PhD candidate at Washington University in St. Louis. Research project: Social Networks and Economic Survival: How Islamic Businesses Make Do in Milan, Italy. Supervisor: Prof. John Bowen.
Like the rest of Europe, Italy has seen a recent rise in anti-Muslim opinions and attitudes. The spread of regional movements such as PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) and the upsurge in support of self-proclaimed anti-Islam political parties perpetuate disparaging messages and images of the second largest religion in Europe. In so doing, these movements continue to gain political popularity. Not surprisingly, support for anti-Islamic groups has made political recognition of Muslim communities across Europe difficult. Despite negative attitudes and a lack of political recognition, Islam continues to attract a growing number of new faithful. As of 2013, there were an estimated 70,000 Islamic converts in Italy and the number continues to rise. In this fraught context of increasingly anti-Islamic sentiments, my research asks how do Muslim religious enterprises run by converts operate in the Italian context? Drawing on previous studies of conversion to Islam, I hypothesize that in addition to being fulfilling spiritually, conversion also greatly expands one’s social and economic networks. This is important because, in Italy, such interrelationships are crucial for economic survival.
With the expansion of online portals such as Amazon.com’s “Made in Italy,” Italian craftsman continue to operate in a troubling context of competing global brands, diminishing specialized labor forces, and market recessions. Academic work on the Italian economy accepts that the cornerstone of economic development in the country is the continued reliance on family financing and labor. Though often fraught and embedded within trust circles, familial networks continue to be integral to business success in the country. Indeed, anthropology on social networks in Italy has shown that these networks, while helpful, can be harmful at times to business operations. This access to a social network with both negative and positive outcomes is what I will investigate. I hypothesize that social networks in this context allows for Islamic businesses to perform well despite growing Islamophobia. In migration studies, scholars have investigated the importance of ethnic entrepreneurship in carving out a living despite host country prejudices. Often called bounded solidarity, ethnic entrepreneurs allow for the ethnic community to develop in parallel to the dominant culture by supporting additional ethnic enterprises. The current study problematizes this distinct population’s narrative by focusing on a group of Italians who are also converts to Islam. Considering this Italian approach and the socio-economic survival of a disenfranchised religious group, this study examines the ways Muslim businesses in Italy utilize social networks for entrance into markets.
Lauren Crossland-Marr received two BAs, one in Anthropology and one in Italian from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2007 and an MA in Anthropology from The Catholic University of America in 2014. As a current PhD student in the Anthropology Department of Washington University in St. Louis, she is interested in working on Islamic businesses in Milan, Italy.