On February 28th at 11 p.m. Giovanni Battista Sgritta, professor emeritus of Sociology at Sapienza University of Rome has left us, at the age of 78, leaving an indelible mark in our lives. 

In his research activity, he has dealt with social inequalities, poverty and the difficult processes of inclusion of those who are in disconnected existential trajectories. Through time he has shifted his focus from childhood to adulthood, to concentrate on old age finally.  

We wish to remind him, translating in English one of his last interviews, in which he analyses what we are experiencing today, and compares the recent crisis, with previous ones.

Professor Sgritta, what is your view of the events we are experiencing and the changes this pandemic will bring?

The effects we are witnessing in relation to this event are cumulative: if we look back in recent times, we have had at least three historical moments that have produced effects very similar to those we are experiencing today. Everyone will remember 11 September 2001, when in unison people said: “Nothing will ever be the same again”. Then we had the economic crisis of 2007/2008, just a few years later, a catastrophe in terms of people’s living conditions, who lost their homes, their incomes, their “piggy bank” for the future, namely their pension funds. Finally, the terrorism of recent years, which in some ways has contributed to the continuity of fear. The current situation is more complex: this Coronavirus is a pandemic with multiple effects and multifaceted consequences. Unlike previous eras when the impact of the event concerned everyone, not just certain categories, today we are witnessing a series of different consequences that create a multiplicity of impacts.

What are the social aspects most affected by this crisis?

First and foremost, security, which has already been called into question in the recent past: if there is anything that characterized the 2000s, it was a growing, hyperbolic insecurity, starting with job insecurity, which we find today and we will find again in the future. After 2007/2008, as the Italian Commission for the fight against poverty, of which I was a member, we decided to carry out a survey on the effects of the crisis, in Turin, Rome and Milan. The survey revealed something that we did not expect: the ones who had suffered the most from the economic collapse were not those below the poverty line but those belonging to the middle class, convinced that they had arrived at a condition of well-being that would not only be permanent, but also transmissible to their children. Since then, a very strong insecurity has been created, also with respect to the education and qualifications acquired, which were no longer a guarantee of a better life. Now, many of those people had invested in new activities and had been able to reinvent themselves, but in this new phase they risk a new blow. The other problem concerns the perception of the future, which began to fade when welfare stopped looking after young people. Today, with this pandemic, it also concerns the elderly more than ever. It is said that seniors are those who have life behind them, but this is not true, because life is what is in front of you, what you look back on is the narrative. But you come to terms with today, and this today not only continues to call for the help of families, of the next generation, but brings the anguish of illness.

Social relations: will there be a change for the better and will they be appreciated more precisely because of the forced isolation?

Today, we hear about people who meet from a distance on balconies, who rediscover forms of sharing, but these are apotropaic gestures, which serve to exorcise fear. In fact, we are a country with little social interaction, little civic sense and a great deal of selfishness. Leopardi described this well in his time. This epidemic has dealt a severe blow to a fragile society. We are thinking above all of those who rely on society for assistance and survival, such as the most deprived ones, the homeless, the jobless, those suffering from serious illnesses. Until now, they could count on the attention of associations, volunteers, a community, and today the difficulties in guaranteeing continuity of this help have multiplied, because the Coronavirus has abolished promiscuity. The hope is that we do not become totally accustomed to a standard of living where not only has safety plummeted, but also the level of care has dropped dangerously: hospitals have now postponed everything that is not urgent, and people being treated for reasons other than the virus are now afraid of not being treated for their illness. Acting without waiting for emergencies must become the priority: think of telemedicine, which has been talked about since the 1990s but which in practice has never become a proximity tool. We can no longer postpone services that in situations like the current one would certainly have helped.

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