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 | Electronic: 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

1. 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

The Artisans

The Shopkeepers

Intellectuals and Politicians

Accountability and Accommodation: The Pragmatics of Original Sin

Original Sinners or Elder Brothers?

The Dialectics of Casuistry and Tolerance

A Passion for the Past

4. 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

Laws and Regulations

The Limits of Law

The (Disreputable) Origins of Legal Loopholes

Indulgent Complicities

Forgiveness and Calculation

Sacred Images and Sinful Spaces

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

7. 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

8. The Fine Art of Denunciation

The Logic of Denunciation

Performances of Policing

Fractured Authority: The Multiplicity of Policing

Extorting Coffee and Campari

Renters and Owners

Lawyers and Illegalities

Eviction and Evasion: The High Stakes of Time and Place

Gentrification and the Last Frontier


Coda: The Future of Eternity