A Fulbright-Awarded Study Looks at Working Women in Italy 

Women at work in Italy: left to right, selling produce, selling shoes, and a caregiver for the elderly (a badante) escorting her patient. (Photos by Karyn Loscocco)

ALBANY, N.Y. (Feb. 27, 2020) — As Professor Karyn Loscocco of Sociology instructed a UAlbany Study Abroad course in Italy over the past several years, she couldn’t help but make comparisons and contrasts between Italy and the United States in terms of gender, work and family situations — areas she’d researched in the U.S., along with work inequality, for decades.

Her observations during the 6-week course that compared U.S. and Italian cultures led to a study, “Women on the Margins: Gender, Race and Class Dynamics in an Italian Low Income Labor Market,” that earned one of only six 2019-20 research awards in a highly competitive category from the U.S.-Italy Fulbright Commission.

“I’ve always been interested in answering questions that might improve people’s lives,” said Loscocco. As a scholar of work and family inequality, Loscocco’s research focus has been on how and why intersecting gender, race and class inequities exist. “I study the people whose lives are often overlooked, so I chose to analyze gender inequality in Italy from the perspective of low-income women, as I am doing in the United States.”

Karyn Loscocco in Padova Italy

Karyn Loscocco, at the University of Padova.

Her Fulbright project will be centered in the Veneto region of Italy, where a good number of low-income working women are immigrants. “The study will recognize that women’s challenges and strengths vary along dimensions such as immigrant status and country of origin,” she said. “In Italy and other western European countries, race is becoming a much more salient topic of study so my expertise on racism in the U.S. will be particularly useful.” (Loscocco authored Race and Work: Persistent Inequality for Polity Press in 2017.)

She will explore several other areas as well. “I am especially eager to gather data on the role of prison in the lives of low income women in Italy,” said Loscocco. “In the U.S., incarceration has a major influence on the work outcomes of low-wage women.” She noted she has been doing research with Professor Frankie Bailey of Criminal Justice and community partners to improve re-entry for Albany-area women who have been incarcerated.

Another reason she was drawn to the Italian study had to do with cultural differences in gender patterns. “As my students observe every year, Italian men are free to express a range of behaviors that are outside the dominant American dictates of masculinity — and also different from Italian American stereotypes. Yet Italy lags behind the U.S. and several E-U countries when it comes to gender equality in family and work.”

The research will take Loscocco away from the Study Abroad course this spring, but she believes it will allow her to provide future students with more significant research experiences as well as add a community service component to the program. “Of course, I will also have a lot more material for my class after this year,” she said.

The Fulbright grant, she said, will aid other objectives. “I will stay a month beyond the grant period to gather data for a study on homophobia in Italy that I began this year with sociology doctoral student Ian Callahan.” The impetus for this study came after Stuart Milk, head of the Harvey Milk Foundation, speaking in one of her classes last fall, discussed that Italy was one of the countries where LGBTQ+ rights activists seek help.

“I had some ideas about why that might be, and Ian delved into the limited research he could locate from here. We find ourselves with a theoretical and empirical puzzle about why Italy has been slow to grant LGBQT+ equality. Answering the puzzle will benefit from first-hand research.”

Loscocco is in residence this semester at the University of Padova, joining a research group she found through UAlbany’s Center for International Education and Global Strategy. “I think my stay at UniPD will help strengthen and broaden the partnership between that renowned university and our own, and I hope it will prompt other scholars and students to participate in similar exchanges.”

She has also been asked to give presentations on her research to scholars at the University of Rome Tre and the University Paris-Est Créteil during the semester.

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