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Bitter Rice: A Cultural History of Rice in Modern Italy

  • Nespoli, Marianna
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2023
eScholarship - University of California
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Based on interdisciplinary and historical research, this dissertation is the first study of the role and significance of rice in modern Italian culture. I examine, analyze, and compare representations of rice and its shifting landscapes over time and across media, including works of literature, painting, film, photography, advertising, and television. I aim to establish which ideas and beliefs shaped the Italian understanding of the rice world from the mid-18th century to the present. I consider how depictions of rice cultivation, landscape, workers, and propaganda vary in relation to historical and sociopolitical circumstances. I also investigate the manner in which diverse arts and media effectively distort and conceal—or conversely, reveal— transnational, socio-economic, environmental, and ethical issues related to rice culture and its complex ecology. The word culture is central to my study, as I consider its two-fold meaning: starting from "culture" in the most literal sense, as in the agricultural cultivation of rice, I identify the complex historical processes involved in the discursive construction of an Italian culture of rice, and the role this culture played in shaping a broader Italian cultural and culinary identity. To maintain structural cohesion across chapters, I narrowed my focus to three critical questions: 1) How do the socioeconomic and political circumstances of the Italian nation influence the way rice and its culture are portrayed in the arts and media? 2) How, in return, are arts and media related to rice culture instrumental in advancing political discourses and ideas of ethnicity, gender, and class? 3) How does the discourse on rice contribute to tackling social and environmental issues related to rice cultivation and consumption?

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