Jasmine Pisapia

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Columbia U.

Grant number

Gr. 9714

Approve Date

October 5, 2018

Project Title

Pisapia, Jasmine C., Columbia U., New York, NY - To aid research on 'Narratives of Poison and Healing in Southern Italy: Interrogating the 'ill city' of Taranto,' supervised by Dr. Rosalind Morris

Preliminary abstract: When I asked elderly residents of Puglia, in southern Italy, how they explained the disappearance of tarantismo–a regionally famous illness and possession phenomenon believed up to the 1960s to be triggered by the venom of tarantulas–their answer was striking: ‘Tarantulas have lost their venomous bite. They are now the ones that have been poisoned.’ Their words were a testament to the drastic shift from peasant culture to industrial modernity, as well as to the notorious environmental disaster in Taranto (Puglia), Europe’s most polluted city due to steelwork. My fieldwork examines the contamination of bodies and landscapes through a set of contemporary healing efforts in what has been referred to as Italy’s ‘ill city.’ I consider the cultural history of illness and healing in Puglia, a region with a long history of traditional healing practices found in southern Italy’s anthropological archive. The disappearance of the public cathartic ritual of tarantismo described by my informants sheds light on the semantic depth of ‘poison,’ which possesses both biological and imaginary qualities of pollution and uncleanliness. By tracking the contemporary manifestations of poison in Puglia, I consider the ways in which illness and death caused by Europe’s largest steel factory are articulated today, and the forms of healing offered and sought by Taranto’s population. I observe how support groups, religious institutions, health practitioners and even the natural landscape (a river deemed miraculous) operate within the delicate fabric of contemporary secular life in Italy and are embedded into the experience of, and discourse about, industrial contamination.