Between a curse and a resource: The meanings of women's racialised sexuality in contemporary Italy

Elena Zambelli*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


This article explores the racialisation of women's sexuality in contemporary Italy at the intersection between the national imagination and transnational cultural and commodity flows. Starting from the experience of a young Italian woman whose work centres on the commodification of her sexual desirability and who is recurrently classified as 'foreign', it discusses the roots as well as effects of the racialised male gaze under which she negotiates her agency. In so doing, it examines the meanings of her failure to be recognised as an Italian citizen as she navigates between contempt and desire, stigma and praise, alienation and pleasure. On the one hand, the article traces the thread between her experience and the othering processes underpinning the construction of Italy as a nation state and an empire, and whose legacies persist in the country's postcolonial present. On the other hand, the article explores women's racialisation as a process which can magnify the social and economic value of their desirability in a context increasingly characterised by the sexualisation of culture and trade. Based on ethnographic research undertaken in 2012-2013, this article contributes to the emerging body of postcolonial scholarship and intersectional studies on women's sexuality in contemporary Italy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-172
Number of pages14
JournalModern Italy
Issue number2
Early online date27 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


  • colonialism
  • erotic capital
  • nationalism
  • race
  • respectability
  • sexuality


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