Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Andrew Calabrese

Second Advisor

Janice Peck

Third Advisor

Peter Simonson

Fourth Advisor

Stewart Hoover

Fifth Advisor

Isaac Reed


The study explores the communicative practices of the Italian radical group Red Brigades (BR), the relationship the group established with the Italian press, and the specific social historical context in which the BR developed both its own self-understanding and the complex dialectical connection with the social whole. I provide an interpretation of the experience of the BR as a group that wanted to make history and ended up being subjected to it.

In relation to both scholarly treatment and popular perceptions, which tend for the most part to depict the BR as an "absolute negation" of the constitutive values of the Italian society, I suggest that the BR represented only a "determinate negation" of their historical conditions, a dialectical product of the very dominant ideology they attacked. This will be mainly exemplified by the contradictory relationship the group came to establish with the state, which represented both the "absolute enemy" and the ultimate source of political recognition and legitimation.

I try to historically ground the specific reasons and circumstances that determined such dialectics between "revolution" and "restoration." The main claim of this study is that the BR's worldview and the dominant ideology(s) mediated by the press represented competing responses to issues that had been haunting Italy since its modern constitution: the structural weakness of the nation state, the contradictions of an uneven development within the capitalist mode of production, and the consequent struggle of the bourgeois class to achieve hegemonic ruling. I suggest a link between a never completely successful process of constitution of the nation-state, a never completely successful class hegemony attainment, and a never completely successful revolutionary elaboration in Italy.

This idea translates more concretely in following the general framework provided by Sartre's progressive regressive method (1968): a method for historical investigation that tries to reconcile the dialectical unity between, on the one hand, the existential/individual motivation, and on the other, the dimension of collective and structural causality. The outcome is an account of the group that resembles a musical counterpoint made up by the analysis of concrete episodes of the BR's experience and the Braudelian longue durée historical context in which those emerge.