Multicultural Coexistence: The Quality of Governance in Crisis Areas

Posted: 1 Mar 2006

Date Written: October 2004


The research has been specifically focusing on conflicts over the destination of green areas and public owned buildings in Milan. The field research has been developed assuming an ethnographic approach, integrated with diffused analysis of documents and interviews. Specific attention has been dedicated to the normative dimension of conflicts. The first case study concerns the change in the use destination of an industrial building in a public space to be transformed into a Mosque. The second concerns the redevelopment of a neglected area into a public park while real estate developers lobbied build it up. The third originates from the intention of developing a neglected area on the side of the Major cemetery on the city and emerges when the project implementation meets the settlement in the same area of a large number of Rom. The fourth concerns conflict over the attribution of spaces in a building which the City Administration has destinated to an NGO. The fifth relates to the dispute in the re-settlement of a site-services site for a population of nearly 350 Roms from the northern to the south-eastern periphery of the city. In all cases, it is remarkable that all the parts in conflict with each other express themselves as whole cultural universes, with no coherence among them while the public administration was mainly supporting the polarisation among positions instead of activating processes of mediation. Given that they all are conflicts over the destination of a common good, the five cases were defined as sequences of tests and we have been observing the ways the actors conflicted in the evaluation and qualification of these goods, in order to verify if/how justice arguments emerge to support the conflicting positions. The field research also made evident some characters of the specific tests affecting the dynamics in the five conflicts. Very few of the tests can be considered to be legitimate, only the decision on the destination of the areas was it in three cases, being exposed to the control of others. In any case, several of the actors skipped the tests and supported the development of power relations. Then the tests where not set in a way to include all the actors involved in the conflict. This drove to the detachment among the tests in the dynamics of the conflict and a lack of co-ordination which implied that the normative outputs of the conflict were not binding for all the involved parts. We can design a common frame for the five cases as cases of ‘s-regulated’ conflict as there have been a lack of: a.) a definition of the contrast among the actors with reference to specific issues b.)binding tools that could ensure the co-ordination among the tests and allow to approach what was taking place in the different scenes The research has allowed to define when and at which conditions in cases of urban conflicts a common normative ground can be generated and it revealed that this is a precondition for institutional learning. A very weak institutional ground in the city of Milano is one of the key outputs, and tests have revealed that agreements among the parts turn out to be very weak because they are developed only by few of the actors involved. In none of the five cases of conflict we may recognise features of real governance. In the dynamics of conflict the actors were not all included and no normative device has been defined to adequately support the decisional processes as well as shared processes in the definition of problems and solutions. The Public Administration itself has not displayed the legitimacy that could derive from its position as third subject in the mediation of conflicts over the qualification of public goods. On the contrary, the public administration appears as a dull actor, paying attention to the avoid the tests and to de-legitimise the tests in order to exhibit its force. Being absent any process of institutional learning and new normative devices, there has been no empowerment but on the contrary the involved inhabitants have experienced a position of powerlessness. Not only there has been no capability building but - more precisely - invalidation of the actors was produced.

Keywords: Political Sociology, Governance, Ethnic Conflict, Urban Conflict

JEL Classification: D74

Suggested Citation

Vitale, Tommaso, Multicultural Coexistence: The Quality of Governance in Crisis Areas (October 2004). Available at SSRN:

Tommaso Vitale (Contact Author)

Sciences Po ( email )

27 Rue St. Guilllaume
Paris, 75007
+33.1.4549.8320 (Phone)


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