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La Comunicazione del Terzo Settore nel Mezzogiorno

Author: Stefano Martelli
Publisher: Milano: Franco Angeli, 2006
Review Published: February 2008

 REVIEW 1: Gaetano Gucciardo (Italiano)
 REVIEW 2: Gaetano Gucciardo (English)

The theme of the third sector has attracted the attention of a considerable number of sociologists, especially those of Catholic extraction, who individuate in the growth of organizations that operate in the social sector one of the principal, if not the principal, factors responsible for integration in contemporary societies. These are subject to processes of fragmentation and break-up that the State no longer seems able to stem the tide anymore. The growth of these organizations (associations that promote socially useful activities, family associations, social cooperatives, foundations whose origins lie in banking, and voluntary associations), which offer services to people without following any market logic, seems to constitute the proof of civil society's autonomous ability to tend to the needs of integration. This fact therefore bolsters hope if compared to the numerous gloomy diagnoses on contemporary society.

Between 2004 and the 2005, Stefano Martelli, at that time professor at the University of Palermo, directed a research project on communication in the third sector, the results of which are published by Franco Angeli Press. The project of the University of Palermo was part of a program on social capital of considerable national interest, co-financed by the Miur in the two year period 2004-05 and coordinated by Pierpaolo Donati (University of Bologna). Giacomo di Gennaro, of the "Federico II" University of Naples, and Sandro Stanzani, at that time professor at the University of Molise, later joined the project. Thus an enlarged network of research was spontaneously formed, and this has developed a whole body of research on the third sector organizations (Tso.s) in the south. Besides repeating the research on the culture of volunteers and on the structures in which they operate, already developed at a national level during Prin 2001, new questionnaires were developed on the activities of communication, and they were applied to four territorial environments in the South with different characteristics: two have the form of metropolitan areas (Naples and Palermo), whilst two are provincial capitals (Campobasso and Trapani). Not only has this choice allowed the authors to verify some hypotheses on the characteristics of the third sector in the South, but it has also allowed them not to neglect the differences within the south itself.

The expression "third sector" has a long history and is not without ideological connotations, which make it unpleasant to some. In 1981 Achille Ardig˛ used the expression "third dimension" ("Volontariato, welfare state e terza dimensione" in La Ricerca sociale, n. 25, 1981, pp. 7-22), but already a few years before the European Community Commission had asked a group of experts led by Giorgio Ruffolo, together with Michel Albert and Jacques Delors, to reflect on the new characteristics of socio-economic development. That group of experts concentrated its attention on what it called the "Third System" -- "third" since, in the way it was organised and in its aims, it was an alternative to the first two systems, those of the State and of the Market. Its protagonists are citizen organizations which develop activities whose aims are not those of making a profit, which produce goods that do not have an exchange value, and which have a direct use value. While the logic of the State is that of power and that of the Market is the logic of money, in the third sector the logic and the motivation of the social actors are principally prosocial, altruistic, and solidaristic.

For Donati, the expression "third sector" gives the idea of what is to be found where the state and the market do not reach. It corresponds to a concept that Donati calls lib/lab for which the third sector has the task of remedying the insufficiencies of the first two systems, of doing what the first two systems can not do. Donati prefers to call it "privato sociale" because, for the Bolognese scholar, it does not arise to support the State and the Market, but, rather, constitutes an alternative way of articulating social relationships, because it is "different" in comparison to the logic of power and to the logic of money (cfr. Donati P. and Colozzi I. (Eds), Il privato sociale che emerge: realtÓ e dilemmi, il Mulino, Bologna 2004). Moreover, the third sector is the specific expression of social capital because "social capital is a quality that does not belong to every and any social relationship, but just to those that give importance to relational exchanges" (Donati P., "La famiglia come capitale sociale primario, in Donati P. (Ed), Famiglia e capitale sociale nella societÓ italiana, Cinisello Balsamo (Mi), San Paolo, 2003). That is to say, social relationships that have themselves at their centre, that are not founded with objectives other than the relationship itself in mind. Given this definition, which is much more restrictive than those commonly employed in the literature, it can be understood how important the organizations of "privato sociale" are when viewed from this perspective.

The Italian third sector is in strong expansion; in the last two decades the number of organizations has grown and this, in some sense, contradicts the diagnosis of a decline of social capital in advanced industrial societies, which can be reached, for example, if the results of the investigations of Robert Putnam on the United States are generalized. Putnam documents a decline of associationism in the USA and, if we must pay attention to those who sustain that the USA today is what Europe will be like in fifty years time, we should conclude that shortly it will be the same here too. Perhaps, however, we need to distinguish between civic and political associationism and social associationism, placing on the one hand, associationism whose aim is to allow forms of participation in collective and public decisions or the associations whose aim are to offer services to the associates and, on the other hand, associations that deal with giving services to the public, managing the public good, and that, as such, generally receive public money. The research that is being presented interprets the third sector to be the one constituted by organizations that give services to the general public.

Martelli's book should be recommended because it is the first to investigate the dimension of communication in and of the third sector and because it investigates this dimension in the South of Italy. The diagnoses on the social reality of the south of Italy increasingly converge on the theme of the lack of social capital as a factor responsible for the persistent delay in the development of southern society, and therefore to study the third sector means in particular to shed light on the field of quality social relationships, from which we should expect the ferment of change and innovation which can expand and become able to inform the whole of the southern social fabric about itself.

Believing the Tso.s of the third sector to be a testimony to the vitality of civil society, contributing to "the reconstruction of the social bond in a fragmented and de-futurized society" (12-13), the substantial question of the research directed by Martelli is whether they devote time and adequate resources to communication.

Today, communication is an imperative for those working in the public sphere for, as Thompson says, in the epoch of mass media, the public sphere is no longer the place where communication strives to produce consensus, but a space in which the actors exist in order to be visible. So, how much awareness is there of the need to be present in the media? Which means are employed? What type of personnel do we turn to in order to communicate? These questions are even more urgent if we consider, on the one hand, the important role performed by organisations of the third sector whose work by now has become essential and, on the other, the media's tendency to concentrate the attention on traditional subjects of the public sphere, such as political, economic, and union leaders, increasingly involved in the dynamics of sensationalising public things. They have less and less to do with democratic debate and more and more with the imperative of appearing in public. Thus the risk is that those very institutions that "build and daily reconstruct the fabric of society -- starting from the Tso.s of the third sector" (21) will be expunged from the public sphere.

The results of the investigation reveal a third sector that suffers from the weakness of the local civil society; it is, in fact, less articulated, organized, and diversified than in the regions of the centre and the north. Differences, however, have emerged among the areas of the south of Italy, and these must not be neglected. The organizations in southern metropolitan areas are more developed than those in the province. The organizations in the area of Trapani are on the whole more recent institutions if compared to those of Palermo and Naples; they are less diversified in terms of activity and more often their sphere of action is limited to the city. It is, for the researchers, a confirmation of the relationship between the degree of territorial development and the internal differentiation of the third sector in the south.

The slower development of the Tso.s of third sector in the south of Italy is also reflected on the level of communication. Not only is it very often entrusted to people who occupy more than one role (generally the person responsible for the organization) but it is developed without a critical selection of the means through which to do it, a sign of a certain degree of improvisation. Finally, communication is rarely entrusted to personnel with the specific professional competence.

The research directed by Martelli was also designed to have the practical result of creating a web portal for communication in the third sector in Palermo. The web portal has been successful: of the 155 organizations identified in the territory of Palermo, 140 have adhered to the portal, even if over half (56.5%) of those in Palermo and almost all of those in Naples (97.3%) already had their own internet site. Furthermore, in the first year of activity, there have been 180,000 visits to the site, and in this way, it can be said that the communicative ability of the third sector in Palermo has grown.

40% of the organizations surveyed in the Sicilian capital are made up of voluntary organisations (50% in Naples and 73.4% in Campobasso). Then come associations which promote socially useful activities, social cooperatives, family associations, and finally the foundations. Among the voluntary organisations, the most common are those operating in the field of social services and the health sector and in the cultural-educational sector. The problem that everyone complains about is the little interest shown by the national media, which is considered by 70% of those interviewed as very or quite problematic, in the sense that they recognize that scant accessibility to the national media is the source, if nothing else, of an aggravation of the operating difficulties. It is, in fact, a much diffused conviction that communication is important for the activity to continue (67.7% in Palermo, 67.2% in Naples, 47.9% in Campobasso). Nevertheless, as we have already remarked, "minimum and instrumental" communication prevails, the kind which is necessary for the transmission of data and information of an administrative type. There is not a specific employee for communication. It is generally the person responsible for the organization who occupies both positions (69% of the cases in Palermo, 72.3% in Naples) and 91.5% of these employees are not journalists.

Public reports detailing the activities developed are diffused, but not as much can be said about statements of accounts detailing the sums received. In Palermo, reports about activities are issued by 97.3% of the surveyed organizations, while the statements of account of the sums received are issued only by 56.5%. A greater transparency is, naturally, desirable.

Most of the surveyed organizations have been formed in the last decade, while on a national scale, most have been active for longer, at least twenty years. The sectors in which the organizations most frequently operate are the social-health one and the educational one, while in the whole of the country the organizations are distributed in a wider range of sectors. There is further data, from the extent of the number of members that is frequently smaller in southern organizations, to the relationships among volunteers and workers within the organizations, which are often less equal and more hierarchical than on the national scale.

But one of the most important characteristics common to the surveyed organizations and that the authors do not fail to underline is the elevated rate of contributions coming from public bodies. It is an important characteristic because it can constitute the proof of the weakness of the sector and an excess of subordination to logics that are extraneous to the specific role and vocation of the Tso.s of the third sector. In Naples, Palermo, and Trapani, the Tso.s of the third sector depend considerably on public financing and therefore on the parties that manage local public administration. Around a fifth of the organizations declare that public contributions account for more than 70% of their budget. Martelli writes: "The preoccupation that the identity and the autonomy of private social work in the South can be hurt by such relationships with parties and with political institutions is well founded. It is also feared that such bonds prevent the emergence of real planning capabilities in the Tso.s of the third sector, perhaps forced to have a passive role due to their collaboration with public bodies" (110).

Although we cannot generalize, it is permissible to think that, given the predominant ways that public bodies in the South allocate money, subject to the logic of particularistic production of support and patronage, a significant part of the third sector must also have been colonized by politics and have bowed to logics that distort their identity and aims. In this way, even the third sector is subject to political patronage and apportionments. The reflections and the research on the third sector in the south of Italy should, at this point, focus on this problem in specific ways, because the expectations of civil growth linked to the third sector would not only be disappointed if indeed some political colonization appeared to prevail, but it should even be concluded that the third sector has become a part of the problem, one of the factors that continue to feed that perverse logic that locks society and politics in the south of Italy in a relationship of mutual absorption, in which the public good is systematically dissipated, and legality and right denied.

Nevertheless, in this phenomenon can be found important motivational elements and genuine commitment towards social promotion and solidarity. The intimate pro-social vocation of the subjects (collectively and non) active in the third sector can strongly contribute to modify the perception and the self-perception of important segments of society in the South and, in this way, promote positive expectations and greater and more widespread trust. In this perspective, the strategic role of communication is clearly evident. The busy Tso.s in the third sector will have to pay ever greater attention so that the moral and civil resources at their disposal can grow and make themselves known to ever greater sectors of society.

Gaetano Gucciardo (English):
Gaetano Gucciardo is a researcher of sociology at the Faculty of Literatures and Philosophy of the University of Palermo. He deals with themes linked to social capital and sense of community. He is the author of La legge e l'arbitrio. L'abusivismo edilizio in Italia. Il caso della Valle dei templi di Agrigento, Soveria mannelli (Cz), Rubbettino, 1999, and of numerous articles which have appeared in collected volumes, scientific reviews, and magazines.  <gagucci@unipa.it>

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