This paper will discuss the cultural beliefs and traditions present in the Italian society. It will try to discuss important sociological factors manifested in the Italian society. It will also try to describe the norms, values and beliefs of the Italian culture. This paper will primarily focus on the family organization of Italy.
Since the family is a significant factor in building and maintaining a society, a clear presentation of norms and tradition with regards to the structure of the family inside the Italian society must be made in order to truly comprehend the intricacies of the society mentioned. One of the structural features of any family or kinship system is the way by which descent is traced. In general descent does not mean recognition of genealogical ties to the exclusion of others. Descent merely affiliates the individual at birth with a particular group of relatives to whom he is expected to be especially close.
Most Italians trace their ancestry through both paternal and maternal lines. This bilateral or bilineal descent associates the individual with a group of kinsmen related to him through both his parents. Bilateralism is evident by the equally close ties that are maintained with both sides of kinsmen. Close interaction including mutual help and support is expected of all relatives, irrespective of whether they belong to the paternal or maternal side. This principle of bilaterality, if applied to the next ascendant generation, results in the doubling of descent lines since there are now four grandparents on both sides. This is the concept of multilineal descent, which means doubling of descent lines each time reckoning goes higher in the next ascending generation. (1991) claimed that rule of descent is vital in defining the link between generations. This rule of descent as stated by (1991) is inherent in the Italian family and has far reaching consequences on the structure of relationships within the kinship group. They make clear the reciprocal rights and obligations of members, specify authority and inheritance patterns and even pinpoints whom one can or cannot marry (1991).
Another important aspect of the Italian family organization is the rule of residence. The residence rule of the Italian society affects the structure of the family and kin group. Residence determines who is thrown into close contact with whom. Residence affects the pattern of socialization and social control among Italian children (2001).As noted by (1996) grandchildren for instance feel closer and are influenced more deeply by grandparents and other kinsmen with whom they grow up than by those whom they see only during Sunday visits. He added that they are also subject to the former’s authority and control more than the latter (1996). Similarly, strong family ties are perpetuated between the married couple and whoever kinsmen they live with (1996). Thus residence has a big impact on the quality and quantity of social interaction with kin.
The ideal pattern that most Italian couple aspires for is the neolocal residence (1996). Young couples prefer to set up their own households as soon as they are able. Parents on their part, also prefer their married children to live separately in order for then to learn the responsibilities of independent living (1996). Furthermore, elderly parents prefer to live with unmarried children or go to nursing homes because they feel this to be less of an imposition than living with children who have families of their own (1999).
Patterns of authority in the family differ from society to society. Authority in the Italian family goes vertically downwards on the basis on the basis of age (1999). Traditionally, a ladder type of authority exists whereby the older children, whether male or female are dominant over the younger ones. The eldest child, in particular has a quasi-paternal status and has authority including the right to punish the younger siblings for misbehaviors (1999). The first born female, especially, is entrusted with the care of the young siblings and is answerable for whatever happens to them. She is expected to put the interest and welfare of the young above her own. In return, she is looked up to with respect as an authority figure and second parent in the family.
The importance of age in patterning relationships both within and outside the family is seen in the traditional subordination-superordination which characterizes the division of generations (1984). Principle of generation or age grading is present in the Italian society. Members of the same generation are set apart from the others in accordance with the order of descent. Each group follows certain prescribed rules of behavior and certain assigned rights and obligations (2001). For instance, the paternal and grandparental generations are expected to take care of the children and grandchildren (2001). In return, the latter are expected to obey and respect the former. Thus each individual is seen in a relation to the rest of the kinsmen according to age and the order of descent.
Each society has a kinship system which provides the individual with a circle of socially defined relatives. The kinship system also presents a set of norms, of usages and patterns of behavior between kinsmen. It involves a system of terminologies by which relatives of different categories are spoken of or by which they are addressed. It also involves conventional rules of behaviors, attitudes and interpersonal relations as well as certain rights and privileges pertaining to kin. Kinship among Italians as asserted by Forgacs (1996) is interpreted in terms of all three criteria: descent, marriage and pseudo relationship. Thus the Italian’s larger kin group consists of consaguineal, affinal and spiritual relatives. The consaguineal kinsmen are relatives by blood. This group is large because of the bilateral extension and the multilineal structure of the Italian family (forgacs, 1996, p. 211). It includes all the direct ascendants from great grandparents to parents and all the descendants from children to great grandchildren Forgacs, 1996, p. 210). It also includes the collateral realtives such as siblings, cousins, parents’ siblings and grandparents’ siblings.
Although considered less important than the consaguineal kin, the affinal relatives are also counted as part of the larger kin group. By marriage, the wife becomes an affinal kin of the husband’s family of orientation and the husband, of the wife’s (1984). The parents, siblings and other relatives of the spouse also consider themselves merged as affinal kin by marriage. (2001) then concluded that the affinal group can be very large because of the union of the two consaguineal families.
Aside from the consaguineal and addinal kin, the larger kin group of the Italian family includes the spiritual or ceremonial kin. These are the relatives acquired through the ceremonies of baptism, confirmation and wedding (1984). Each of these ceremonies involves at least two sponsors. These sponsors and their families become spiritual kinsmen of the sponsored and his or her family. Considering that there are about children in the average family who will go through three ceremonies during their lifetime, the number of ritual kinsmen added to the family’s wider circle of relatives is quite big (1984).
Traditionally, kinship consideration directs and regulates much of an Italian’s relationship and behaviors. Kinsmen are distinguished clearly from non kinsmen and are given special treatment and priority. Within the kinship group, members know exactly the degree of their relationship and how they are to interact specifically with one another (1999). In general, mutual help and reciprocity characterize kin relations, which in turn reinforce and preserve kinship solidarity and cohesiveness (1999).
The processes of modernization, industrialization and urbanization as noted by (1963) in his book has brought about rapid changes in social and economic structure and had altered the cultural environment of the young. The close extended family, for instance has gradually loosened its hold on the individual, allowing him free relative freedom to plan and work out his own life (1963). The school with its positive orientation to change has encouraged the young to aim high and achieve beyond what the family reached and the peer group has become the source of behavior and attitudinal standards (1963).
Industrialization and urban migration has undermined the traditional system of family control since these social conditions gave the individual wide opportunities for participation in the production and distribution of goods and services outside the home (1963). Young people are no longer economically dependent on family elders. Improved roads and transportation has also contributed to the greater independence of the young. In a study conducted by (2005) among young Italians in three companies based in Rome, he found out that those who were urbanized because they stayed in the capital longer had a shorter courtship period, more non church weddings and more tendency to be independent of their kinsmen in matters of wedding arrangements and residence after marriage that the more recent migrants.
Today, there are many opportunities for young people to interact. Coeducation has given young men and women the chance to meet and interact with one another (, 1991). They share classroom activities and projects daily and participate in school affairs such as programs, sportfest and other celebrations. In urban areas, the other occasions for young people to be together are parties, picnics and other social gatherings (1991). They also met in restaurants, movie houses or at work.
Modern courtship need not be carried on entirely face to face. Young people can communicate through beepers, cell phones or even through the internet. As before, a young man can also express love through love notes but sans the flowery words because the Italian youth today use more direct language. The man usually visits the young lady in her house and may also pick her to and from school or office. Moreover the two individuals often engage themselves in long conversation over the phone or the internet, a testimony to the case of communication among the youth in modern times (2001).
The wedding of a couple marks the end of their courtship and the beginning of their married life. It unites them as man and wife and brings together two families. It also serves as a public affirmation of a new relationship between the wedding partners including their obligation to each other and their culturally prescribed tasks and roles. After weddings in Italy, (2005, p. 264) observed that guests traditionally throw a shower of rice or paper confetti as the newlyweds leave the church . The confetti symbolizes money and good fortune for the couple. In traditional Italian weddings, guests are also expected to repay former favors done for them by the families of the newlyweds (2005, p. 266). The mothers-in-law are seated near a table that is set expressly for the purpose of receiving and recording these favors. Witnesses record who gave and the value of each gift. Another way to raise funds for the couple's honeymoon is practiced by cutting the groom’s tie into pieces and being sold to the wedding guests as a memento of the day (2005). The Tarantella, a traditional wedding dance is performed at the reception while white, sugar coated almonds known as confetti are distributed among the guests (2001). These sweets are symbols of the couple's bittersweet union. The number of almonds in each bag is very important. Even numbers are considered bad luck, so bags of three or five almonds are a representation of the couple and their future children (2001). Five almonds symbolize love, fidelity, longevity, fertility and happiness.
Postwar economic development meanwhile profoundly affected not only social class but family—and particularly the roles of women. Prosperity produced by this economic boom ended simply to reinforce traditional gender roles; the earnings of male “breadwinners” left women largely as “homemakers” (2005) When women did enter the work force they were usually relegated to lower-paying jobs, often in the “black” economy. By 1980, however, women had grown to about one-third of the work force, and increases in formal education had enabled them to break into the better-paid professions, as had women in the rest of Europe (2005). At the same time, a decrease in the size of the Italian family prompted women to seek jobs to supplement family incomes.
Changing roles of women in the workplace have been accompanied by changes in the Italian family. The average family size dropped from about four persons at the end of the war to fewer than three persons in 1990, while the number of two-person households increased markedly. The number of marriages per thousand has dropped, whereas the rates of divorce, out-of-wedlock births and common-law marriage climbed (2005). In general, these rates have leveled off to approximate European norms, but divorce rates remain well below average (2005 ). Two trends set Italians apart from other European families. One is a precipitous drop in fertility rates, leaving the average at a little over one child per woman which is one of the lowest in the world (2005). Another striking trend among Italian families is the extended period during which Italian youth continue to live with their parents. At age thirty, roughly one-half of Italian men and one-quarter of Italian women reside at home (2005). Scholars such as (2005) attribute this exceptional tendency to the lack of good jobs and housing available to young people and the subsequent inclination to delay marriage.
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