Special Section: Tracing narratives and perceptions in the political ecologies of health and disease, edited by C. Connolly, P. Kotsila, and G. Panagiota

The politicization of ill bodies in Campania, Italy

Authors: ,


The communities affected by toxic contamination in Campania, Italy, have had to confront the challenge of proving a direct causal connection between exposure to pollutants and health issues, given a long history of mismanagement of waste. Medical studies have been conducted, but the social and political debate is static. In September 2014, the Italian Ministry of Health simply repeated earlier statements that Campania's increasing cancer rates are due to poor lifestyle habits. The article casts light on the politicization of ill bodies of Campania. We analyze three practices of political action and resistance which employed the subjectivization of physical bodies and illnesses to expose environmental injustice affecting communities. In the neighborhood of Pianura, Naples, people gathered medical records as evidence for a trial into 'culpable epidemics.' In the so-called Land of Fires, in the northern periphery of Naples, hundreds of postcards featuring pictures of children killed by rare pathologies were sent to the Italian Head of State and the Pope. Finally, in the town of Acerra, the blood of a dying shepherd became a political object to prove exposure to dioxin contamination in that area. The politicization of illness and bodies conflates the public and private, challenges the mainstream production of knowledge, and proposes an alternative narrative for affected communities and individuals. Nevertheless, the practices of this politicization have differed and are not always 'political', as we will show through the three cases.

Keywords: popular epidemiology, biopower, waste, Campania, political ecology of disease, private is political

How to Cite: Iengo, I. & Armiero, M. (2017) “The politicization of ill bodies in Campania, Italy”, Journal of Political Ecology. 24(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/v24i1.20781