Institutional Alignment – Stefano Boni
This paper introduces the concept of institutional alignment, intended as a contemporary convergence of several institutions (political, governmental, economical, clerical and media) to hegemonize legitimate knowledge and evaluation of certain issues. I argue that while on some topics institutional differences are tolerated or even encouraged, there are domains in which institutions are called upon to align themselves with regards to narrative style, use of lexicon, symbolic array and, most importantly, the diffusion of a homogeneous and approved truth. In Bourdieu’s (1977: 166, 168) terms, there is an institutional attempt to extend “the field of doxa, of that which is taken for granted”, the universe of the undiscussed. Consequently, authorized options of discourse on such matters, are drastically reduced. In short, with regards to the events I examine in this article, institutions have little room to think, speak or act otherwise: legitimate dissent is suspended.
Over the last years, institutional alignment was activated in Italy on various issues considered crucial to the ideological and economic preservation of the established order. In all instances discussed below institutions cross out differences and present a uniform stance: political positions which fall outside the legitimate and media presentation, are unilaterally and severely criticised; no confrontation with divergent views is accepted by institutions nor broadcasted by the media. First, the defence of the wars conducted by Italian armed forces under the guise of humanitarian intervention, especially during periods of patriotic mourning. When soldiers die, armed interventions may not be criticised in institutional circles. During army personnel’s funerals, political and religious speeches, media coverage and newspapers tend to produce ritualised and highly standardised discourses in terms of style, contents and lexicon. Condemnation of armed intervention as imperialistic, economically-driven, unhelpful seldom finds room in institutional circles and when it does it is immediately labelled as inappropriate, damaging the unity of the nation and the support for i nostri ragazzi, our boys. Second, the backing to the construction of what in Italian are termed grandi opere, large public infrastructural projects. Opposition to such projects is invariably excluded from media coverage and insulted as romantic, extremist, unreasonable, against progress, individualistic (Not In My Back Yard, NIMBY). It is acceptable to discuss minor details of the undertaking but not its appropriateness: there is no legitimate room for a frank discussion on the environmental consequences, costs, and need of the venture. The widespread social opposition against the network of fast trains under construction across Europe, known in Italy as TAV, generated over the last decades, active protests, sabotage, mass demonstrations and clashes with police but has drawn very little institutional support.