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Bella Figura: Understanding Italian Communication in Local and Transatlantic Contexts  

Denise Scannell Guida

Bella figura—beautiful figure—is an idiomatic expression used to reflect every part of Italian life. The phrase appears in travel books and in transnational business guides to describe Italian customs, in sociological research to describe the national characteristics of Italians, and in popular culture to depict thematic constructs and stereotypes, such as the Mafia, romance, and la dolce vita. Scholarly research on bella figura indicates its significance in Italian civilization, yet it remains one of the most elusive concepts to translate. Among the various interpretations and references from foreigners and Italians there is not a single definition that captures the complexity of bella figura as a cultural phenomenon. There is also little explanation of the term, its usage, or its effects on Italians who have migrated to other countries. Gadamerian hermeneutics offers an explanation for how bella figura functions as a frame of reference for understanding Italian culture and identity, which does not disappear or fuse when Italians interact with people from different countries but instead takes on an interpretive dimension that is continually integrating new information into the subconscious structures of the mind. In sum, bella figura is a sense-making process, and requires a pragmatic know-how of Italian communication (verbal and nonverbal). From this perspective, bella figura is prestructure by which Italians and some Italian migrants understand and interpret their linguistically mediated and historical world. This distinction changes the concept bella figura from a simple facade to a dynamic interplay among ever-changing interpretations and symbolic interactions. The exploration of bella figura is relevant to understanding Italian communication on both local and transnational levels.

Article

Culture, Prejudice, Racism, and Discrimination  

John Baldwin

Prejudice is a broad social phenomenon and area of research, complicated by the fact that intolerance exists in internal cognitions but is manifest in symbol usage (verbal, nonverbal, mediated), law and policy, and social and organizational practice. It is based on group identification (i.e., perceiving and treating a person or people in terms of outgroup membership); but that outgroup can range from the more commonly known outgroups based on race, sex/gender, nationality, or sexual orientation to more specific intolerances of others based on political party, fan status, or membership in some perceived group such as “blonde” or “athlete.” This article begins with the link of culture to prejudice, noting specific culture-based prejudices of ethnocentrism and xenophobia. It then explores the levels at which prejudice might be manifest, finally arriving at a specific focus of prejudice—racism; however, what applies to racism may also apply to other intolerances such as sexism, heterosexism, classism, or ageism. The discussion and analysis of prejudice becomes complicated when we approach a specific topic like racism, though the tensions surrounding this phenomenon extend to other intolerances such as sexism or heterosexism. Complications include determining the influences that might lead to individual racism or an atmosphere of racism, but also include the very definition of what racism is: Is it an individual phenomenon, or does it refer to an intolerance that is supported by a dominant social structure? Because overt intolerance has become unpopular in many societies, researchers have explored how racism and sexism might be expressed in subtle terms; others investigate how racism intersects with other forms of oppression, including those based on sex/gender, sexual orientation, or colonialism; and still others consider how one might express intolerance “benevolently,” with good intentions though still based on problematic racist or sexist ideologies.

Article

Maternal Emotions and Childrearing in China  

Meng Li

Psychological research on maternal emotions often examines how mothers’ emotional expression or regulation may affect children’s development. This perpetual interest in the benefit and harm of mothers’ emotions reflects popular beliefs that women are inherently emotional and, as the primary caregiver of children, mothers must restrain and regulate their emotions in order to raise well-balanced children. Rather than treating maternal emotions as private, intrapersonal feelings, scholars from various disciplines (e.g., sociology, anthropology, communication, women’s and gender studies, etc.) have recognized that many sociocultural forces contribute to the formation and interpretation of emotions. Emotions are not just a primary means through which humans experience the world but are also an avenue for understanding both the individual and the society. The interaction between the psychological and the social is especially salient in societies undergoing radical social transformations, such as China. In the postsocialist era (1978–present), a mother-responsible, child-centered, and education-oriented childrearing culture has emerged in China, presenting unforeseen challenges to parents. Unlike their parents’ generation who mostly adopted traditional authoritarian styles of childrearing, parents who raise children in the new cultural environment are expected to meet the multifaceted needs of their children while also cultivating intimate bonds with them. Mothers in particular carry the greatest emotional burden of childrearing. To be good mothers, they are told that they must learn how to express their emotions appropriately. Proper expressions of love and intimacy keep the channels of communication open and foster trust between generations. Expressions of negative emotions, conversely, are described by childcare experts as a potential threat to children’s psychological development. But when mothers are confronting a highly competitive education system and an increasingly narrower path for social mobility, negative emotions, such as anger and ambivalence, are inevitable and justified. Mothers from different socioeconomic backgrounds also have different emotional experiences when raising children. While urban middle-class mothers are anxious about food safety, environmental pollution, and their children’s educational achievements, rural–urban migrant mothers feel guilty for leaving their children behind in the countryside to pursue a dependable income. Overall, the Chinese case illustrates how maternal emotions can provide a unique window through which a society’s childrearing culture, intergenerational dynamics, and structural inequalities can be observed.