The Artistic Legitimation of Photography in Italy

Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral ThesisExternal


Through an in-depth field study, this thesis provides a sociological analysis of photography in Italy and its partial artistic legitimation. Taking into account both the historical development of the field of art photography in Italy and its contemporary condition, the study focuses on the processes through which different actors and institutions promote the legitimacy and status of photography as art. Combining the sociology of art and cultural processes to organisation studies, the study develops an interpretative framework that spells out the relationship between legitimation, social categorisation and cultural evaluation processes. Adopting the Constructivist Grounded Theory methodology, the research collects and analyses different sources: face-to-face interviews with photographers, critics, historians, curators, gallery owners, museum directors and Italian collectors; ethnographic notes collected during participant observation of various art and photography events, such as festivals, fairs, presentations, museum visits and gallery openings; auction data (collected from 2009 to 2020) and extant market analyses; secondary textual data, such as history and critical works on Italian photography, archival records and press releases. The results show that photography in Italy is still struggling to secure its status as a legitimate art form due to historical processes and socio-economic dynamics that reinforce the symbolic boundary between the professional world of photography and the legitimate world of contemporary art. Compared to other European countries, the field of artistic photography emerged late, only at the end of the 1970s, following the emergence of three favourable opportunity spaces, notably the crisis of Italian photojournalism. As a result, members of the field of artistic photography developed strategies of resource mobilisation and theorisation of a legitimising ideology that are still ongoing today. In addition, the contribution theorises three processes of legitimation which, acting in combination with each other, establish the conditions for the complete legitimation of photography as art: differentiation, emulation and sublimation. These processes, discussed in the light of empirical experiences of both full and partial legitimation, show that the field of photography occupies a position of "segregated inclusion" within art institutions, as a contested identification of photography as art still persists.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan
  • Mascheroni, Giovanna, Supervisor
  • Verboord, Marc, Supervisor
Award date20 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2021
Externally publishedYes


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