The asymmetric society** and the centrality of the "cultural question": resistance to change and the "levers" to trigger it

I share this contribution published some time ago (2015, Il Sole 24 Ore). A text that takes up and develops "old" personal research paths (since 1995).

#Citate the Authors

As always…there are no “reading times”

“There can be no digital citizenship (or inclusion) without guaranteeing the pre-requisites and conditions of citizenship, without (at least trying to) guarantee the equality of the starting conditions, the absence of which also makes all talk of meritocracy pure rhetoric”.


These are themes and issues of vital importance, always highly topical: unfortunately, as for other fundamental problems, public discourse, in many cases also that which involves scholars and experts, appears more and more often marked by the usual, as well as unbearable , polarization of the debate, which always leads to see everything with lenses ideology, partisanship, political affiliation or one's reference group/belonging. Drifts and trajectories that prevent any (real) deepening and reinforce already abundantly consolidated opinions, clichés, stereotypes, visions of the world.

The evolution of social ecosystems (1996) is slowly progressing towards one redefinition of asymmetries, which brings with it the need for a "new social contract" (Dominici, 1998 and 2003). Although the dimension of what is technically controlled and controllable (interconnected and interdependent) has literally exploded, we cannot fail to notice how vulnerability and unpredictability are increasingly revealing the empirical conditions of organizations and current complex systems. Consequentially, a reformulation of thought and knowledge becomes even more urgent (in an open and multidisciplinary key) which must subsequently take the form of educational proposals and strategies functional to the social construction of change. A change which, let us remember, if imposed from above is (and will always be) a change for a few and short-term. Because this is the real crucial "factor" of change and innovation processes: the cultural "factor", a complex "variable" capable, in the long run, of triggering and accompanying economic, political, social processes. And, as I always say, there is no room for improvisation… communication campaigns are not enough (necessary, yes), the continuous and incessant use of event marketing, more or less viral and/or #hashtag campaigns, more or not guessed: the strategic level is the one concerning educational processes (the school, above all else, and the other socialization agencies); it is the level where it is possible to build, in addition to "well-formed heads" (critical thinking, systemic thinking, education in complexity), the culture of legality, prevention, responsibility and determine the socio-cultural conditions for a downsizing of the hegemony of values individualistic and selfish, which have significantly contributed to the weakening of the social bond and the community.

Because, when we say "the question is cultural" (!), only the affirmation of someone principle, forces us to deal (as mentioned many times) with a systemic vision and an approach that can only be multidisciplinary.

But in order to carry out such a complex and ambitious long-term programme, it is necessary that our young people, from the very first years of school, know, live and apply "logic", philosophy - as a "tool" and practice for building and developing of identity and thought, of one's ability to think about oneself, one's emotions and one's relationship with OTHERS - and "critical thinking" about their experiences, since it is really difficult at university to change a mindset already structured. Of fundamental importance, for example, is teaching how to logically develop/verify/falsify one's own arguments, comparing oneself with the Other and even with the authority (the teacher himself or, more generally, the adult). The new generations are in desperate need (excuse the repetition) of a "method" with which to think, reason, synthesize, give systematicity to the many (too many?) information received; a "method" with which to be able to recognize the levels of connection between phenomena (on these issues I would also like to point out the stimulating debate on the "right to philosophy"– which takes its cue from the work (a series of writings) by J. Derrida (1990), in which the problem of who has the right to philosophy and under what conditions is posed; is it possible a direct access to philosophy – to critical training, I add – without the traditional mediation of institutions and how to face the philosophical question? See the site of Friend Sofia; this debate will be further explored in a International conference organized by the Ca' Foscari University of Venice); but they are in desperate need of logic and of a method also to consciously and profitably use the new connection technologies, knowing how to inhabit the new social ecosystems (Dominici, 1996), actively participating in the networks that make up its architecture. The urgency of an education and training in complexity and critical thinking, which trains and educates - almost "trains" - to identify the correlations between phenomena and processes, between knowledge and lived life is increasingly evident. An education and training capable of to enable people to critically evaluate the socio-historical origins of cultural norms and models; to reflect and distinguish what is "nature" from what is "culture" and the result of arbitrariness and convention (a dichotomy that should be overcome once and for all!); to recognize diversity and pluralism as fundamental "values" and not as "dangers". As also written in the past, to achieve such complex objectives, they are needed long-term policies And a grand relaunch of humanistic studies and, more generally, of humanistic education, at all levels (school, university, research, etc.); the rest, again in the long run, would almost follow suit. The basic question is that this continues to be a country which, in political and media rhetoric, as well as in the narratives produced, tells every time you want to bet on training And research, but then punctually does the opposite (just recently, see ROARS data and processing ).

As we had also written in the past: “The subject is extremely delicate and difficult to resolve due to the many implications. Of course we can start from an assumption: there is a close correlation between school/education and a truly active and participatory citizenship (we also talked about it in another post), even more so in social systems, such as ours, characterized by low (if not non-existent) vertical social mobility and by a widespread (im)moral familism that still makes this society strongly corporative and resilient to (true and profound) change and social innovation. In advanced societies (not only), schools, education and training have always represented the only possibilities for social redemption and improvement of one's starting social condition; they could/should be even more so in a rigidly structured short, the only "social elevators", by now (unfortunately) almost completely blocked for some time: the crisis of the welfare systems completes an extremely problematic picture which, in making precariousness existential condition, has led to a weakening of the mechanisms of solidarity, questioning the social contract even between generations, between which there is a dynamic conflict”.

Never forget, in this sense, that poor quality schooling and education (a concept that should be dissolved) create the structural conditions for an unequal society, unable to guarantee even the conditions of equality of starting opportunities. Germs of the "cultural question" and of what I have called the "asymmetric society" (Dominici)

And, at this level, there would be a long discussion about total lack of guidance policies able to (finally) create that one drive belt necessary between school and university. School and university do not dialogue, as well as knowing little about the main recipients of their actions. And, as long as school and university are "thought" as separate entities, we will not go anywhere ... the "famous" systemic vision much talked about and little practiced. But here I would like to add a further element of reflection with which we have to deal: beyond all the speeches, the analyses, even the many clichés, but also and above all the data collected and processed on educational qualifications, the so-called " useless degrees” (sic!) and entry into the labor market (regarding data and clichés, I refer once again to an interesting analysis of the ROARS) many young people choose some fields of study (until recently it would have been called "the Faculty"), particularly in the humanities area but also in that of social sciences, not out of a real interest/passion for those subjects, but simply because in that degree course (they have heard/tell about and, sometimes, I say it with regret, it's like this…) “it's easier to get a degree”. I speak, evidently, with full knowledge of the facts, having moreover designed and implemented actions of customer satisfaction (also of a qualitative nature), aimed at students, in the various universities where I have taught and carried out research activities, even when such activities were not yet envisaged by various regulations and reforms (?); even when this "megamachine" of evaluation had not yet been set in motion (a complex question that is increasingly reduced to a sterile scientific objectivism (?) which considers only what can be "measured" to be significant), full of contradictions and paradoxes, that is really turning us into bureaucrats to the detriment of what should be "our" vocations: research and teaching (not separate dimensions). And what emerges, and returns continuously, in the survey activities concerning the profile of the students, but also in those of teaching and learning assessment (with all the critical issues relating to the survey methods), is a critical situation, not only in terms of knowledge and skills acquired, but also in terms of motivations of choices and identification of work and career paths. The university, in some cases, is configured almost like a parking area in which to wait for better times…times that will hardly come if you don't prepare yourself seriously: the study and training require sacrifice, beyond all the technology and the most imaginative "tools" that we can insert into teaching, to make it less boring and more captivating. There would also be a lot to say about the many young people who decide to stop studying or not to study at all and who maybe, at the same time, don't even look for a job. In any case, to learn more, in addition to the various Istat, Censis, OECD reports, etc., I may also refer to data and elaborations on the following sites And . And we mustn't be hypocritical or hide it from ourselves that, sooner or later, even the least interested, motivated and/or prepared students (unless they abandon their studies first), manage to graduate, without those studies being of any use to something.

The crucial dimension of responsibility and the absolute value of education and training

That is the question! Not that training isn't needed (it's needed for life!); not that studying is of no use ... this too we had to hear, instead of "communicating", with concrete actions and invested resources, that education and training have always been the only "social elevators" capable of counteracting those pre-existing structural inequalities, eg to the digital ones, which characterize our era (today finally we are also talking about "educational poverty", a dramatic reality often ignored). In many cases, these are speeches and/or sentences uttered by those who do not intend to make a society - I repeat - without vertical and strongly corporative social mobility more dynamic and "open", in terms of opportunities. Again: not that humanities and/or socio-political degrees are of no use... which, moreover, is a commonplace also denied by research and, in fact, by the complexity of social systems and organizational practice. A commonplace of all Italian people, it would be enough to cast a glance outside our borders (even mental ones), even and above all in those countries which, in our sometimes excessive xenophilia, we always indicate as models to follow. It may be taken for granted and banal, but it needs to be shouted out: there is no need for unprepared graduates (I say this with the utmost respect for those young people who, in any case, decide to study just for the "piece of paper" to stick on the wall...), who have perceived and lived the university - and we all have responsibilities even in these drifts - as a simple "exam factory" and/or "diplom factory", not a place to grow, mature and confront, especially with those who don't think so like us"; we don't need graduates without critical training, unable to analyze and solve any type of problem or who, perhaps, don't even know how to express themselves correctly in Italian (it would be enough to see the level of some degree theses).

Without mincing words, the problem, how everyone knows/we know, is that it was decided to focus exclusively on increasing the number of graduates, forgetting, in many cases, the quality (complex, multidimensional concept) and the value of their education (which, sometimes, is no longer certified even by the final mark obtained) also and above all, as people and citizens (hopefully) put at least able to formulate judgments and evaluations with relative autonomy and criticality. These dynamics - I repeat - seriously damage those who have instead chosen those same studies/training/higher education out of interest and with conviction: they find and will find themselves struggling with a whole range of prejudices difficult to disassemble and deconstruct. But the hyper-complexity with which we interact on a daily basis, at a social and work/professional level, urgently requires professional figures and skills hitherto erroneously considered unnecessary, less important.

On the other hand, as mentioned, if you only focus on quantitative criteria, if they only count statistics and certain statisticsif only the rankings and their uncritical (and sometimes interested) reading counteven to allocate the few resources available, he can't complain about the university-examination (the problem, on the other hand, is the absence of a "true" culture of evaluation at all levels), inevitable outcome of a certain distorted vision of education and training, of our idea of Person, of our "social contract" (completely skipped), of our idea of Society that talks over and over again about "meritocracy", without in the least guaranteeing opportunities starting and knowing the predicament; just think of the data on "educational poverty" and on functional illiteracy, which I have never tired of recalling and underlining, in these years of uncritical newism under the banner of a renewed, and unlimited, faith in technology (fundamental, let's make it clear) and in digitization, "capable" - according to the hegemonic narratives - of providing simple solutions (to complex problems) and apparently immediate; but also marked by a technological determinism that brings simplifications, even illogical arguments - very present in public discourse - which identify correlations, even non-existent causal links between eg digitization and the solution of complex problems such as corruption and illegality widespread. Yeah, there Society: not something abstract, it's US, our values, our culture, our relationship networks and the forms of symbolic mediation with which we reduce complexity, manage the uncertainty and vulnerability of systems, try to mediate conflicts.

The "cultural question" has deep roots and multiple variables and contributing causesIn addition to the importance of policies and investments in education, training and research (no slogans), there must be a cultural and mentality change that can take place – it is neither simple nor obvious – only in the long term, by starting to work on it immediately: instruction, education and training must be protagonists. And perhaps - but this is a strictly personal opinion - we should stop thinking of education and training solely and exclusively as "means" to get a job (the same goes for training which, in any case, must be more ). The problem is that we are no longer even able to communicate the importance, the value of education and training. And humanistic training and, in the specific field of political and social sciences, is central for many reasons – which we have also talked about in previous posts – but also and above all because among the probable professional outlets there have been, and will continue to be, precisely teaching (the education and training of our young people) and public administration. In this sense, we must seriously think about how to regain credibility (but it is not a matter of advertising and/or marketing), to education, to the degree and, in particular, to certain qualifications attributable to some disciplinary areas, erroneously considered less important. Problem of awareness, of political will (?) but also of awareness and responsibility on the part of everyonethe.

One fact is certain: such a strategic issue continues to be addressed in terms that trivialize the complexity and dimensions involved; "Humanities degrees - and humanities training - are useless and/or do not give jobs", money thrown awaynot to mention the very old and misleading opposition/diatribe between humanistic culture and scientific culture (on which we have written a lot, not since today), an all-Italian "stuff" that punctually echoes in public discourse. And it's truly incredible that we still have to talk about it and that, when we do, the theme is perceived as original, almost revolutionary….once again, it is indicative of that cultural lag absolutely underestimated (believed to be "things" for academics), the implications of which are profound and multi-level: education, instruction, training, expert knowledge involved in policies, analyzes and strategies, organizational cultures, cultures of safety and prevention; strategies for resilience and risk and uncertainty management; mediation and conflict management; reduction in complexity etc. Add to this that, unfortunately, any discourse, on any topic, in our country immediately tends to polarization and to the ideological and partisan reading. Beyond the data often read uncritically or, in some cases, interested, the fundamental problem – we reiterate it forcefully – is that we don't need unprepared graduates, we don't need graduates who, in some/many cases, cannot speak and write correctly in Italian; there is no need for graduates whose intellectual maturity has not been in the least marked/scratched by the subjects and studies carried out etc. Some educational qualifications continue to be more marketable on the labor market, not so much for a matter of knowledge and/or specific skills acquired and required - which are possibly necessary to carry out some "tasks" (and, I have always been convinced, that the work is learned only in the workplace) - as for the credibility and consideration which - in some cases, with merit - they still enjoy (the "trademark", the "brand" ... this counts, even in higher education): in any case, they are considered "difficult degrees", characterized by more demanding and selective study paths, which better guarantee those who have to select human resources. But, in the long run, if only the aforementioned quantitative criteria are considered, the level will have to drop in these sectors as well. If the logic it will remain that of increasing the number of students enrolled and the number of graduates in progress, there will be no way out: it is good to be clear, these are absolutely shareable objectives, but which must be integrated by strategies that are more attentive to the quality of the graduates (a complex concept that needs to be operationalized). I repeat myself: it is not enough, as we have tried to do in recent years, to increase the number of graduates, our young people must arrive at completing a process of intellectual maturation, also as individuals (also, and above all, because the organizations where they will go to work are " made" of people), which evidently cannot do without a serious and rigorous preparation capable of shaping flexible and open minds. The public and media debate certainly doesn't help because it is made up of slogans and emotional flare-ups, simplifications and clichés which, from time to time, are ridden by politics.

As I have been repeating for years, the complexity of the ongoing change requires diversified profiles and skills and not just "techniques", but prepared young people are needed! The degree must return to indicate, always and in any case, a value; it must return, beyond the debates on the legal value of the qualification, to certify the quality of the training and intellectual maturation of the person who obtains it, regardless of the final evaluation. And in tackling these issues outspokenly, I intend to reaffirm, with continuity and strength, the strategic relevance of these issues for the so-called "cultural question": always, always(!), education and training are the only "tools ” able to give dynamism to social systems without vertical social mobility, without meritocracy and with a amoral familism widespread. To this I would add that it is also of vital importance to pay attention to the quality of the training of those who choose courses of study, considered less strategic (humanities and political-social sciences), because once they leave the university circuit, they could go to work in the strategic sectors of the public administration and, in particular, of teaching. And, not only politics, but each of us is called to take responsibility! There is not only the level of systems and large organizations/apparatus.

Cultural issue, legality and culture of cunning

Another crucial dimension of the "cultural question" concerns the widespread mentality, in our country, of solving everything exclusively with recourse to the Legislator (to which is added, once again, the belief/narrative that digitization will solve every problem). A country which, bordering on the paradox, is culturally founded on the "principle of irresponsibility" (Dominici 2003 and 2009), as well as on a widespread inconsistency of behavior (I always remember the formula ETHICS vs LABEL); a widespread irresponsibility in all sectors, the true figure of the "cultural question", which legitimizes those who circumvent the laws, rules and even shared social norms (culture of cunning). A widespread culture, already at the level of educational processes, which leads to seeing in the rules and in certain values (legality, citizenship, common good, general interest, etc.), above all an obstacle to one's self-affirmation. Cleverness is now synonymous with intelligence even in the evaluations we give of the behavior of children and adolescents ... who will be the citizens of tomorrow! Think, in this sense, also of the metastasis of corruption which, as the chronicle of recent decades has highlighted, involves not only the so-called. "caste", but broad sectors of civil society that probably continue to believe despite everything that they can have advantages from "caste" itself; an irresponsibility that is also articulated in ethically incorrect behavior and not even attentive to the precautionary principle. Therefore, a widespread irresponsibility that makes the violation of laws and norms socially acceptable, the recourse to cronyism and immoral familism (I force the concept). It thus happens that the solution to the problems, in some ways inevitable (but, evidently, it is not the only way forward), is always the same: the continuous recourse to ever more rigid and stringent laws and regulations: let's be clear, it is many cases of necessary, even fundamental conditions but, as amply demonstrated by the social, political and economic history of this country, these are not sufficient conditions/factors.

I conclude this reflection of mine - which takes up topics that I have followed, with passion, for a long time now - by proposing some considerations in no particular order, apologizing in advance, not only for the length of the contribution, but also for the simplification of some of these which deserve much more insight (which I refer to previous publications and in press). But, evidently, when we speak of a "cultural issue" we are going to touch the raw nerve of this country: a country that continues to delude itself that it can solve every problem only with the laws (criminal law, in particular), prohibitions and repression: "educational emergency", ethical void (Jonas), moral torpor, nihilism, culture of cunning and alegitimate illegality (Dominici), clientelism, corruption, amoral familism (Banfield): complex issues that will not be resolved with ever harsher decrees and sanctions (necessary but not sufficient); complex issues that will not be resolved by digitization, by increasingly sophisticated IT systems and/or apps (extremely useful but not decisive). The central problem - we reiterate it forcefully - is education, cultural models, the search for a shared ethic and, I add, the testimony of behaviors.

“Ours is a country with a complex and articulated regulatory and legislative framework: there are many laws (perhaps too many), professional codes, deontological charters, guidelines, systems of formal rules, systems of value and knowledge orientation. Yet these "tools" have proved to be a necessary but not sufficient condition, because there is a dimension, crucial and founding at the same time, which is that of responsibility; a dimension that escapes any type of "cage" and/or control system, because it pertains precisely to people's freedom (another discourse to be explored, linked to the theme of emancipation in modernity: the concept is interesting of “generative freedom”). And from this point of view, how can we disagree with those who say that we live in a "society of individuals", who feel that they do not have to answer to any of their actions, much less to a "community" whose ties strongly weakened (and there are those who speak of the end of the social bond). A few years ago, I entitled one of my books "The society of irresponsibility" precisely to connote this critical condition, which can only be partially linked to the economic crisis (or economic indicators): the "cultural question" highlights, once again, not only the crisis of educational institutions, but also the weakness of the old apparatuses and the old logics of control and repression which never solve the underlying problems; which are always "short-term" strategies (culture of emergency vs. culture of prevention, at all levels and in all sectors of practice)We have to deal with an intrinsically problematic and complex "nature" of social systems, no longer attributable only to the (significant) categories of risk, uncertainty, vulnerability, liquidity, etc. Add to this that, almost paradoxically, never before have ethics and responsibility been discussed (and are still being discussed) in all fields of social action (from politics to culture, from information to scientific and technological innovation etc.). Yes could simplify this paradox with the "formula": triumph of etiquette over ethics. A country of paradoxes and contradictions (not only on a cultural level): on the one hand, for every "new" problem new laws, new codes of ethics, new prescriptions, new prohibitions are immediately invoked; on the other, culturally, we consider those same laws, norms, "rules" as an obstacle to our self-affirmation and to our social success/prestige. On the other hand, what often seems to be lacking is precisely the coherence of behavior which, communicatively speaking, would be (is!) much more effective than words and principles explained through more or less politically correct language. From this point of view, as moreover underlined by several parties, we are faced with a real one "educational emergency" linked to a multiplicity of factors and variables, which have led to a profound transformation of socialization processes and a crisis of the traditional agencies/institutions responsible for the internalization of values and the formation of personalities/identities (recognition-respect-altruism - civic sense-citizenship lived and not suffered). I am referring, in this sense, to the concept of "educational polycentrism". This country will not restart without seriously addressing these issues: I don't think I even have to discuss the very close correlation between education (access, sharing) and citizenship. Here, we discuss (People) the "citizens of tomorrow" who seriously run the risk of growing up and socializing in a dominant culture of cunning, illegality and/or amoral familism (apparently?).”.

And as I wrote years ago…

The (interrupted) communication between the generations

The "cultural question", referred to several times here, is linked, as mentioned, also, and above all, to a problem of interruption/crisis of communication between the generations (concept that should be dissolved and developed). From this perspective of analysis, we cannot fail to record how the media (old and new, not to mention social networks) - together with the famous "peer group" - have literally devoured the space of communication and knowledge (?) managed, in the past, by traditional educational and training institutions and agencies".

The importance of vocation…

“…On social actors and on the leading professionals of the educational and training process are perhaps radical, but I always prefer to say what I think openly (it should be noted that, in recent decades, schools and universities have been heavily penalized by cuts and counter-reforms). There are jobs/professions that should also be done/chosen, and above all, because a "vocation" is felt and not just for a form of social prestige and/or because they perhaps allow one to exercise forms of micro-power over others. "Taking care" of a person (complex concept), teaching, training, sharing and elaborating does not only mean transmitting and/or imparting notions: children, students and, more generally, young people - how to say - are waiting for you at the gate , they observe “how you behave”. In short, it is the “facts” that count, not the “words”. "Your" (our) credibility and authority is based on behaviors and their consistency with what we say (a problem that also concerns politics). If you ask for fairness, you must give it first, if you demand respect and a sense of responsibility, you must first of all be respectful of the Other and responsible, etc.., even if the relationship is asymmetrical due to role and hierarchy. And you can't fake it, not in the long run. This is why certain "roles" and certain "activities" require, in my opinion, awareness, participation, passion, even empathy, as well as evidently the preparation that I should take for granted. It is necessary to "get involved" by focusing on the inclusion of the OTHER".

#Citate the Authors

NB Please share and reuse the published contents but, kindly, always cite the Authors and Sources even when using conceptual categories and related operational definitions. We share knowledge and information, but we try to interrupt the non-virtuous and incorrect "copy and paste" circuit, fed by those who only know how to "use" the work of others. Quotations are made, firstly, for correctness and, secondly, because our work (our intellectual production) is always the result of the work of many "people" who, like US, study and do research, also helping us to be creative and original, directing our working hypotheses.

The texts that I share are the result of work (passion!) and research and, as you may have noticed, are always full of quotations. I continue to register, with regret and a certain perplexity, as such a way of proceeding, which should characterize the whole intellectual production (not only the scientific and/or academic one), is less and less practiced and frequent in many Authors and scholars. 

I always say: the value of sharing overcomes the bitterness of the many improprieties received in recent years. In the contributions that I propose there are the concepts, the studies, the research topics that I have been conducting for twenty years: the value of sharing also becomes a risk, but one must be consistent with the values one believes in.

Happy reflection!

NB: The concept, and the related definition, of "asymmetric society" have been proposed by the author of this contribution.

Image: Ambrogio Lorenzetti, The Effects of Good Government in the City

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