In Memory of Gianni Sgritta (collective blog)
In Memory of Gianni Sgritta (collective blog)

In Memory of Gianni Sgritta (collective blog)

Rosaria Lumino (on behalf of the chairs and members of ESPAnet Italia – the Italian Network for Social Policy Analysis) – 4th May 2021

Gianni Sgritta was an extraordinary person, a great humanist and remarkable sociologist. To talk and share thoughts with him, was a great pleasure. He owned a remarkable sense of irony, a deep knowledge of sociological disciplines, an excellent competence on statistical tools surrounded by a vastness of readings far beyond sociology. We remember with mercy his civic commitment for progressive and reformist politics, with a permanent personal engagement. Selfless by power, often concerned by the future of Italy, he never hesitated to express his point of view, no matter how others labeled him. He leaves an enduring mark on our Espanet Italia community, taking part of its foundation and contributing to enliven it with passion all along his life. He organized one of the first Espanet conferences in Rome, he animated plenaries and streams, helping our entire community to grow up. 

Mino Vianello – 19th April 2021

Giovanni Sgritta was a shining example of the profession of sociologist as service: a lesson for everyone.  All of his research activities incorporated this ideal. The intellectual honesty and ethical consistency that characterized his personality led him to clash with the second-rate climbers who abounded in our academic milieu, but also with the pressure group that shamelessly labelled itself with a name that recalled his religious faith. Christianity informed a commitment that was genuine and strong, indeed central to his intellectual and professional life, as shown by his studies on inequalities and poverty, which were his highest engagements. These studies, which appeared in a number of publications, embodied Giovanni’s unswerving ideal of service, and are one of the most valuable and significant legacies of his work.

Luca Giuliano – 5th April 2021

I must say that Gianni Sgritta has always been present in my life as a researcher and scholar. How could it be otherwise? I had just graduated with a degree in Statistics in 1972 and had completed my military service. I had a scholarship and in 1973 I enrolled in the School of Advanced Studies in Sociology and Social Research. Today it would be equivalent to a three-year doctorate. Gianni was a collaborator of Vittorio Castellano, the director of the School. He, too, had a degree in statistics and a strong interest in social research. We immediately discovered that we had many points in common and some differences. 

The common points, besides the quantitative approach and the sociological interests, were the theoretical anchorage to the structural organicism that Vittorio Castellano had inherited from Corrado Gini, and the mastery – I can say complete for both of us – of the conceptual system of Talcott Parsons, which for me had been the subject of the graduation thesis. Already then – and we are talking about forty-eight years ago – Gianni was shaping his thinking on the themes of the family, which were also very present in Parsons, and on the social themes that would later lead him to the most significant research on equality of opportunity and social inequalities.

What made us different was the general approach to sociology. His was highly applicative and oriented towards solving the social problems at the root of discomfort. Mine, on the other hand, was a theoretical approach, with an entirely personal and self-taught confidence in semiotics, little inclined to deal with concrete applications and interested rather in the complex systems of what was then called social engineering. In short, the closer he was – with the maximum rigor that distinguished him – to a Durkheim-like vision of sociology, the closer I felt to Max Weber’s theory of action, under the mediation of Talcott Parsons.

Here, convergences and divergences have accompanied us for all these years. In only one case did we collaborate in a research project, and the occasion was the survey on aspirants to the Professional Army, published in 2007 (La scelta nel necessario, FrancoAngeli). But for the rest of our lives, we talked, discussed and confronted each other on all the themes that united and divided us. Gianni Sgritta was gifted with an immense intellectual curiosity and an intense willingness to listen and to rational empathy. This seems like an oxymoron, but it is the meeting point between two minds that, while reasoning, accept to take on the other’s point of view in the experiment, looking for the most suitable experimental conditions to identify the weak points of their hypotheses. Yes, another common point, this one: Karl Raimund Popper. 

Here, the memory would lead me by the hand towards the methodological comparison: fundamental in Gianni Sgritta’s vision and in his loyalty to the burden of proof in every assertion and to the rigorous reading of the empirical data. But this is not the moment. This is the moment to remember the man, the scientist and the teacher. And so I cannot forget Gianni’s dedication, his severity and his love for his students. In this, with the exception of the period in which he taught Psychometric Statistics to Psychology students, I followed him until he practiced his activity as a teacher, to which he cared very much. The students loved to follow his lectures. Even during the periods in which, for various reasons, the number of students in the classrooms dwindled, Gianni always had his students following him. They were students of Statistical Sciences, for them sociology was a fundamental discipline, but one that was less demanding than methodological subjects and mathematics. In some cases, some colleagues saw us sociologists as “those who chatter”. Well, students understood with Gianni that sociology is a science, not a sociologizing chatter. This is an important legacy. Society needs people like Gianni Sgritta. It needs him to grow and to change. It would have needed them more at this time, when we are overwhelmed by an epochal change that requires a change in perspective. 

This was one of the last topics we discussed in a phone conversation at the beginning of the pandemic. Then things got tough, and my regret is that I was not able to delve into this topic and say a proper goodbye because of the lockdown we were subjected to. 

Fiorenza Deriu – 31st March 2021

With the death of Giovanni Battista Sgritta the Italian sociological community has lost one of its most representative scholars, a thoughtful and critical academician, interested in studying the social context with a special attention to inequalities and exclusion processes. 

Since the beginning of his career his research interests were characterized by pioneering studies on childhood and family, on the relationships among generations, on poverty and social exclusion, on gender inequalities, and finally, over the last 10 years, on the living condition of the elderlies. 

Since the early eighties, Sgritta focused on the childhood condition, suggesting the need to approach to its study from a not conventional perspective, moving from the child, as a fragile and vulnerable subject, brought to psychology and pedagogy, to childhood as a social category, a permanent and structural component of the society, crossed by inequalities and differences. For what these disparities are concerned, Sgritta developed an in-depth analysis marked by a severe critic on social policies, in those years. At this regard, it is worth reminding the production in 1987 of a national Report titled Childhood as a Social Phenomenon. Implications for Future Policies, realized within an international project promoted by the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research of Wien, engaging 19 European and North American countries, and in 1994 the publication of Childhood matters: Social Theory, Practice and Politics edited together with J. Qvortrup, M. Bardy e H. Wintersberger. His studies were steadily characterized by a particular attention to the young generation as well as to the so-called syndrome of the delay in the transition to adult life.

The studies on childhood and youth are constantly crosscutting those on the complex evolution of the generational relationships inside and outside the family. In Lo stato della famiglia in Italia edited by M. Barbagli and C. Saraceno (1997), he discusses the economic support to families for children continuing to affirm the social construction of the social category of childhood and its neglected citizenship. Sgritta analyses the changes of those years, starting from the petroleum shock, to reflect on the implications interesting the basis of the welfare state of the Western countries, and the relationships between the market, the State and the family, on the transition processes to adult life, as well as on the future asset of society. Moving on his reasoning, he reflects on the relationships between younger and older generations considering the crisis of the social security system raised in the nineties and addressed by the main pension system reforms of Giuliano Amato in 1992, Lamberto Dini in 1995, and Elsa Fornero in 2012. Reasoning beyond simplistic interpretation of the relationships between generations, he expresses a severe evaluation about the choices taken by those governments that have mainly protected acquired rights whose costs have relapsed on the younger generations. Sgritta points out the debt accumulated over time by a not sustainable social security system that has been sustained by governments notwithstanding the risks associated to the ongoing aging process that prominent demographers, as Antonio Golini, announced in its serious implications since the seventies. 

The keen analysis of family and welfare policies moves along with his constant attention to poverty and socio-economic inequalities. The strong friendship with Don Luigi Di Liegro exercised an indelible and remarkable influence on this field of studies. They shared a common interest in the analysis of different forms of marginalisation and exclusion affecting the city of Rome in the seventies. They had a special passion for civic and political commitment, to promote public social policies inspired by principles of equity and social justice, and not to mere philanthropism. Since the early seventies, his unceasing and fruitful on-field research activity constituted an extraordinary observatory of the biographical pathways of exclusion and marginalisation in the Capital. In 1974, in occasion of a famous conference titled “I mali di Roma” (The pains of Rome), promoted – against the resistance of the ecclesial sphere – by the then Cardinal Vicarius of Rome, Mons. Ugo Poletti, and realised with the support of Luigi Di Liegro, Sgritta raised the attention of the policy makers to the serious disparities that should not anymore continue. He called politicians to a renovated approach, to contrast inequalities and social disparities, calling the representatives of the public institutions to action. 

He will have been working on these topics for all his career. Anyway, in 2013 he turned once again back to reflect on social policies with a new energy, contributing to the European scientific debate on the emergent paradigm of social investment. In the Introduction to the book Investire nel sociale. La difficile innovazione del welfare italiano, edited with Ugo Ascoli and Costanzo Ranci, he affirmed that “it is not possible to work exclusively or mainly on guaranteeing equal opportunities in the sphere of human capital, competencies, and educational levels, leaving aside the material, family, and socio-cultural factors, because in this way individuals are constrained in differentiated positions in the social stratification structure, reproducing their original positions” (Ascoli, Ranci, Sgritta, 2015: 17). Moreover, he reminded that “insisting on a different line of action it means to replicate a historical mistake in the fight against poverty […] cancelling any positive effect and making the results fleeting” (Ibidem). 

He was attentive to the analysis of the social network strain, resulting in the gradual weakening of the communitarian fabric, in the growth of frailties, precarization of work, exclusion and expulsion processes. At the same time, he was also interested in studying the bottom-up responses raised by citizens’ initiatives aimed to contrast those trends. So, the focus was also on those processes oriented to push solidarity network back together. On this topic, he edited with Ugo Ascoli a monographic issue of “La Rivista delle Politiche Sociali”, titled Logoramento dei legami sociali e solidarietà di base”, published in June 2020. 

Following his intellectual curiosity, he has often anticipated some new lines of research still far from the interests of the Italian sociological community: it was the case of his studies on ‘senior cohousing’. On this topic, he has conducted one of the most relevant Italian research, carrying out an important fieldwork activity in Sweden, in the Netherlands, and in Denmark. He met many cohousers collecting a great number of photos, conducting focus groups and interviews to key informants, reporting detailed notes of his observation. He also collected normative documents to compare the different models defining at policy level this innovative way of living. 

His approach to social research was always strongly rooted in an accurate fieldwork, coherently with his idea of integrated research, at the crossroads of the qualitative and the quantitative dimension. The common denominator of his prolific research activity was the integration of both the quantitative and the qualitative methods. He paid attention at either the data production processes needed for conducting quantitative surveys, or the rigorous collection of biographies and narratives necessary to an in-depth interpretation of social phenomena. 

The statistical expertise combined to his wide sociological knowledge favoured his engagement in quality of expert in many research projects, survey planning commissions, and working groups for building up indicators and observatories for the National Institute of Statistics (Istat). In this way, he significantly contributed to the development of the official statistics in the sociological academic field. 

Refined intellectual, he always enriched his sociological reflection and thought with the multiplicity of his cultural interests, so nurturing his personal culture ranging from history and philosophy, to art, music, and literature. In class, he was used to enrich the topics introduced to students, including special references to other scientific fields of knowledge and culture, making Sociology a fascinating discipline, bridging multiple types of knowledge. His demise leaves both a deep unbridgeable hole in those who have worked with him, and a heritage that will not get lost if those who share his view of social science and his research method will continue following the path he tracked.

Alessandro Cavalli – 27th March 2021

We had known each other for almost half a century, since he was engaged at the CNR in research on the themes of the family, socialization and social classes, and I had begun to work on young people. We had in common an interest in the phases of the life cycle that would later become the common thread, together with poverty and immigration, of his entire life as a social researcher. Sgritta is a modern exponent of the oldest tradition of Italian positivist sociology, which, from Alfredo Niceforo and Corrado Gini goes to Vittorio Castellano and beyond. I believe that one of his merits is that of having been able to renew this tradition.

In addition to rigorous statistical studies, which always began with empirical data, viewed critically in its construction process, Sgritta added a strong civic awareness and a serious political and professional commitment. This commitment was important in the foundation of the AIS, in the Italian Council for Social Sciences and for the sociological presence in the setting up of many research projects of ISTAT and, moreover, in the direction of the Revue Internationale de Sociologie, a renewed edition of one of the oldest journals of European and world sociology. If I had to compile a list of the sociologists of my generation with whom I have felt the strongest intellectual, professional and civil closeness, I would certainly put Giovanni very close to the top.  

Leave a Reply