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September 5, 2023

Georgetown University Representative in Rome Debora Tonelli Compiles New Anthology of Essays on Identity and Citizenship in the Mediterranean

Debora Tonelli, Georgetown University representative in Rome, has compiled a new anthology of essays in Italian titled Fra kósmos e pólis: identità e cittadinanza da una prospettiva Mediterranea (2023), which includes seven works from Mediterranean scholars exploring the concepts of identity and citizenship, particularly in the context of globalization. This book marks the beginning of a new series, Lessico del Mediterraneo, led by Antonio Cecere for Mimesis publisher. 

The cover of Tonelli's book "Fra kósmos e pólis: identità e cittadinanza da una prospettiva Mediterranea"
The cover of Tonelli's book "Fra kósmos e pólis: identità e cittadinanza da una prospettiva Mediterranea"

The Philosophy of Identity

"First of all, it was chaos..." Many ancient theogonies narrate the intervention of a deity who guarantees stability and harmony to the entire cosmos.

Words such as identity, citizenship, and globalization have become commonly used, often without adequate knowledge of their origin, the change in their meaning over time, or the complexity that characterizes them. The authors of the essays collected in this anthology explore the original link between kósmos and pólis—cosmic order and political order—in the philosophical tradition. Characterizing the Greek experience, these concepts came from the tension of the logos which gave rise to order in a particular polis. The political order is also a reflection of the cosmic order, a patron of harmony and stability.

However, from Socrates onwards the tension between the elements that allow us to define identity, citizenship, globalization, and the relationships between them has continued to develop. From Greek thought to Mediterranean food, from the experience of Biblical Israel to the philosophy of language and recent reflections on cosmopolitanism and sovereignty, these essays discuss and articulate the tension between possible order (kósmos) and specific contexts (pólis). As an editor, Tonelli sought essays that conveyed the diversity and richness of Mediterranean cultures.

"The multiplicity of snapshots to which this small but very important sea lends itself is a symptom of the richness of its history and meanings, and also a reflection of the numerous cultural imaginaries that, from one shore to the other, have been built through it." 

The coast of Positano, Italy on the Mediterranean Sea
The coast of Positano, Italy on the Mediterranean Sea

Exploring Mediterranean Identity Across History

The idea to investigate these concepts from a Mediterranean perspective was prompted by several factors. For centuries, ocean trade routes placed the Mediterranean in the background, but today the Mediterranean is again a protagonist, though not always a happy one, in terms of economic, political, social, and cultural impact. The Mediterranean returned to global headlines as a route for migrants, due to the war deployed in its waters, but also for the commercial, economic, and strategic interests of China and Russia in the African continent.

The Mediterranean is again the agora of the contemporary world, but in a completely different way from the past. It is far from the mare nostrum (Mediterranean Sea) of the ancient Romans, which fascinated historians and scholars of ancient civilizations that flourished thanks to it. If, in the past, the Mediterranean was a place of encounter, clash, and confrontation between different cultures, today it is a border line and a negotiating ground for the economic interests of the great powers.

It is within this environment that the authors of the book’s essays analyze these ideas as current, yet often elusive.