave the building. However, the sentence was
immediately suspended because of the public-interest
status accorded to Leoncavallo by the same court.
In 2001, in order to gain greater public visibility
for the centre and, at the same time, to have a voice
inside the institutional political arena, one of the
informal leaders of Leoncavallo was elected to the
city council as an independent representative of a
Communist party (Rifondazione Comunista).
A few months later the assembly of the centre
decided to set up a committee to establish a
‘Leoncavallo Foundation’, which was intended to
involve political, social, cultural and economic actors
of Milan and other cities. The foundation was
designed as an instrument to permit the legal use of
the building and the promotion of legal activities
inside it, although the centre, through its informal
groups and structures, would continue promoting a
wide range of services and activities on the border
between formal and informal status. This new
structure was finally set up in May 2004, with an
initial capital of 100,000, thanks to the participation
of associations, political parties, intellectuals and
individuals interested in promoting active
citizenship in Milan. Thus, the ‘Leoncavallo
Foundation’ is intended as an actor distinct from the
social centre: an institution also able to promote free
culture and sociality in the metropolis.
In 2005 this new actor, through the action of its
board, largely made up of intellectuals, is working to
find a final agreement with the owners of the
building about the conditions of occupation.
Towards a ‘flexible institutionalization’:
organizational dynamics and relationships
with civil society
The history of Leoncavallo just sketched clearly
shows how the social centre has gone through a
process of public legitimation and organizational
consolidation which coincides with the creation of
lists of actions and approaches, fruits of the
experience of nearly 30 years’ activity. It emerges
therefore as a particular model for the organization of
resources, the management of social and political
relations and the interpretation of reality, whose
major characteristic is the continuous tension between
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the need for structuring and the need for flexibility. It
is an approach which, on the one hand, goes in the
direction of a stronger internal division of labour, a
clearer differentiation of competencies and more
intensive bonds with institutions (social, cultural,
political); and on the other hand aims to maintain the
informality, the osmosis with the movements, the
individuals’ versatility in the organization. In a word,
it is possible to speak of ‘flexible institutionalization’
(Membretti, 2003), meaning not a state, but a process
always in progress, a difficult balance between forces
which can come into conflict.
This process of consolidation, strongly linked
with the main characteristics of social innovation as
it has been defined by Moulaert et al. (2007) in the
Introduction to this special issue, is based on two
main elements:
the reflexive skills developed by the social centre,
which allow its activists a periodic criticism about
the organization’s basic principles and a
following innovative adaptation to the changes of
the external milieu (urban regime); this flexibility
is reflected in innovation in social relationships,
both at the organizational inner level and at the
territorial level (relationships with the
neighbourhood, with the users, etc.)
the net-like, and basically open to self-
management, structure which allows the social
centre to maintain a constant link with socio-
political and cultural movements; this flexibility is
strongly linked with innovation in governance
processes, at different spatial levels and
The current situation of the social centre clearly
reflects the above tensions. The project of creating a
‘Leoncavallo Foundation’ which could manage the
centre’s institutional relations – especially with the
owners of the occupied building, to whom a rent
would be paid – represents the highest point reached
so far in the dialectics between movement and
institution (Alberoni, 1981). A further dialectic
element is the presence since 2001 of one leader of
the social centre in the Milan town council and,
since 2006, in the national parliament. This enables
the expression of the movements’ voice in
local institutions and the consolidation and
intensification of the centre’s relations with
other institutional actors.
From this point of view, the relationship with civil
society and social movements which has been built up
over the years represents nowadays a resource which
Leoncavallo tries to use in the dialectics with political
and administrative local institutions: the process of
institutionalization of the centre should also be
interpreted as the building of a socio-political actor,
able to face and to deal with both the political and
economic institutions of Milan, and with the national
ones also. This strategy, even if not formalized, is the
attempt to overcome a typical weakness of social
movements: their difficulty in mobilizing resources in
a long-term perspective, as they do not present any
kind of defined structure (Della Porta and Diani,
1997; Vitale, 2007). ‘Flexible institutionalization’
seems, therefore, to be the adaptive and winning
response, in terms of innovation in governance
and in social relationships, of a movement actor
facing dramatic changes in a local urban regime,
and in socio-cultural and political frames.
Bottom-up innovation: the collective
definition and satisfaction of human needs
From the beginning of its history, Leoncavallo has
been dealing with human needs: since 1975 the
social centre has been operating both on the side of
welfare services and on the side of culture and
sociality, with a special attention to the territorial
dimension of these demands. In the case of
Leoncavallo, due to its continuous involvement in
different waves of urban social movement,
consideration of the satisfaction of human needs
means first analysing the processes of people’s
involvement in the definition/satisfaction of their
needs, as a socio-political action. In these dynamics
of empowerment the physical space plays a strong
role, starting with the articulation of a variety of
spaces inside the social centre: spaces in which
different services are supplied and intermingle,
producing important ‘contaminations’ between
different needs and different people.
Satisfying human needs: culture, sociality
and welfare
In different ways and at different scales, Leoncavallo
has been operating for 30 years as a provider of
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social services. It has contributed to the definition of
and response to two different but intertwined
categories of needs: the first one is concerned with
culture and sociality, the second with welfare and
mainly social needs.
Sociality and cultural needs
The first type of service offered by the centre, in a
more structured and wider approach since the
beginning of the 1990s, is a response to the growing
demand for occasions and spaces for the enjoyment
and the production of an autonomous and non-
commercialized culture. That demand has grown in
the last 10–15 years at urban and cross-social level
and often comes with the need for opportunities for
social exchange and the development of non-
exploitative relationships between people. These
kinds of relationships are under stress in both the
work and leisure environments because of the nature
of capitalist social organization and its correlations of
alienation and commodification. Such needs seem to
cross the traditional class boundaries: a recent survey,
carried out in 2001 among users of Leoncavallo
cultural services (Membretti, 2003), with a sample of
724 interviewees, showed how attendance at musical
concerts, theatre shows, debates and exhibitions was
largely diversified by age, sex, work conditions and
place of residence. Moreover, those needs seem to be
widespread, as proven by Leoncavallo’s quite large
number of users – about 100,000 per year.
In particular, the data showed that a significant
proportion of users (37%) was aged over 30:
Leoncavallo is no longer a place only for young
people, but rather a transgenerational centre for
sociality and culture, able to respond to the needs of
different populations. Moreover, the users
interviewed in the survey exhibited a good level of
education, and the majority were integrated into the
labour market; they did not seem to be marginalized
people, but, on the contrary, appeared to hold
significant socio-cultural and economic resources.
These people mostly came from the environs of
Milan, but also from other regions of Italy:
Leoncavallo activities seem to be, in this sense, a
bridge which can connect local and extra-local
dimensions, although this ‘glocal’ connotation has
also created some problems within the
neighbourhood because of the large number of
people attracted to the area (traffic problems, etc.).
Welfare needs
The second type of service is concerned with the
sphere which, according to de Leonardis (1998), we
can define as ‘civil welfare’, by which term we refer
to a sphere of social services provision that is not
managed by the state or by the market, but is
handled by non-profit organizations. These are
services strongly interrelated with the citizenship
dimension; that is, the concrete response to those
basic rights (to food, clothing, housing, health,
security, etc.) without which a human being not only
cannot be defined as a citizen, but cannot even
possess the dignity of a person. The demand for
these services arises from migrants, the homeless,
psychologically impaired people and, more generally,
people below the poverty threshold.
Since 1995 Leoncavallo has been offering to these
people (estimated to be more than 100 in 2002) free
meals, short-term hospitality and protection from
the persecutions of the police and of xenophobic
groups. But even before responding directly to such
needs, the activists of the centre offer the possibility
of human relationships through the informal style of
the centre and its spatial organization. It is especially
the inner space, with its free spaces and warm
atmosphere, that creates opportunities for gathering
and the development of face-to-face communitarian
relationships. Migrants, who daily live the condition
of non-citizens and ‘non-persons’ (Dal Lago, 1999),
are in particular need of recognition first as persons
and, second, as citizens. The services provided are
legal assistance for the regularization of the stay in
Italy, information about job opportunities in the city
and, in some cases, direct supply of jobs in the social
centre (mainly in the kitchen/self-service
restaurant). These practices respond to a demand
for ‘human recognition’ (Taylor and Habermas,
1998) made – often implicitly – by the people who
come to Leoncavallo: recognition of rights, but
primarily recognition of their status as persons, as
human beings who want to escape from the negation
and cancellation they inhabit both because of the
legal system and of society.
In fact, looking at the organizational dynamic of
these services, in the Leoncavallo case we should
speak of joint construction of both needs and
responses; that is, more than just responses to needs
since the social centre is not just a supplier of
services, but a physical and socio-cultural space in
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which – and because of which – a collective
discussion about human needs and the means to
satisfy them is nourished.
The social centre welfare services are therefore to
be interpreted as spheres of activation and
qualification of the actors – individual and collective –
who apply for them. Through a recognition and
empowerment process, human needs turn into actual
rights, which are defined by a space and a group of
actual interpersonal relationships. In this sense,
empowerment tends to coincide with a process of active
citizenship construction: enabling people is therefore
giving them the opportunity to develop socio-political
capabilities, as individuals and as citizens, too.
Defining human needs: enabling the users
Human needs find a response, or better, a sphere of
collective definition and collective response, inside
the physical, relational and symbolic settings in
which Leoncavallo’s services and activity are
organized. The self-management organizational
approaches tend in fact to give priority to informal
practices and to the symbolic and spatial context
defined by them, rather than to the roles of the
subjects that activate them or to formalized
procedures. The dimension of informality and
horizontality in interpersonal relationships therefore
makes the distinction between supplier and user of a
self-managed service far less rigid and structured, as
compared with what happens in state and market
services. Socio-cultural and welfare services seem to
be low-structured fields for mutual interaction and
recognition: fields devoted to the ‘enactment’ of
users in a collective process of definition/response
concerning human needs. In this approach, services
are open to the participation of the users, who can
cooperate in their management in some way. During
large events, for example – such as major concerts or
art exhibitions – it is possible for some users (10–15
each time) to work as volunteers in the bar or in the
self-service restaurant inside the centre. In this way,
working for the centre becomes the opportunity to
experiment with the ‘other side’ of the services,
destructuring the dualistic idea based on a rigid
distinction between staff and customers.
Another peculiar characteristic of the services
provided is their symbolic frame, which has an
essentially political nature: the service is a channel for
the communication of socio-political contents, a
means for the users’ activation towards an
involvement in action or, at least, a support for the
social centre’s action (Membretti, 1997). The process
of institutionalization of services is therefore a process
of institutionalization of collective mobilization, or, in
other words, of citizenship’s activation.
For these reasons it seems appropriate to use the
term ‘enablers’ instead of the term ‘suppliers’ for
individuals and groups managing these services:
they are actors who facilitate the users’
empowerment through the management of services
and spaces. The enablers are, in our case, informal
groups and associations which operate in the social
centre and autonomously manage the spaces in
which they operate and where services are provided.
From this point of view, the spatial dimension is
fundamental: Leoncavallo’s physical configuration,
in fact, seems to be a multiple frame for the
dialectical definition of human needs which are
discussed and faced. Those spaces enter, therefore, a
process of ‘enactment’ (Weick, 1995) of a milieu
which consists of them, of the users, of the symbolic
meanings, of the practices and of the connections
with the outside world. From this point of view, the
joined construction of the demand and the response
to social needs can be thought of as a process of
sense making, of construction/interpretation of a
shared reality, from an activated space.
Framing human needs: the role of the spaces
The definition and response to human needs –
cultural, socio-political and of socialization –
originate from a plurality of physical spaces inside
the social centre, in which different activities and
services develop. These spaces, however, are not
clearly distinct on the basis of their function: in fact,
the culture/sociality and welfare macro-dimensions
are continuously mixed up in them. Roles are multi-
dimensional and multi-faceted and relationships
based on reciprocity are promoted rather than
exploitative ones.
Spaces are in fact ‘enacted’ in different ways
(Weick, 1995), depending on the actors who operate
inside them and on the services organized: for
example, in the same space and in the same moment
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can coexist a restaurant service (whose customers are
first of all the users of cultural services such as
concerts and debates), a free-meal service for the
homeless and immigrants, and also a dining room for
the activists of the centre; all of them mixed together
inside and through the physical space and the
organizational procedures. In this particular example
the space represents a very concrete occasion to put
different kinds of services and populations into a
mutual relationship, in the direction of a
‘contamination’ between users and activists of the
centre. Labelling processes, typical of both private and
public socio-cultural services. are reduced in this
approach; on the contrary, spaces become the physical
element for different processes of framing (Goffman,
1974) each time they are enacted from different
interactions and from the related sense-making
processes of symbolic interpretations.
The abandoned areas of the former printing office
occupied in 1994 were – and still are – involved in a
recurring definition of the functions, the goals and
therefore the identity (or better the many identities)
of the social actors who work in them and identify
with them. The development of such reflexive
abilities produces a vision of Leoncavallo’s space
based on the binomial ‘introvert–extrovert’. The
tension between these two opposite poles has
therefore become – in the actual management of
services – the experimentation field of an actual idea
of society and social relations, a space considered as a
meeting point between community and society, and
between several communities. In this sense – both
symbolically and actually – the court and the square
(or better the courts and the squares) coexist in the
centre and interface continuously through the
practices carried out by the involved actors. An
openness towards the outside and an inner
‘protection’ are therefore elements which coexist in
the centre and its services (Membretti, 2004).
Resources for a ‘glocal’ socio-political
Nowadays Leoncavallo can rely on a set of different
resources for its social and political action: these
resources are mainly represented by individual and
collective skills/capabilities (also in the
organizational field), social capital, public consensus
and, only minimally, by financial funds. Last but not
least, the building occupied is the conditio sine qua
non for the existence of the centre, thereby
representing a fundamental material resource.
Human resources
In 2003, about 80 people work regularly in the
Leoncavallo; half of them receive a sort of minimum
salary, called a ‘solidarity token’,
which allows them
to invest the majority of their time in the centre. We
could call these people ‘volunteer-workers’ as they
choose to live on a minimum salary – and therefore
to have a low standard of living – for political
reasons; that is, according to Leoncavallo’s goals and
philosophy. The rest of the group consists of ‘pure
volunteers’, whose means of living come from
external jobs and who work for free in their spare
time for Leoncavallo.
The social composition of these two groups is
varied, in particular with respect to their skills and
expertise. There are people who perform mainly
manual tasks (cooking, cleaning, storing, etc.), others
who organize inner services (spaces and activities),
and finally those who are active only in the case of
specific events. All in all, they form a group with
diversified competencies – operative, organizational
and intellectual, often coexisting in single members
– and characterized by a mix of specialization and
versatility. This peculiar mix of competences is the
outcome of a path of empowerment which
Leoncavallo’s activists promote during their working
experiences inside the centre. In this sense socio-
political participation becomes a way to increase
both individual capabilities (Sen, 1992) and
networks of relationships (Granovetter, 1983).
Organizational resources
From the organizational point of view, Leoncavallo
has always founded its operation on the self-
management (autogestione) principle and practice
(Membretti, 1997; 2007; Ritter, 1980). This is based
on horizontal relationships (lack of hierarchy), on
informality (lack of fixed roles) and on assembly
democracy (search for unanimous consent). Every
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inner space of the social centre is self-managed by a
group of activists, with large autonomy as to the
activities they organize and partial autonomy in the
collective use of potential profits, as profits are at
least partly used for internal necessities of the whole
social centre. Every week the centre’s general
assembly meets (it is normally open to non-activists,
too) and the people who are active in the different
services and internal spaces discuss and decide
together the general lines of action, as well as
evaluating the action of the various internal groups
(compare to De Muro et al., 2007).
Leoncavallo’s organization consists of a network
structure, both with respect to the internal and the
external management. This configuration
guarantees, on the one hand, a high organizational
flexibility and, on the other hand, a strong decisional
and operative decentralization. In this way, the social
centre manages to reach effectively the plurality of
actors, individual and collective, who move both
inside and outside it.
Financial resources
In order to preserve its autonomy, Leoncavallo never
benefited from state help or donations from local
bodies or private actors; this objective has led the
centre, at least up to the present, in the direction of
self-financing. The economic resources necessary for
the functioning of the organization and for the
supply of services come almost entirely from its
cultural and recreational activities. The two main
sources of revenue are entrance tickets for concerts
or big events – although sold at a popular price – and
the takings from the bar and the self-service
restaurant. It should be stressed, however, that
profits would be non-existent if the centre had
chosen to pay taxes on the sale of these services. In
fact Leoncavallo, for political and ideological
reasons, refuses to pay taxes in relation to services
that are defined as public and non-profit. Additional
revenue comes from occasional public campaigns of
fund raising, launched in connection with particular
events, and also from small donations from
individual sympathizers and activists.
It must also be stressed that the economic
survival of the centre would not be possible without
the illegal occupation of its premises. It can be said,
therefore, that the physical space and, particularly,
the building is the main ‘financial’ asset of
Leoncavallo at present.
To face these kinds of legal and financial
problem, and also to set up a fund-raising strategy,
the centre has given a strong role to the ‘Leoncavallo
Foundation’, even if this project is just in its initial
Political resources
Since its formation, Leoncavallo has always been
connected to social and political movements – urban,
national and international – linked to the so called
‘extra-parliamentary Left’. The social centre itself
was an expression of those movements and – in the 30
years of its history – has been crossed and
‘contaminated’ by various collective subjects linked to
the most important civil struggles of the age. The
strong, mainly personal bonds with the movements
and their various inner articulations have always
represented a political resource to be used in periods
of conflict with the institutions, for example in the
most critical moments of the eviction undergone in
the past. More recently, the wave of anti-globalization
movements has significantly influenced the social
centre, which is now a point of reference for various
campaigns and actions: an example is the active roles
of Leoncavallo in both the organization of the
demonstration against the G8 Summit at Genoa in
2001 and, later, in the legal assistance offered to
people injured by the police on that occasion.
In addition to this active relationship, there is
also the very important support from a section of
public opinion, awakened – especially since the
1990s – to the problem of self-managed social spaces
and to the fight against neo-liberal privatization of
metropolitan space and socio-cultural services. This
support, born with the 1989 eviction of the centre,
has been growing over the last years among more
diversified sectors of public opinion, thanks to the
importance and to the quality of the services offered
by Leoncavallo.
During recent years political and institutional
support has further increased; this enlarged and
mainly non partisan support is due also to the great
visibility given by the media on the occasion of
police actions against Leoncavallo.
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Cultural and artistic resources
Leoncavallo has always given a central role to the
cultural and creative expression dimension. From
the very beginning, this was linked to various artistic
trends connected with wider national and
international cultural movements. In the last decade,
the centre has further consolidated this role and has
become a landmark in Milan – and even in national
and international milieus – for many counter-
cultural trends (music, theatre, comics, publishing
etc.), periodically managing to organize important
events, in addition to a daily, fairly busy, cultural
schedule. This is possible not only thanks to a
network of personal and direct ties – by now wide
and established – which connect some social centre
activists to the main milieus of counter-cultural
production, but also to some more institutionalized
actors of the art and culture industries. In recent
times, the centre has started to host concerts and
shows by famous artists, even if they are not
politically involved: this enlargement of the network
is by itself an important resource for the centre, in
terms of legitimation in the arena of public opinion.
It also represents the occasion for a widening of
economic resources and flows.
A further resource is represented by the centre’s
ties with leading intellectual figures of the
progressive milieu; on various critical occasions,
such as the threatened eviction by the police, the
social centre has benefited from the support of
writers, journalists, directors, actors (notably the
Nobel Prize winner, Dario Fo) who signed petitions
and publicly intervened in support of Leoncavallo.
Citizenship as an innovative service: a
process of social, political and economic
The analysis of organizational dynamics in the case
of Leoncavallo is hopefully evidence of an important
connection between the three main building-blocks
of what, following the definition of Moulaert
(Moulaert et al., 1990; Moulaert et al., 2007), we
consider as social innovation: (a) the definition and
satisfaction of human needs; (b) the change within
social relationships; (c) the empowerment and
participation. This connection has developed
through a path-dependent institutionalization
of the services offered by the social centre, in a
dialectical relationship between movement
and social enterprise.
Looking at the first building-block, Leoncavallo
was born as an innovative and bottom-up response
to socio-cultural and welfare needs: from the outset
of its history, the response to these kind of needs was
self-managed inside the centre through a process of
collective definition of their nature, their content
and, especially, the way to approach them. In so
doing, Leoncavallo has avoided the establishment of
procedures for responding to human needs that risk
creating dependence in the users of the services. On
the contrary, it has developed a dialectic between
individual needs and a collective horizon of rights:
for this reason the real meaning of Leoncavallo’s
actions has always been political in its connection to
the sphere of citizenship and universal rights.
Citizenship, in this empirical approach, becomes the
‘product’ of different services and enacted spaces: it
is the main output, but also the main input for
innovation and social change.
This shift from the individual to the collective
dimension has been possible first of all because of
the peculiar characteristics which the service
relationship – finalized to respond to human needs
– assumes inside the social centre: these
characteristics are related to the second building-
block of social innovation. Leoncavallo’s services are
in fact meant as an interface between community
and society: they tend to overcome the distinction
between suppliers and users and to break up the
settings typical of the standard model of service
provision (both public and private). The processes
that tend to be activated here are reciprocity
(Polanyi, 1944), but also the gift of a universalistic
matrix (Mauss, 1950) – basically being averse to any
hierarchy of relations and positively inclined to the
construction of universalistic forms of identity. On
the one hand, services are the milieus for the
construction of communities (primarily of activists,
but also of ‘users’), but on the other hand they are
also vehicles of inclusion – or at least of ‘supply to
the public’ – of a relational ‘surplus’, a ‘hot side’
potentially enjoyable by everyone and linked to the
proximity and informality dimensions. In this way,
community relations are open to the outside world,
while reciprocity and gifts are activated which
basically have non-particularistic goals.
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Therefore, self-management of socio-cultural
and welfare services not only responds to individual
and collective needs, but also represents an
important field of innovation in social relationships,
with particular regard to the inclusion of groups
characterized by strong risks of social exclusion.
Social innovation is again strictly connected to the
internal organization. The practice of autogestione
which comes directly from the experience of the
movements in the 1970s – has been involved in a
form of innovation connected to the reticular aspect
and to the division of organizational roles. In a
recursive way, during the last 30 years, innovation
has been founded on the widening and
diversification of the networks to which Leoncavallo
was and is now connected – also thanks to new
electronic media – by various emergent effects and
reciprocal contaminations, both local and global.
This has been possible mainly thanks to the third
building-block of social innovation, concerning the
empowerment dynamics related to individuals’ roles
in the collective self-management process. In fact,
the acquisition of competencies and the assumption
of individual ‘functions’ – even in the generalized
atmosphere of informality and horizontality – have
represented not only a form of individual
empowerment and validation for the actors involved,
but also, and especially, a process of collective
empowerment for the whole organization. From this
perspective, self-management represents an
innovative approach to the flexibility, the versatility
and the necessity for a creative adaptation required
by the contemporary socio-economic system at all
levels, here re-thought from an essentially political
point of view of social justice.
Moreover, the self-management of services – and
more generally of the whole social centre –
represents a space for the learning of cooperation
and for the exercise of actual forms of citizenship. In
this sense, it is not only an exploitable practice for
the organization, but also assumes the characteristics
of an ‘identity good’ (La Valle, 2001), as a process of
collective sense making through which a shared
feeling of belonging is created.
The empowerment dimension, as stressed earlier,
develops not only through the participation of the
user in the definition and management of the services,
but also through work experience, which involves
several activists of the centre. Work in Leoncavallo’s
services is a multipurpose means to answer various
needs. It is a field of enlarged participation and from
this perspective is an open field for the definition of
the nature of the services provided. It is also the core
element of a strategy of inclusion for some categories
of weak subjects (especially immigrants). For these
people the job opportunity is also a mode of
recognition (we could say a ‘service of recognition’): a
practice aiming to validate them above all as men and
women, and then as citizens. Moreover, work at the
centre is a means and a place for the acquisition of
knowledge and practices which are only partially used
there and become a personal and collective asset to be
spent outside.
The three building-blocks of social innovation
which we have just considered in the case of
Leoncavallo are – in different ways – strictly
connected to its approach to the relationship of
service provision: inside this peculiar relationship
the dimensions regarding economic, social, cultural
and political spheres are mutually interactive.
Through the relationship of service, and thanks to
the peculiar physical and symbolic frames
represented by the ‘terrain vague’ of the inner
spaces of the centre, it is possible to identify what we
could call a comprehensive process of
‘reintegration’: this is a kind of ‘procedural
recombination’ (based on organizing/sense-making
processes) which the centre puts into effect
concerning the social, economic, political and
cultural dimensions.
In particular, the economic sphere in
Leoncavallo’s approach (close to the logic of social
enterprise) becomes one of the most interesting
fields in which to evaluate its innovation. From this
point of view, the services themselves are innovative
for the practices of re-embedding the economics into
society and politics (Polanyi, 1944). When possible,
the monetarization of human relationships is
avoided, or at least brought back to a symbolic frame
with a relational and therefore political nature (this
is the case in the payment of internal work, based on
the ‘solidarity token’). In this sense, economics is
especially considered in the original meaning of the
term (Polanyi, 1944), i.e. a body of practices
connected to the individuals’ and group’s support
(exploitation of the economic aspect). However, with
the centre’s approach to the organizational processes
typical of social enterprise, an entrepreneurial
dimension of economics comes into play, related to
the increase and reinvestment of resources.
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Economics, then, without leaving a symbolic frame
which wants it to be functional to the social and
political aspects, becomes a field of experimentation
for actions and relationships aiming to increase the
potential of intervention in the collective actors’
society. Therefore, innovation is not just concerned
with re-embedding, but also with attempting to
reconceptualize economics as a field for mediation
and conflict between systems of different ideas; all
this is very far from both the old model of public
social service, which excluded the economic aspect
by considering it an external variable – the costs –
and from neo-liberalist monetarization.
The practices of re-embedding in the economic
dimension highlighted above are operating also in
the political one, as this becomes ‘reintegrated’ into
a ‘communitarian’ (but not particularistic) frame of
relationships and of symbols. In the same way,
another process of reintegration is related to the
social dimension (sociality), which tends to be
characterized by a political frame of a universalistic
matrix, as we have seen in the management of
services and spaces into the centre. Finally, we could
speak of ‘reintegration’ in the cultural dimension, as
it is re-embedded into the political and social
practices of the centre while aiming, at the same
time, to build innovative relationships with the
economic field (social and cultural enterprise).
Beyond every strictly functional scheme, the
centre’s processes and services live and are fuelled by
hybridization and reflexivity which are the real base
of these ‘reintegration’ processes: they are innovative
also because they fuel a collective discussion (a ‘public
discourse’) on the public good and because that
discussion goes beyond the walls of the social centre
and becomes strongly rooted in ‘community’
practices made possible within the proximity created
by living in a common physical space; a symbolic
frame which is also, and especially, a resource for the
empowerment, the inclusion and the promotion of
social justice at a universalistic level.
In this sense, we are dealing with the ongoing
consolidation of practices and cultures which aim to
create a particular kind of public institution
comprising metropolitan but also
national/international spaces for debating and
acting on issues of common concern. The ‘flexible
institutionalization’ of Leoncavallo represents
therefore a public action, aiming at the creation of a
dialectic between the informality of the movements
and the ‘structuring’ of the institutions, from a
physical space ‘in continuous redefinition’.
Fuelled by the services and framed by the spaces,
citizenship is, again, the main output of all these
processes and their horizon.
For general background and argumentation of this article,
see De Leonardis et al. (1994),Laville (1994; 1995), Mela
(1996), Vicari Haddock (2004).
In 2006 the same leader was elected to the national
parliament, supported by several social centres around Italy.
All the data directly presented or used as the basis for the
argument in this article have been collected by the author
in the period 2001–204, through several direct interviews
with leaders and activists of Leoncavallo, or through in-
field observation. These data and quotations are available
in full in Membretti (2003).
In 2001 the amount of the ‘solidarity token’ ranged
between 400 and 500 per month. At the end of 2001 a
discussion developed and the initial idea of the ‘solidarity
token’ – meant as a reimbursement and based only on the
principle of reciprocity – is changing in the direction of a
rethinking it as an income: in this sense the symbolic value
of the ‘token’ is moving to the sphere of workers’ rights,
even if within a ‘communitarian’ frame.
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Correspondence to:
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... Una prima fase è individuabile a partire dal 1975, quando a Milano cominciarono a fiorire numerose occupazioni ad opera di una generazione di giovani, operai e militanti che sentiva come propria l'esigenza di trovare spazi in cui trascorrere il tempo libero, che fossero dei luoghi di aggregazione costruttiva e gestiti in maniera autonoma (Balestrini e Moroni 1988). I primi centri sociali risposero a queste esigenze, occupandosi peraltro di problematiche legate al contesto locale -quali le condizioni di marginalità dei quartieri e i bisogni delle classi meno abbienti -che venivano direttamente prese in carico dagli attivisti (Membretti 2007). Una seconda generazione di centri sociali vide invece la luce nel corso degli anni Ottanta sotto la pressione di spinte differenti, tra cui quelle derivanti dal movimento punk (Danzieri 1996), che portarono alla diffusione di queste esperienze in varie parti d'Italia sotto l'adozione di comuni definizioni simboliche. ...
... Sul finire degli anni Ottanta e sull'onda di un evento simbolico come lo sgombero del centro sociale Leoncavallo di Milano e dello sviluppo della mobilitazione studentesca della Pantera prese il via la terza generazione di centri sociali. In questa fase, una scia di nuove occupazioni, talvolta in netta discontinuità con le esperienze precedenti (Membretti 2007), coinvolse le principali città italiane caratterizzandosi per la promozione di forme di cultura artistica e musicale alternative a quelle dominanti. Oltre che spazi di aggregazione sociale e politica, i centri sociali iniziarono a configurarsi come poli di cultura alternativa in cui le attività erano proposte e organizzate tramite forme cooperative tese a limitare, se non del tutto a escludere, la logica del profitto. ...
... Questi contenitori possono divenire luoghi e strumenti di coinvolgimento e aggregazione delle persone, in cui prendono vita attività tese a soddisfare un ampio spettro di bisogni sociali e culturali. Del resto, sin dagli anni Settanta alcuni centri sociali hanno congiuntamente operato sul fronte dei servizi di welfare e su quello della cultura e della socialità, con una specifica attenzione alla dimensione territoriale della domanda (Membretti 2007). Ciò ha condotto i centri sociali, da un lato, ad assolvere la funzione di contesti di produzione di cultura autonoma e non commercializzata e, dall'altro, a sviluppare iniziative di welfare civile (De Leonardis 1998) per rispondere ad esigenze territorialmente localizzate di cibo, di spazi abitativi, di salute, di aggregazione e di sicurezza. ...
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IT [EN below] Con il termine “centri sociali autogestiti” si indicano sia quegli spazi fisici recuperati da gruppi di attivisti per finalità di carattere politico, sociale e culturale, sia i gruppi di attivisti stessi in quanto attori collettivi con specifiche appartenenze politiche e sistemi di valori. Si tratta di un fenomeno che ha conosciuto diverse fasi di sviluppo e affonda le proprie radici nel solco della tradizione politica antagonista italiana degli anni Settanta. Al centro dell’esperienza dei centri sociali au- togestiti si collocano il principio organizzativo dell’autogestione e la promozione della dimensione soggettiva dell’esperienza sociale e politica per mezzo di forme di mutualismo e cooperazione. Oggi i centri sociali si trovano dinanzi a nuove sfide che rendono necessario un continuo ripensamento dei metodi e delle strategie di intervento all’interno di un contesto caratterizzato da crescenti disuguaglianze e nuove incertezze. EN The term “self-managed social centers” indicates both those physical spaces recovered by groups of activists for political, social, and cultural purposes and the activist groups themselves as collective actors with specific political affiliations and systems of values. It is a phenomenon that has undergone various stages of development and has its roots in the furrow of the antagonist Italian political tradition of the 1970s. At the heart of self-managed social centers’ experience are the organizational principle of self-management and the promotion of the subjective dimension of social and political experience through forms of mutualism and cooperation. Today, self-managed social centers face new challenges that make it necessary to continually rethink the methods and strategies of intervention within a context characterized by growing inequalities and new uncertainties.
... Squatting becomes a political and cultural practice, also in response to housing needs and creative tendencies in the middle-sized or big cities. The approval and public recognition of some energised Social Centres in Italy (Membretti and Mudu, 2013) -for instance, Leoncavallo in Milan (Ibba, 1995) -have sometimes led to the legitimisation of these experiences, even on a local institutional level (Membretti, 2007). With the chance to become legalised, these occupied spaces have recently, in some cases, been won over by the idea, as observed in the Netherlands (Owens, 2009;Pruijt, 2017), and Germany (Mayer, 1993;Holm Kuhn, 2010;Vesudevan, 2015). ...
... Sono molti, anche in Italia, gli esempi di pratiche di questo tipo, riconducibili nel nostro paese ai centri sociali in cui i giovani attraverso l'autofinanziamento di prodotti artistici, caratterizzano lo spazio urbano, definiscono le tendenze ed il consumo culturale nelle grandi e piccole città. Questi fermenti generati dal basso da gruppi di giovani, spesso non organizzati formalmente, in alcuni casi hanno incontrato l'approvazione e il riconoscimento pubblico, come ad esempio Leoncavallo, uno spazio pubblico occupato e autogestito a Milano che svolge attività politiche e culturali, legittimato a livello istituzionale locale (Membretti 2007). Numerosi esempi sono ravvisabili a livello territoriale, europeo ed extra-continentale, tra questi: le opere 'abbandonate' in piazza Plebiscito a Napoli dall'artista italiano Jago per denunciare lo schiacciamento delle classi più precarie durante la pandemia, i fenomeni citati degli Occupy e degli Indignados in Spagna, le occupazioni delle piazze della cosiddetta "Arab Spring" fino alle più recenti occupazioni delle piazze di Hong Kong o, in Italia, delle Sardine. ...
Full-text available
Il contributo concentra la riflessione sulle molteplici forme di attivismo e partecipazione giovanile, tradizionali e non convenzionali, e particolarmente sulle forme emergenti dalla platform society e sugli ambiti di espressione della creatività, dell'arte e della comunicazione.
... In actual fact, these occupations run under self-management and set up in the vacuum left by the authorities with regard to rights and welfare (Membretti, 2007), particularly the issue of housing, are not entirely legal. Every now and then the authorities attempt to reinforce "law and order" through forced evacuation of the occupied spaces. ...
The third chapter begins by covering the events of November 2014, which brought the issue of the prevailing changes in the Italian suburbs, to the centre of public attention. Despite the initial urban planning to promote development, these residential areas are essentially marginalized, and suffer a gradual distancing from local institutions. The council housing in the area covering viale Morandi, Tor Sapienza in Rome, had been particularly subject to a rapid degradation, with squatting and high levels of crime. The decision to set up a reception centre for asylum seekers in the area, and the subsequent friction with residents, sparked off a riot by the locals, their protest having violent and xenophobic overtones. A feeling of abandonment on the part of the institutions was diffuse.
... Los CSOs proveen espacios en los cuales activistas pertenecientes a diferentes movimientos sociales puedan conocerse, del mismo modo que permiten expandir la conciencia de sus participantes hacia el campo de la disidencia y la resistencia (Martínez 2011). De alguna manera, estas espacialidades son mecanismos innovadores para construir otro tipo de ciudadanía (Membretti 2007) con una base política radical e insurgente (Dikeç y Swyngedouw 2017), a la vez que productores y usuarios de redes capilares (Lorenzi Fernández 2010). En otras palabras, los Centros Sociales Okupados permiten a las personas tener una experiencia real fuera del sistema y gobernanza capitalista y les permite transformar su propio espacio circundante. ...
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El derecho a la ciudad se ha convertido en un marco de significado tan amplio que ha perdido parte de su sentido y de su fuerza transformadora. Con tal de aproximarnos a una experiencia que pueda conectar con el concepto primigenio de Lefebvre y reivindicar su vigencia, tomaremos como referencia los Centros Sociales Okupados (CSO). Estos son la prueba de la importancia de espacializar el derecho a la ciudad, con infraestructuras que mantengan las tradiciones combativas y continúen las diversas luchas. En concreto, y para comprender mejor el alcance de este planteamiento teórico, el artículo estudia dos Centros Sociales Okupados en la ciudad de Barcelona, La Vaina y Can Masdeu. El texto cierra con unas conclusiones en el que se sintetizan los principales resultados: que la disputa por lo urbano pasa por apelar a las dimensiones concretas de los derechos y que los Centros Sociales Okupados, como espacios de y para el encuentro, juegan ese rol.
... In addition, initiatives might evolve over time. For example, Membretti (2007) studied Leoncavallo, an occupied social center established in Milan in 1975. Over the decades, Leoncavallo changed how it approached both its local community and its relationship with institutional actors through flexible institutionalization, which among other things implied that two of its members entered the city council and the Italian parliament, respectively in 2001 and 2006. ...
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In this thesis I study community hubs as multi-purpose spaces that aggregate people, ideas and energies to provide activities and services that are both targeted to their local community and provided by it. Like other contemporary participation practices, community hubs are in dialectic with the context in which they exist; people experience them in different ways and attribute different meanings to them. However, no community hub is like any other. Each can host different uses while having a governance structure that depends on a diverse array of actors. While community hubs are containers of participation, they also exist because of participation. Spaces, in other words, are constitutive of their social reproduction. I explore community hubs through the question: how do humans and non-humans participate in the management of community hubs? Community hubs are rooted in their territory – which means that they are contingent to their context, and depend on but also support their urban and social fabric – and in continuous evolution – because every community hub must strive to balance between having enough structure to function consistently and remain flexible and permeable to integrate the external contributions it needs to thrive. To dive into the controversies, contradictions and paradoxes of community hubs, I combine participant observation and direct engagement in three case studies. Two of them were top-down structured participation processes in Chieri, Italy, while the third revolved around a self-managed hybrid between co-working and community hub in Valencia, Spain. I use actor-network theory to explore each process in terms of concentric networks of interaction between humans (people and groups) and non-humans (built space, digital tools, and text documents). This approach allowed me to frame the role of human and non-human entities, trace how they transfer their influence across concentric actor-networks, and highlight the challenges of starting and running a community hub. As multipurpose spaces of participation, community hubs need to integrate different needs and uses, craft a shared narrative, find economic sustainability, and continuously experiment with their governance. However, being multi-purpose is both a social mission and a necessity for survival. Community hubs then need to maintain a negotiable definition of what they are and what makes their community, while devising ways to let outsiders permeate their spaces of decision-making.
The publication is devoted to issues related to the development of tools for measuring social impact generated by social enterprises. A valuable aspect of the monograph is the inclusion of case studies of selected tools (such as social return on investment, local multiplier, balanced scorecard) in partnership with social enterprises. The authors pay special attention to solutions enabling the operationalization of social change measurement, taking into account not only financial but, above all, non-financial aspects. They believe that the measurement of impact should take into account not only the economic perspective, but also the public and social one, where values other than material profit also count. The tools should indicate the responsibility of entities towards various types of stakeholders and serve to increase the quality of social services by providing valuable information to individual organizations.
Findings from a large and growing body of transdisciplinary research offer useful insights for a deeper understanding of the relationships between social innovation and governance. In this article, social innovation (SI) is defined as practices that aim to satisfy neglected human needs, based on collective actions and tighter social relations, potentially generating socio-political transformations. Governance is defined as ‘new ways of governing’, including participatory and collective decisionmaking, along with conventional forms of government. The authors discuss commonalities and differences in the understanding of both concepts. Both social innovation and governance often involve collaborative practices between civil society organizations and public actors to develop alternative solutions to meet social needs, and often face comparable socio-political challenges. The authors review five academic areas (political science and public administration, urban and territorial studies, sociology, sustainability and ecology, and culture and creativity studies) to identify the most relevant dimensions linking social innovation and governance.
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Le pagine che seguono raccontano un viaggio, un’esperienza di ricerca, per certi versi potremmo dire etnografica, all’interno del centro sociale Leoncavallo. E’ un racconto particolare, come è peculiare lo sguardo, la prospettiva, di natura sociologica, che ho scelto per osservare e descrivere un soggetto così “ingombrante”: un luogo metropolitano (un “territorio in movimento”) che è anche, e innanzitutto, un collettivo politico, un’esperienza ormai storica di autogestione, ma che negli anni ha mantenuto e rafforzato la propria connotazione di “erogatore” di servizi culturali e sociali alla cittadinanza, diventando così un caso di grande interesse per chi intenda studiare sul campo le alternative alla privatizzazione neo-liberista dello Stato sociale. In questo libro non si parlerà dunque direttamente dell’azione politica del Leoncavallo: non è questo un pamphlet in difesa del centro sociale, né uno studio politologico che miri a ricostruire le dinamiche attraverso le quali il centro si governa e interagisce con altri soggetti collettivi su scala locale o nazionale, o internazionale. Il punto di partenza, piuttosto, è rappresentato da quell’aspro e mai chiuso dibattito che alcuni anni fa si sviluppò tra i centri sociali autogestiti, circa le opportunità e rischi contenuti nella eventuale transizione verso forme di impresa sociale. La tesi che sosterrò fino in fondo è che il Leoncavallo sia, a tutti gli effetti, anche un’impresa sociale e che questa sua caratteristica non solo non riduca il peso dell’agire politico nell’operare complessivo del centro, ma anzi ne amplifichi la portata, ridefinendone le modalità in sintonia con le trasformazioni radicali che sta attraversando la società contemporanea. “Fare impresa” (nel senso non lucrativo del termine) nel e con il “sociale”, costruire socialità e percorsi culturali alternativi, offrire servizi di cittadinanza agli esclusi, ripensare il tema del reddito e del lavoro, cercare momenti di ricomposizione tra vita lavorativa e vita “comunitaria”, sono tutti elementi di un discorso politico sui diritti (individuali e collettivi), sulla loro universalità ma anche sulla necessaria concretezza che li deve caratterizzare, a partire dal vissuto quotidiano dei singoli. Tutto ciò assume particolare importanza in un momento storico di radicale destrutturazione delle politiche sociali che hanno caratterizzato, nel bene e nel male, il secondo dopoguerra: di fronte alle prospettive di privatizzazione dello Stato sociale, nelle varianti neo-liberista o neo-comunitaria, il modello di intervento dell’impresa sociale sembra costituire una valida alternativa nella direzione di un “welfare civile”, di uno spazio pubblico di cittadinanza realmente universalistico e aperto. Quel modello, variegato e polimorfo, viene interpretato e arricchito dal Leoncavallo nelle pratiche di tutti i giorni, indipendentemente dalle definizioni che di esso siano fornite o dal grado di consapevolezza in merito diffuso: o, perlomeno, questa è la lettura dei dati che qui intendo presentare e discutere. Cercando dunque di liberare la relazione di servizio dall’etichetta ideologica che ne enfatizza ora gli aspetti di mercato, ora quelli di natura burocratica, sosterrò, attraverso i risultati di un lungo lavoro di ricerca sul campo, la valenza genuinamente politica dei servizi offerti dal Leoncavallo. Non solo: metterò anche in luce come la riflessione interna al centro sociale sul ruolo dell’economia in rapporto alla socialità e alla politica, sulle caratteristiche del lavoro volontario e di quello retribuito, sulle dinamiche organizzative dei servizi stessi, costituisca un prezioso contributo, per quanto non ancora sistematizzato, al dibattito sul futuro del welfare e, più in generale, alla discussione sul rapporto individuo-società nella contemporanea “età dell’incertezza”. Il Leoncavallo come “impresa per la qualità sociale” non è certo il Leoncavallo tout court: l’agire del centro sociale più conosciuto d’Italia si caratterizza per le sue molteplici dimensioni, dall’impegno contro la globalizzazione neo-liberista all’intervento puntuale sul territorio locale, fino alla recente presenza in consiglio comunale. Queste dimensioni, importantissime e che rendono immediatamente riconoscibile all’esterno il centro sociale come soggetto politico antagonista, costituiscono altrettanti campi di indagine, perlopiù inesplorati. Tuttavia l’angolo visuale adottato in questo libro, nella sua specificità, vorrebbe non solo contribuire all’emersione della ricchezza sociale e politica insita nei servizi gestiti dal Leoncavallo, ma anche suggerire un percorso più ampio, mettere in luce una possibile evoluzione dei soggetti attivi nel campo dell’autogestione solidale, che porti questi ultimi a rivestire una incisività più diretta nei processi sociali in atto, una forza propositiva maggiore al di fuori del tradizionale agone politico. La centralità assunta dalla relazione di servizio all’interno dell’organizzazione sociale post-fordista, a tutti i livelli della vita associata, pone infatti una sfida per quanti intendano l’agire politico, nella sua valenza universalistica e globale, come radicato tuttavia nel territorio, nei rapporti intersoggettivi, nella dimensione relazionale, appunto. La concezione stessa di servizio, liberata dall’ideologia dominante e riposizionata sui binari inscindibili della solidarietà e dei diritti (ovvero della cittadinanza in senso pieno) può diventare allora un’arma politica e culturale importante nella battaglia, per nulla ideologica, di quanti credono e testimoniano nell’agire quotidiano che “un mondo diverso è in costruzione”. Quel particolare approccio ai servizi che riconduciamo alla definizione, processuale ed organizzativa, di “impresa sociale”, e a cui ritengo si avvicinino le pratiche quotidiane del Leoncavallo qui analizzate, può rappresentare un tassello rilevante nella direzione di una società universale dei diritti, a partire da comunità particolari e localizzate della reciprocità e del riconoscimento, da “spazi pubblici di prossimità”, secondo la felice definizione di Jean-Louis Laville. Qui si ferma la ricerca sociologica, anche quella non indifferente ai valori, e si apre il campo, politico e relazionale, delle “utopie concrete”, quelle per la cui realizzazione una dose di conflitto sociale e culturale sembra oggi più che mai indispensabile: ma questo i movimenti lo sanno, a partire dal Leoncavallo. Pavia, novembre 2002
European cities are at the centre of social, political and economic changes in Western Europe. This book proposes a new research agenda in urban sociology and politics applying primarily to European cities, in particular those that together make up the urban structure of Europe: a fabric of older cities of over 100,000 inhabitants, regional capitals and smaller state capitals. The contributors develop an analytical framework which views cities as local societies, and as collective factors and site for modes of governance. The three parts of the book examine the economics of cities, the social structures, and the modes and processes of governance. Each chapter comprises a comparison across several countries and examines critically the book's central theoretical perspective. This is not a book about the making of a Europe of cities but rather about how some cities can take advantage of their changing global and European environment.
In this chapter I review empirical studies directly testing the hypotheses of my 1973 paper "The Strength of Weak Ties" (hereafter "SWT") and work that elaborates those hypotheses theoretically or uses them to suggest new empirical research not discussed in my original formulation. Along the way, I will reconsider various aspects of the theoretical argument, attempt to plug some holes, and broaden its base.