Dictatorship in the grocery story

Thursday 1 March 2018

Discovering how living under a dictatorship affected the everyday lives of ordinary people, from the football stadium to the home, is the focus of a prestigious 1.5 million Euro grant to the University of St Andrews.

Dr Kate Ferris of the School of History at the University will oversee the five year project, which will be the first to explore how ‘everyday life’ under the 20th century dictatorships of Mussolini, Franco, Salazar and Metaxas compare.

She hopes the project will demonstrate the complex ways in which dictators’ ideology and practices were enacted in the everyday spaces and worlds of the ordinary Italians, Spaniards, Greeks and Portuguese to reveal the differences between how the dictator intended to impose his will and the “actually-existing” dictatorship.

dictatorships-ferris-mainbody-2Dr Ferris said: “Although ‘dictatorship’ conventionally conjures an image of a charismatic, dogmatic (male) leader ruling from on high, through magnetism, propaganda and violence, it is crucial to remember that individual men, women and children experienced dictatorship subjectively.

“They encountered the dictatorial state not just in official policies and propaganda, but in everyday settings: the market; the factory; the bar; the street; the home.”

The project will examine the subjectively-lived experience and practice of dictatorship across four countries that straddle the northern shores of the Western Mediterranean, all of which became subject to authoritarian or fascist forms of government during the interwar years: Italy (1922-1943); Portugal (1933-1974); Spain (1936-1975); and Greece (1936-1941; 1967-1974).

Although dictatorships were, undoubtedly, ruled ‘from above’, with policies, rhetoric and practices intended to both violently coerce and positively entice citizens’ acquiescence, if not support, for the dictator, ordinary Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese and Greeks encountered the dictatorial state in everyday settings and interactions, such as the grocery store, the football stadium, the bar and the bedroom, or through daily practices involving language, clothing, gesture and comportment.

Dr Ferris added: “It is in everyday interactions and in relationships between, for example, consumers, shopkeepers and municipal price-committees or between new mothers and state health visitors that we can find the ‘causal connections’ between, on the one hand, macro-policies and the interventions of the central state and, on the other, micro-processes that were experienced on a local and human scale. We contend that this is a vital part of understanding how dictatorships actually ruled.”

The European Research Council Consolidator grant will run from September for five years and go towards funding two postdoctoral research assistants and two PhD students. The Consolidator grant is available to mid-career academics with 7-12 years’ experience since completion of their PhD.


Homepage tile: Mussolini visits an Italian unit on the Adriatic front between 1941 and 1943 (anonymous, from the archive Arhiv Znaci)

Newspage thumbnail: Member of the public greets Mussolini with the Roman salute on a beach in Riccione, Italy (anonymous, 1932)

This page top: Young members of the Greek National Youth Organization EON hail in the presence of Ioannis Metaxas (Neolaia, magazine published by the Greek State, 1938)

This page bottom: Dr Kate Ferris

Notes to the news editor/interview requests

Dr Ferris is available for interview by phone.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office. Contact Fiona MacLeod on 07714 140 559 or [email protected].

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