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Evicted from Eternity: The Restructuring of Modern Rome
by Michael Herzfeld
University of Chicago Press, 2009
Cloth: 978-0-226-32911-6 | Paper: 978-0-226-32912-3 | eISBN: 978-0-226-32907-9


Modern Rome is a city rife with contradictions. Once the seat of ancient glory, it is now often the object of national contempt. It plays a significant part on the world stage, but the concerns of its residents are often deeply parochial. And while they live in the seat of a world religion, Romans can be vehemently anticlerical. These tensions between the past and the present, the global and the local, make Rome fertile ground to study urban social life, the construction of the past, the role of religion in daily life, and how a capital city relates to the rest of the nation.

Michael Herzfeld focuses on Rome’s historic Monti district and the wrenching dislocation caused by rapid economical, political, and social change. Evicted from Eternity tells the story of the gentrification of Monti—once the architecturally stunning home of a community of artisans and shopkeepers now displaced by an invasion of rapacious real estate speculators, corrupt officials, dithering politicians, deceptive clerics, and shady thugs. As Herzfeld picks apart the messy story of Monti’s transformation, he ranges widely over many aspects of life there and in the rest of the city, richly depicting the uniquely local landscape of globalization in Rome.


Michael Herzfeld is professor of anthropology at Harvard University and the author of nine previous books, including, most recently, The Body Impolitic: Artisans and Artifice in the Global Hierarchy of Value.


“A wonderful book—very exciting to read. Herzfeld has selected the extraordinary historic city of Rome to portray a riveting drama of eviction, class identity, neighborhood solidarity, and place attachment in the face of escalating gentrification. Housing shortages and the allure of neoliberal market logic have corrupted city officials and owners alike, resulting in a politics of fear of newcomers, the church, and the state. This ethnographer’s acute grasp of language use and Roman forms of civility produces a rarely seen glimpse of how cultural heritage, real estate interests, and nationalism collide to destroy local residents’ lives and homes. Both scholars in the social sciences and practitioners in historic preservation and urban planning will enjoy this look into the consequences of neoliberal land use practices.”

— Setha Low, CUNY Graduate Center

Evicted from Eternity demonstrates the distinctive promise of Europeanist anthropology and its relevance for the discipline more generally. Herzfeld’s resolute commitment to a refined local ethnographic purview yields a text that is decisively about ‘Europe.’ It is not merely a superb analysis of the famous Monti district of Rome or a contribution to the ethnographic literature on Italy, but the finest ethnography I know of to examine rigorously how the abstract processes of European integration are manifest in the daily lives of its citizens and, in this particular case, discernible in the transformation of virtually every aspect of their emblematic urban landscape. The text succeeds as a documentary account of contemporary human predicaments, as a moral inquiry into the nature of justice and injustice, and as a passionate narrative imbued with feeling and pathos. Herzfeld has drawn on his formidable scholarly acumen and his vast ethnographic experience to craft an analysis that is truly distinguished. Evicted from Eternity deserves to be acknowledged for what it is: a masterpiece.”

— Douglas Holmes, Binghamton University

“In this work, Herzfeld’s exceptional talents as a linguistically sensitive ethnographer and passion for social justice illuminate processes of gentrification in Monti, a neighborhood of Rome near the Colloseum known for artisan workshops, petty thievery, and a vibrant set of social relations wonderfully and cynically impervious to both papal and state authority. Constituting a form of neighborly civility, these relations are losing ground to an encroaching ‘civic’ consciousness. By juxtaposing the civil and the civic—and by exploring the Vatican’s ‘logic of indulgences’ as a template for, among other things, condoning violations of the building code—Herzfeld transcends old arguments regarding corruption in Italy. A case study of eviction from one apartment complex brings home the tragedy of displacement while exposing a contemporary irony: right-wing political parties have garnered some support among ‘red’ working class tenants, disillusioned by the Left’s participation, along with the church, in the real estate development of Rome’s historic center.”--Jane Schneider, CUNY Graduate Center
— Jane Schneider

"An illuminating immersion in the numerous intricacies compounded in the changing urban dynamics of Monti, Rome's oldest district. . . . [A]  striking, sophisticated and detailed ethnographic account of the daily aporias encountered in the heart of 'classic Rome.' "
— Mariella Pondolfi & Phillip Rousseau, Anthropological Quarterly

Evicted from Eternity is, quite simply, one of the finest ethnographies to emerge from research in postwar Europe. . . . Herzfeld’s meticulous and astute analysis of an urban village sheds light on the remarkable degree of fragmentation that characterizes Italy and its capital. It is also a morality tale for our times. Outstanding.”
— Choice

"Un livre magnifique."
— Cristiana Panella, Social Anthropology

    Preface and Acknowledgments
    Overture: Encountering the Eternal City

    Chapter One: Sin and the City
    Genealogies of Imperfection
    Monti: Paradoxes of Poverty
    Sociable Spaces
    Meeting the People
    The Village in the City
    Agonies and Agonistics
    The Cadences of a Cultural Preserve

    Chapter Two: Popolo and Population
    The Artisans
    The Shopkeepers
    Intellectuals and Politicians

    Chapter Three: The Wages of Sin
    Accountability and Accommodation: Introducing Original Sin
    Original Sinners or Elder Brothers?
    The Dialectics of Casuistry and Tolerance
    A Passion for the Past

    Chapter Four: Refractions of Social Life
    Segmentation and Subsidiarity
    The Civic and the Civil
    Association Life
    The Premises of Conflict
    Theaters of Piety and Peculation
    A Clergy Scorned

    Chapter Five: Life and Law in a Flawed State
    Laws and Regulations
    The Limits of Law
    The (Disreputable) Origins of Legal Loopholes
    Indulgent Complicities
    Forgiveness and Calculation
    Sacred Images and Sinful Spaces

    Chapter Six: Scandals of Sociability
    Friends Who Strangle
    The Cultivation of Fear
    Restitution and Redemption
    Friends Best Avoided
    A Family Friend?
    Local Narratives: Swaggering Victims
    Credit and Default
    Banking on Fear
    Tactful Silences

    Chapter Seven: Extortionate Civilities
    Accommodations Civil and Civic
    Discommoding Complicities
    Uncivil Pleasantries, Unpleasant Civilities
    Culture and Custom
    Peaceful Politics
    Condominial Civilities
    Lessons in Civic Civility
    Spatial and Stylistic Violence

    Chapter Eight: The Fine Art of Denunciation
    The Logic of Denunciation
    Performances of Policing
    Fractured Authority: The Multiplicity of Policing
    Extorting Coffee and Campari

    Chapter Nine: Tearing the Social Fabric
    Renters and Owners
    Lawyers and Illegalities
    Eviction and Evasion: The High Stakes of Time and Place
    Gentrification and the Last Frontier

    Epilogue: The Future of Eternity

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