chapter  7
13 Pages

Talking about my generation: emigration and a ‘sense of generation’ among highly skilled young Italians in Paris


Along with other countries in southern Europe with histories of emigration, Italy has recently experienced a new wave of emigration, primarily of young, skilled professionals with mobilities quite unlike those of previous generations of Italian migrants. This new southern European emigration has generated intense discussion in public debate and the media, but it remains little explored in academic studies, until in very recent times. We look at this new emigration through the example of young, highly skilled Italians in Paris, a city of particular interest as a leading destination of both Italian mass emigration in the period 1860-1970 and new, skilled mobilities in recent years. Economists have conducted most of the few studies analysing this new

Italian emigration, taking the ‘brain drain’ or ‘brain circulation’ approach and focusing on labour market factors. We argue for a broader approach in this chapter, especially through demonstrating that young Italian adults’ emigration is not simply due to labour market factors, but also to a ‘generation gap’ in Italian society (Del Boca and Rosina, 2009) that makes it difficult for youth to access independence and social recognition. A strong ‘sense of generation’ (a feeling of belonging to the same generation) emerged spontaneously from the interviews we conducted in Paris. In this chapter we highlight that this ‘sense of generation’ is both a factor in migration and a consequence of it. The sense of belonging to a ‘sacrificed generation’, confronted with a dearth of recognition in a society with a poor meritocracy, not only prompted skilled young people to emigrate but went on to be reinforced by the migratory experience. Although this generational perspective is quite present in the media and southern European migrant cyberspace (through what are now well-known expressions such as ‘the 592 euro generation’ in Greece or the ‘nobody generation’ in Italy; Chucchiarato, 2011), it has been little explored in migration studies, which have examined intergenerational relations1 but not a ‘sense of generation’ connected to migratory experiences. Our choice of the term ‘generation’ draws on the sociological work of Karl

Mannheim (1952 [1923]), which defines a generation as ‘a group of individuals

whose members have experienced a noteworthy historical event within a set period of time’, even if they are not exactly the same age. In this respect, young Italian migrants can be seen as part of a ‘crisis generation’ that emerged after several structural changes in Italian society, as we shall see below. It is also a European generation, where young people’s trajectories include the experience of the possibilities and limits of EU integration and freedom of movement. Similarly, the concept of ‘youth’ is not solely based on age. Following Mauger (2010) and other sociologists, we consider youth as ‘the phase of the biographical trajectory in which individuals have not reached yet a stable position in both labour and matrimonial markets’. It is the time it takes to find one’s place in society. Youth is defined as much through social position and family status as it is by age. This is particularly relevant for southern Europe, where transition to adulthood is long and difficult. In Italy this is often called ‘delay disease’ (Sgritta, 2002): delay of departure from one’s parents’ home, marriage age, the birth of the first child (which often takes place after the age of 35), and so on. In keeping with this broad definition of youth, the migrants we studied in

Paris were aged 20 to 40. Our methodology is mainly qualitative. In 2012-2013, we conducted twenty in-depth interviews with young, highly skilled Italians (university graduates), aged between 25 and 40, who had been living and working in Paris for at least one year. We explored their biographical and family backgrounds and their varied motivations and identities in addition to their migratory and professional trajectories. Although this new emigration is difficult to measure and often invisible to official statistics (since it takes place within the Schengen space), we were also able to use the limited quantitative data available in both Italy and France: the French national census (INSEE, 1999 and 2009) and the Italian population registers (especially the AIRE: ‘Anagrafe degli Italiani residenti all’estero’). Last, as the increasing use of mobile media has become crucial to the contemporary experience of mobilities, we analysed representations of the new Italian emigration in the media and in migrants’ rapidly growing cyberspace. The migrants’ ‘sense of generation’ is largely maintained and nurtured through virtual communities, blogs and websites that have been proliferating for many years in conjunction with the new Italian emigration. The ‘sense of generation’ is closely connected to four main issues for these young Italian migrants, each of which will be examined in turn: a new phase in Italian migration history in France, European integration (a generation of ‘European movers’), the labour market crisis (a ‘jobless generation’), and the generational divide within Italian society (the ‘generazione nessuno’, a ‘nobody generation’ lacking recognition and suffering from marginalisation in Italian society).