Why is Facebook so important for highly-educated unemployed people?

By Razvan Nicolescu, on 18 December 2014

The satirical blog spinoza.it is a most famous result of the phenomena I am describing in this post. With more than 500k followers on Facebook and more than 600k on Twitter, lines taken over by Italian celebrities like Roberto Benigni, and its own publication line, it is the result of the creativity of highly-educated Italian young adults who are outside the formal employment. The subtitle of the blog reads A very serious blog.


According to official data, the unemployment rate in South Italy drops dramatically with age and less dramatically with level of education. In 2013, unemployment was 51% for 15-24 year olds, 30% for 25-34 year olds, and then 16% for 35-44 year olds.  In the same year, unemployment among 15-24 year olds was 56% for people with elementary or no studies, 54% for people with secondary school studies, and then to 50% for people with high school or vocational school. Similarly, for 25-34 year olds, unemployment rate was 36% for people with secondary school studies and 30% for people with graduate studies. It is after 35 years old when people with graduate studies find more work than those with lower studies.

Grano is by no means an exception. Many highly educated that live in the town could not find stable jobs until their late thirties and early forties. As I explain in my forthcoming book on social media use in South Italy, this is due to a combination of factors: firstly, and most importantly, there is no need in the local market for their specialisations: typically graduates in human sciences work on a temporary basis in food, tourism, and retail services. Secondly, specific social and economic conditions prevent people from undergoing professional reconversion or entrepreneurship: the Italian society structures individuals from very little ages to engage in, and be very faithful to, very separate cultural trajectories, such as a very defined difference between working class and public intellectuals. Thirdly, people who were educated many years ago in prestigious universities in Rome, Bologna, or Milano, have a strong reticence to join the local system of networks and favours that could assure to many of them a good workplace, such as public servants.

Therefore, they are faced with the problem of how highly-educated people can do something lucrative while also making use of their very specific, and burning, cultural and social capital? The answer is through Facebook! This is more puzzling as most of these people have ambivalent feelings, or even genuinely hate this particular service.

Let’s take Bianca: she has 42 years old, is unemployed and has a masters degree in geography. She never thought she needed more than her basic Nokia phone to communicate, and joined Facebook just a few months ago. She did that mainly because she needed to be part of the Facebook group created by the small ecological association she is part of. Now, she enjoys posting about social, ecological, and sometimes political issues, where she articulates very penetrating positions. By doing this, she established in Grano her reputation as a strong social and environmental activist.

Salvatore is 36 years old, holds a degree in Letters and never had a stable workplace. He is a quite active member of the local organisation of one of the few left-wing parties. Salvatore is renowned as an intelligent and witty character and loves to upload on Facebook comprehensive political comments and share news accompanied by smart remarks that usually attract a good number of ‘Likes’ or comments.

What we learn from the stories of Bianca and Salvatore, and indeed the online practices of many other young adults that aim to have cultural capital is that all along the period of scarce employment, they have an acute need to express what they sense is their special knowledge, be that thoughts or skills, that is not requested locally. Thus, all these people with time on their hands just started to do this on social media: they found an online niche and specialised themselves in different non-lucrative genres, such as, witty comments about current Italian politics, sharing more philosophical or poetic ideas, or art and photography. These genres are related to a multitude of social and cultural events that take place throughout the year in the region of South Salento. In many cases, unemployed individuals set-up small environmental associations, vocational groups, or start to jointly promote the individual works.

This is possible in a setting in which their nuclear families and the local community provide the basic economic needs, as described here. As one woman in her early forties who never had a stable workplace suggested, if she was not present on Facebook, she would have felt she was completely dependent on her family: physically (she lives in a house owned by her family), educationally (her family supported her university studies for 8 years), and economically. Instead, Facebook was the easiest way to demonstrate to her family, and indeed to the entire community that she was not worthless. Then, social media was really the only place in Grano where she could practice her autonomy and critical thinking.

At the same time, most of the highly-educated unemployed people enjoy positioning themselves out of the otherwise pervasive consistency between the domestic space and the online public sphere that I discussed elsewhere. They use social media in a relatively conspicuous way exactly because they have to express their very particular ideas in the absence of a work environment, suited to their training and knowledge, that would traditionally absorb these. And it is this conspicuity that  gives them the potential to form the next generation of local intelligentsia. It will be only in that distant and unsure future when they might recuperate the social confidence and standing that were shattered by the severe inconsistencies in the present society.




Thank you, people from Grano!

By Razvan Nicolescu, on 14 October 2014

A newly-wed couple from Grano preparing for a photo session at the steps of the church

A newly-wed couple from Grano preparing for a photo session on the steps of the church (Photograph by Razvan Nicolescu)

I have been living for 15 months in a beautiful place in southeast Italy in the region of Apulia in the southernmost part of Salento and almost a year of that time was with my family. I have been conducting ethnographic research for the Global Social Media Impact Study, which also consists of making dozens of close friendships, participating in local life quite intensively and listening to hundreds of stories.

My wife Gabriela, who is an anthropologist too, started to look into the absorbing world of migrant care workers, my elder son ended up speaking Italian much better than myself as a result of a fruitful combination of thorough nursery training and random football playing and my small daughter developed a special evening relationship with pizza calzone, saving her first words for when we returned to London.

Some days, I worked on the project for just a few hours in the evening and other days, I worked continuously for 20 hours or so. After the first few months in Grano I noticed that my daily cups of tea were replaced by more than a few cups of coffee, breakfasts became smaller and smaller, and dinners slowly migrated towards midnight hours, especially during summer. We are not the same after fieldwork and we definitely do not see the world as we used to.

It is impossible to really thank to all people who helped me with this research. In my writing, the simple fact that for ethical reasons I will have to anonymise the place and individuals makes any attempt for acknowledgement somewhat useless outside the community I worked in. However, I sense that one way I can accomplish some of this enormous task is by writing the amazing stories I have collected in my field work in a truthful and unpretentious way, so that others may understand Grano the way that I did. The fact that our group is committed to open access, to the systematic use of colloquial language for more accessible reading, to popular multimedia content, as well as to the translation of most of the material in local languages represents just a small reassurance that whatever we will publish will be available to larger audiences, and most importantly, the communities we worked with.

However, here is a brief list of the people to whom I am most indebted to for their help during my stay there: Agnese B, Agnese D, Alessandra, Alfredo D, Alfredo E, Alfredo P, Analisa, Anna, Anna Lena, Antonella, Barbara, Biagino, Bruno, Cosimo, Daniela, Eira, Emilia, Flavia, Gabriele, Gianluca, Giuliana, Manuela, Maria Grazia, Maria Luisa, Marina, Mary, Luana, Nunzia, Ornella, Paolo, Pina, Raffaella, Rolando, Santo, Vito and their wonderful families. With them as with many other friends from Grano, I am happy to share the belief that friendship is more about sharing than about debt.

I should also say thank you to the hundreds of other people who contributed to this research, in a variety of different ways, even with short conversations that seemed at the time to be completely off-topic, but eventually have added-up to my understanding of Grano.

But for now, I should continue writing so I can start to pay off some of my debts…

‘We are more united for the World Cup than for Christmas!’: the World Cup in Italy

By Razvan Nicolescu, on 27 June 2014

Photograph by Razvan Nicolescu

Photograph by Razvan Nicolescu

To start writing a blog post how people in the Italian fieldsite watch the World Cup and how the competition is reflected on social media, I started off on the streets of Grano looking for a place to watch Italy’s opening game in the competition.

The town seemed to be much less concerned with the game than I expected. I counted just three Italian flags, one adorned by a young tifoso on his balcony and the other two guarding a van that was selling hot-dogs and hot panini near the railway station. The game was scheduled at midnight local time, when basically all cafés and a few bars where the game could have been screened were closed. I think that in the entire town, there were less than half a dozen public places where you could watch the game.

I chose a place where the biggest crowd in the town might have gathered. Most people knew each other quite well, being either family, friends, or neighbours. The audience of around 30 people was split in two. Half were men above forty years old who watched the game sitting in comfortable armchairs in front of the biggest screen in the bar. The other half were much younger and included two women; they were standing around the bar and watched the game on a normal flat screen, which hanged on the wall opposing the big screen. The two groups of people were literally watching the game back-to-back. All throughout the game, some six to eight women were sitting in the inner court of the bar waiting for their partners while a few kids were excitedly running everywhere.

The main explanation for the relatively few public places where the World Cup could be watched is that people really prefer to watch it at home. This has a lot to do with the fact that they always have, and the World Cup doesn’t seem to be the best time to change. Then, there are the credenze (beliefs, superstitions). A good friend of mine in her mid-thirties explained to me that she had to watch Italy’s opening game at her parents’ house because that is where they have been watching the World Cup since 1994. Each of her family members had to occupy more or less the exact places as when Italy played at the previous World Cup. This time, her younger sister had no boyfriend, so she had to call a friend and ask him to come and sit where her boyfriend four years ago used to sit: on the coach between herself and her mother. Despite the late hour of night, my friend’s father did not allow her to go to sleep or to have some fresh air on the balcony from time to time. Finally, she managed to find a moment when she could sneak out and go home straight to bed. When her partner came home after the match asked him in her sleep who had won. She exclaimed in a quite frustrated way that her family is more united during the World Cup than during Christmas. Actually, the World Cup has more to do with the house and family than I would have expected.

In this context, maybe is not unusual that there were so little posts about World Cup on social media among the people I am working with. Even those who are otherwise quite active football supporters did not post much on Facebook. In the first days of the competition when Italy played two games I took a brief look over more than 100 Facebook profiles and I counted only around 20 posts about the World Cup. Almost all were about the Italian national team: half of the posts were uploaded in the actual days of the games and expressed in different ways the famous supporting slogan ‘Forza Azzurri!’ The other half were comments on the games, which varied from enthusiastic ones celebrating the victory against England to rather negative ones after the defeat against Costa Rica. If the first were serious and posted by ‘experts,’ usually men, the second posts were more humorous and provocative, where women were relatively well represented. A female teenager commented that the end-of-school examination in mathematics was as ‘disgusting’ as Italy’s defeat against Costa Rica.

This is the moment I noticed the first posts against Italy’s national team. By the time of the third game where Italy competed, there were already half a dozen people who were either mocking the national team or were supporting their opponents. These people were known among their peers as being in different ways anti-mainstream.

On the day of the decisive game against Uruguay, I counted around 20 supporting phrases, that is around twice more than was in the first two games added together. After Italy lost the game, a small avalanche of posting about the game was uploaded on Facebook. In two days I counted a total of 30 posts related to the game, out of which 21 were status messages, 4 edited photos, 4 not edited photos, and one film – all shared from Internet. The three main themes of these postings were: 9 referring to the moment when the Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez bit one Italian defender, 8 about the game itself and 6 negative comments about the Italian team. ‘The bite’ scene seemed to be more present as 7 of the 9 posts were photos. Even though it looked like people were active about the World Cup in Facebook, the 30 posts were posted by less than twelve people, with three most active, uploading 8, 7, and 4 postings respectively.

Some of the memes circulated on Facebook

Some of the memes circulated on Facebook

I don’t have the scope to discuss it here, but it is interesting to mention that if mainstream media in Italy discussed the relative high impact of the games on social media it was mainly because of how the main commentators tweets* were shared and commented on by the same mainstream media (a technique also used in the case of celebrities and politicians). However, as I wrote in a previous blog post, the penetration of Twitter in Grano is extremely low. This is just an example of the difference between what media claims that ‘happens on social media’ and what actually happens.

At the same time, it seems that not many WhatsApp messages regarding the World Cup were sent as in many cases most of the people such messages would have been sent to, have been watching the game together anyway.

A few questions rise from this short investigation into how the World Cup is represented on social media: how, when and to what extent is the private represented online? What is the relation and why is there such a big difference between mainstream media, which in this case is saturated with World Cup, and the way people use social media? What kind of sociality and individual acting is social media currently constructing?

* The controversial tweet of the Italian striker Mario Balotelli before the game with Costa Rica is a good example for the impact of celebrity tweets on media. According to reports, this allegedly made the Italian manager Cesare Prandelli ask to his players: ‘Less social networking and more goals’.

Interesting statistics on the number of tweets during the game Italy vs. Uruguay can be found on an article in the main Italian sport journal Gazzetta dello Sport (methodology explained in Italian).

This article is part of a special series of blog posts profiling how social media is affecting how ordinary people from communities across the planet experience the 2014 World Cup.

Forming groups

By Tom McDonald, on 5 October 2012

Our team of researchers

Studies of how people form groups is something of a staple of the anthropological diet. In this context, the coming together of our team of researchers to work on the new comparative study on social networking has been an interesting process on which we might reflect, least of all because it will inevitably affect the nature and focus of our research. Befitting of the study, we ourselves have actually been using social networking platforms such as Skype and Facebook to get to know each other and formulate ideas for the project before it had even officially started. Despite the fact that we were located around the world, with researchers drawn from Brazil, India, China, Australia, Italy, Romania and the UK, we found it incredibly useful to meet regularly online to discuss our ideas for the project, and how we might want it to progress.

Now that we have all finally converged on the UCL Department of Anthropology in London, it is great to encounter the same people face-to-face, and we are now gathering as a group frequently for intense discussions on the precise nature and scope of our research questions, the methodologies we will be employing, and how we will work together as a group and disseminate the findings of our research. Our spatial co-presence means that the relationships between us are becoming strengthened and the animated discussion relating to our project frequently spill-over into our after work time, where we continue our conversations together in the collectively effervescent situation of the pub, as is typical of the British working tradition.

This group-style of working has led to some particularly exciting ideas, that are quite different from more established ways of carrying out anthropological research we are familiar with, which typically focus on long periods of lone research by a single ethnographer. Undoubtedly  too, working as a team might also bring elements of compromise. In that context it will be to see how our project, and the relationships between us, will develop for years to come.