Violence and space: A comparative ethnography of two Italian “badlands”

  • Ferdinando Fava University of Padua / Ecole nationale supérieure d'architecture de Paris la Villette
  • Paolo Grassi Polytechnic University of Milan


This paper compares two marginal neighbourhoods and Italian “badlands”: the Zona Espansione Nord (ZEN) of Palermo and San Siro in Milan. It concerns multiple types of violence that affect them and their connections with different multi-scale processes. The two neighbourhoods emerge as the result of two urban histories that can be partly schematised in two dichotomous images: on the one side, the “non-Fordist” marginality of the ZEN, a social enclave of unemployment without a working-class past; on the other side, the “post-Fordist” marginality of San Siro, a multicultural socio-spatial configuration with a working-class past. Following the idea of the continuum of violence, we suggest that space is heuristically connected with violence and to this continuum. In order to illustrate this hypothesis, this paper introduces two case studies, drawing out their main common characteristics as urban badlands, and singling out the different traits that mark their specificity. It then links the continuum of violence to urban space, firstly in a synchronic perspective, mapping the different forms of violence that affect the two neighbourhoods today, and secondly on a diachronic perspective pointing to their different on-going dynamics, through the life stories of some of our interlocutors. Through this comparison, we illustrate how these two case studies combine and account for what we call the urban space-violence continuum.