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Self-managed social centers in Italy

Askatasuna social centre in Turin, 2016
Entrance to Zapata social centre in Genoa, 2015

Self-managed social centres in Italy exist in many cities. They are part of different left-wing political networks such as anarchist, communist and autonomist. The centres (Italian: centri sociali) tend to be squatted and provide self-organised, self-financing spaces for alternative and noncommercial activities such as concerts, exhibitions, farmers markets, infoshops and migrant initiatives. Over time, some but not all projects have opted to legalize their status.



Social centres were first occupied in the mid 1970s in cities such as Milan by groups of young people, both students and unemployed.[1] The social centres in Milan were used for diverse activities, such as concerts, films, yoga classes, discussion groups and counselling for drug addicts.[2]

They often affiliated themselves with Autonomia Operaia (Workers' Autonomy) and suffered when social movements were repressed following the Years of Lead. A second wave of social centres began in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with more than 100 projects spread across the country.[1] Two factors which helped the wave spread were the well-publicised eviction resistance (and subsequent resquat) of Leoncavallo in Milan and the Panther student movement.[3]

What linked these political and cultural projects was the fact that they were squatted, their focus on self-management and self-financing and the use of the space as a social venue for the local community. The differences tended to stem from whether the project was primarily anarchist, autonomist, communinist or without ideology. This then resulted in a later debate about whether to legalize spaces or not.[1] Legalization denoted two things: firstly the formation of an association so that the squatter collective now had a legal form; secondly setting up a rental contract between the city and the project.[4]

From 1993 onwards, some squats began legalization processes and others did not. The social centres which did legalize successfully then changed their title from ‘CSOA’ (Italian: Centro Sociale Occupato Autogestito – Self-Managed Squatted Social Centre), to ‘CSA’ (Italian: Centro Sociale Autogestito – Self-Managed Social Centre). Owing to these changes, there is no longer just one network of social centres, but several disparate ones. The institutionalized centres such as Leoncavallo then became associated with the Tute Bianche (White Overalls) movement of the late 1990s.[1]

Teatro Valle in Rome

Legalization can create problems, since forming an association imposes hierarchy on a previously horizontally organized collective and also contracts tend to be for a fixed time period and can be hard to renew. Therefore, in the 2010s, some projects such as Teatro Valle Occupato (Rome), XM24 (Bologna) and Macao (Milan), have attempted to promote new, more flexible forms of legalization with varying degrees of success.[4]

The presence of a local university tends to be a factor in the creation of a social centre.[5]


From small numbers of social centres in the 1980s, in the 1990s there were around 120. By 2006 it was estimated there were 150 across the entire country, with many clustered in Milan, Rome and Turin.[3]



Inside Leoncavallo in 2007

The Leoncavallo social centre was first occupied in 1975. The former pharmaceutical factory was on Leoncavallo Street in the north east of the city. In 1989, the Mayor of Milan decided to evict the building in accordance with the wishes of the owner. It was then partially demolished. A few days after the eviction, Leoncavallo was reoccupied and rebuilt by hand.[6]

By 1994, there was a rightwing campaign against the centre in the city council and it was again evicted. This time, a new building (a former printers) was occupied, close to the former site. The city decided not to evict and the owners did not ask for this, since they were hoping to be paid rent. By 2000, no agreement had been reached between the parties and the following year a representative of the centre was elected to the city council as a member of the Communist Party (Rifondazione Comunista). In 2004, the Leoncavallo Foundation was set up to continue negotiations.[6]

NO TAV banner at Leoncavallo

Activities at the vast centre include musical concerts, theatre shows, debates and exhibitions. Since 1995, free food and accommodation is provided for whoever needs it. As of 2003, 80 people were working at the centre, half as volunteers, half receiving 'solidarity tokens' for their time. The centre is self-financing, generating the money it needs for upkeep from benefit concerts and bar takings. For ideological reasons the centre refuses to pay taxes. [6]

When Naomi Klein visited Leoncavallo in 2001,she described it as "practically a self-contained city, with several restaurants, gardens, a bookstore, a cinema, an indoor skateboard ramp, and a club so large it was able to host Public Enemy when they came to town."[7]

The still extant centre defines itself in 2019 as 'Leoncavallo Self-managed Public Space' (Italian: Leoncavallo Spazio Pubblico Autogestito).[8]


A group called 'the art workers' (Italian: Lavoratori dell’arte) first occupied the Galfa Tower for 10 days under the name Macao. Next they squatted the Palazzo Cittiero in the Brera district before being evicted and afterwards they squatted a former slaughterhouse in Calvairate, in June 2012.[9]

Over five years until 2017, Macao hosted 2,000 artists making exhibitions, talks, workshops, and musical events. They also held assemblies and ran seminars on the theme of the fair treatment of cultural workers. In 2017, the city council decided it wanted to sell the complex of buildings known as Ortomercato (which includes the Macao site) for redevelopment. Macao asked to be able to buy the building for themselves.[9] The group submitted a proposal endorsed by the German Mietshäuser Syndikat.[10]

Cox 18Edit

The Cox 18 social centre was born in 1988, in a building squatted in 1976. It is a three storey complex located at Conchetta 18, in Porta Ticinese. The influences were punk, trade unionism and Calusca, the latter being a local libertarian bookshop and library which then became based at the project. When the neighbours in the street made complaints about drug use and noise, the centre was evicted in 1989. It was resquatted, violently evicted and then reoccupied again. Cox 18 concentrated efforts on making links with the neighbourhood and this ensured its survival.[11]


CSOA Officina 99 in Gianturco, Naples, was first occupied in December 1990 but quickly evicted. It was then reoccupied in May 1991 by 500 people. [12] The people were from different groups such as homeless and migrant, of all ages. The occupation built upon a previous occupation in 1986 which had lasted 6 months. Officina refuses any form of legalization and is critical of centres such as Leoncavallo which have chosen to legalize.[13]

As of 1999, other social centres in Naples included Lo Ska (Laboratorio Occupato di Sperimentazione e Kultura Antagonista) and DAMM (Diego Armando Maradona Montesanto).[13]

The political party Power to the People (Italian: Potere al Popolo) was formed in 2017 as a leftwing coalition which includes some social centres. The initial proposal and the current leader, Viola Carofalo, are associated with the "Je so' pazzo" Ex OPG ("I am crazy" Ex Asylum) social centre in Naples.


The first social centre in Rome was Hai Visto Quinto, created in 1985. Others in this time were Alice nella citta, Blitz, Break Out, Ricomincio dal Faro, Intifada and Zona Rischio.[5]

Rome has many social centre projects, including Acrobax, Angelomai Altrove, Cinema America Occupato, Nuovo Cinema Palazzo and Teatro Valle Occupato.[14]

Corto CircuitoEdit

CSOA Corto Circuito was a long-running social centre. It was squatted in 1990 and evicted in 2016. Over its lifetime it experienced two fires, one in 1991 in which a 21 year old activist, Auro Bruni, lost his life and one in 2012 which destroyed one of the buildings of the centre. The squatters therefore rebuilt the structure, using permaculture principles. They did not get the correct permits and the authorities used this as a reason to evict. The eviction operation sealed off the neighbourhood and featured 200 police agents and carabinieri, 50 municipal police and 3 fire brigade teams.[15]

Forte PrenestinoEdit

Italian rapper Danno performing at Forte Prenestino in 2007

CSOA Forte Prenestino is an old fort in Rome which was squatted on May 1, 1986. It is a huge site which hosts a range of projects.[16]



Atlantide was occupied in 1998 by Tute Bianche activists. It was used by many groups, including Antagonismo Gay (gay separatists), Quelle Che Non Ci Stanno (feminist and lesbian separatists), NullaOsta (punks) and from 2008, Laboratorio Smaschieramenti (trans*-feminist-queer). Atlantide was evicted on 9 October 2015, by the order of Mayor Virginio Merola.[17]


Làbas was occupied in 2012. Young people worked as volunteers to create various projects, such as a vegetable garden, an organic pizzeria, a bike repair workshop, a microbrewery producing organic beer, a volunteer-run creche and a dormitory for migrants, refugees and homeless people. The project was evicted in 2017.[18]


XM24 is a social centre which exists since 2002, although its roots come from an earlier squatted social centre. 'XM' means 'Ex Market' (Italian: Ex Mercato) and it is located at number 24 on Via Aristotile Fioravanti. Activities include the People's Kitchen (a vegan café), the Ampioraggio People's Bike Shop and the People's Free Gym. It is run by a general assembly which meets every Tuesday. The three defining characteristics of the space are antifascist activism, support for migrant initiatives and collective self-management.[19]

Events such as 'Anti-MTVday,' a farmers market and meetings of the Critical Wine network have all been held at the centre.[19] Famous street artist Blu has been connected with the centre since its beginning and supported it in the fight against eviction by painting a huge mural on a neighbouring building which was scheduled to be demolished. The mural was later covered up by Blu in 2016, in order to protest the city council organising an exhibition called 'Street Art: Banksy & Co: L’Arte allo Stato Urbano,' which used Blu's works without permission.[20]

XM24 was evicted on 6 August 2019. The eviction was resisted, but the protest was called off when negotiations with the city for a new building were successful. The council undertook to provide a new building by 15 November.[21]


Social centres provide cheap DIY venues for many alternative forms of music, including punk and Italian hardcore. They have also provided a fertile breeding ground for homegrown Italian hip hop. In the 1990s, the rap group Assalti Frontali built a recording studio at Forte Prenestino and 99 Posse were associated with Officina 99 in Naples.[22]

See AlsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Piazza, Gianni (2016). "Squatting Social Centres in a Sicilian City: Liberated Spaces and Urban Protest Actors". Antipode. 50 (2): 498–522. doi:10.1111/anti.12286.
  2. ^ Dunnage, Jonathan (2002). Twentieth-century Italy: A social history. Routledge. ISBN 9780582292789.
  3. ^ a b Montagna, Nicola (2006). "The de‐commodification of urban space and the occupied social centres in Italy". City. 10 (3): 295–304. doi:10.1080/13604810600980663.
  4. ^ a b "Social centres and the struggle for a different model of legalisation". LibCom. Struggles in Italy. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  5. ^ a b Mudu, Pierpaolo (2004). "Resisting and Challenging Neoliberalism: The Development of Italian Social Centers". Antipode. 36 (5): 917–941. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8330.2004.00461.x.
  6. ^ a b c Membretti, Andrea (2007). "Centro Sociale Leoncavallo: Building Citizenship as an Innovative Service". European Urban and Regional Studies. 14 (252). doi:10.1177/0969776407077742. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  7. ^ Klein, Naomi. "Something Maybe Beautiful". Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  8. ^ "Le attività del Leoncavallo Spazio Pubblico Autogestito". Leoncavallo. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  9. ^ a b Watson, Mike (5 May 2017). "In a Fight for the Soul of Milan, Artist-Occupiers Face Off Against Developers and City Council". Hyperallergic. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  10. ^ Kakaire, Christine (25 July 2017). "Macao: Collective activism". Resident Advisor. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  11. ^ Membretti, Andrea (2007). "Autorappresentanza e partecipazione locale negoziata nei centri sociali autogestiti. Milano ed il CSA Cox 18". In Vitale, T.; Angeli, F. (eds.). Partecipazione e rappresentanza nei movimenti urbani (in Italian).
  12. ^ Wright, Steve (1996). "Living In The Heart Of The Beast". Libcom. Black Flag #209. Retrieved 2015-11-06.
  13. ^ a b Dines, Nicholas (1999). "Centri sociali: occupazioni autogestite a Napoli negli anni novanta". Quaderni di Sociologia. 21 (21): 90–111. doi:10.4000/qds.1404.
  14. ^ M, Sharon (2014-01-25). "Occupied Rome". Romeing. Retrieved 2019-04-21.
  15. ^ Giannoli, Viola (13 October 2016). "Roma, sgomberato il Corto circuito a Cinecittà. Ma gli attivisti rientrano nel centro sociale". Reppublica. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  16. ^ Marini, Alessia; Mudu, Pierpaolo (2016). "Radical Urban Horticulture for Food Autonomy: Beyond the Community Gardens Experience". Antipode. 50 (2): 549–573. doi:10.1111/anti.12284.
  17. ^ Patrick, Darren (14 October 2015). "Bologna's latest eviction threatens to whitewash the 'red' city's political legacy". Guardian. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  18. ^ Mainfray, Anais. "Social Centres as Spaces of Participation: Expression of Solidarity with Làbas, Bologna (Italy)". Partispace. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  19. ^ a b Zapata Foresti, Giulia; Casey, Sean Patrick (14 September 2014). "XM24: survival and inspiration against all odds". Roar Magazine. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  20. ^ Vimercati, Vimercati (17 March 2016). "Blu v Bologna: new shades of grey in the street art debate". Guardian. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  21. ^ Scarcella, Antonella (8 August 2019). "XM24 dopo lo sgombero: il punto di vista dei residenti". Bologna Today. Archived from the original on 9 August 2019. Retrieved 11 August 2019. "L'assessore Matteo Lepore - recita l'accordo siglato - , in rappresentanza dell'Amministrazione, riconosce l'importanza della progettualità politica, sociale e culturale dello spazio pubblico autogestito XM24 e si impegna a trovare una sede adeguata entro e non oltre il 15 novembre, a partire dalla valutazione degli immobili proposti da XM24".
  22. ^ Wright, Steve (2000). "'A Love Born of Hate' - Autonomist Rap in Italy". Theory, Culture & Society. 17 (3): 117–135. doi:10.1111/anti.12284.