Social Centres

Yesterday one of the “Social Centres” in Rome has been attacked by the police, and people have been sent out of it. I have struggled to find any mention of it in english, therefore I’ll link a couple of italian articles and blog posts (try an automatic translation system – but at the same time I invite people who only write in italian to try and open out to the world, to let everybody know, by writing in english):

Basically hat is happening is that Rome’s major announced today that this is the first episode of a battle against the “Social Centres” and the he means to close/clear many of them. With the excuse that they are illegal places, filled with dangerous people. They even invented the presence of rudimentary “molotov” bombs that really turned out to be bottles of wine in it, to justify the action.
Once again, the old ghost of “security” is being used to repress spontaneous aggregation of people and use of spaces that were otherwise left to rot.
Should “Social Centres” be considered scary or dangerous? Just consider that last sunday I posted the photo below on Flickr and commented:

[…] The alternative people in Rome are growing. A lot of us have kids now, therefore you start seeing refurbished playgrounds and spaces for them inside of the various “Social Centres” […]

Can you read? Playgrounds. Not bombs.

Playground | Forte Prenestino

But what is a “Social Centre” anyway, for those reading this who don’t know it? Here I found an interesting discussion about the translation of the term “Centro Sociale” from italian to english. An excerpt of that discussion follows:

[…] “centro sociale” is a place, usually occupied without police or government permission (the people staying there don’t pay rent or anything basically) where militants, or politically aware groups, gather to discuss about issues and in some case prepare demonstration and revolt acts…For those of you knowing Milan like “Leoncavallo” once. Would you say “squat” or something similar?
I don’t believe there is a one-on-one equivalent in English for this culturally-embedded term. […] I’d like to underline that also in italian we use the term “squat” but it is slightly different from “centro sociale”; maybe we are poaching in the political nuances…but with “squat” in italian we refer mainly to an illegally occupied place where people live (they sleep,they cook…etc etc), while “centro sociale”, especially way back in the Seventies, was mainly the center of great political awareness, of political activists, at least in the Far-left activists’ intentions and point of view.
Despite there being a tradition of social spaces in occupied buildings (also known as squatting), the recent upsurge in (legal) social centres has come about in the last five years. List of current UK social centres, either squatted or legal […]

In the meantime, the Wikipedia page for “Social Centre” has also become pretty complete in its description. It says:

[…] Social Centers are community spaces. They are buildings which are used for a range of disparate activities, which can be linked only by virtue of being not-for-profit. They might be organizing centers for local activities or they might provide support networks for minority groups such as prisoners and refugees. Often they provide a base for initiatives such as cafes, free shops, public computer labs, graffiti murals, legal collectives and free housing for travellers. The services are determined by both the needs of the community in which the social center is based and the skills which the participants have to offer. Social centres tend to be in large buildings and thus can host activist meetings, concerts, bookshops, dance performances and art exhibitions. Social centres are common in many European cities, sometimes in squats, sometimes in rented buildings.
“Social centres are abandoned buildings – warehouses, factories, military forts, schools – that have been occupied by squatters and transformed into cultural and political hubs, explicitly free from both the market, and from state control… Though it may be hard to tell at first, the social centres aren’t ghettos, they are windows — not only into another way to live, disengaged from the state, but also into a new politics of engagement. And yes, it’s something maybe beautiful.” (Klein, 2001).
The social centre concept has taken root most successfully in Italy, beginning in the 1970s. Large factories and even abandoned military barracks have been “appropriated” for use as social centers. There are today dozens of social centers in Italy, often denoted by the initials CSOA (Centro Sociale Occupato Autogestito). Examples include, Pedro in Padova, Spartaco in Ravenna, Officina 99 in Naples and Forte Prenestino, Corto Circuito and Villaggio Globale in Rome and Leoncavallo in Milan. The historic relationship between the Italian social centers and the Autonomia movement (specifically Lotta Continua) has been described briefly in Storming Heaven, Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomous Marxism, by Steve Wright. Social centres in Italy continue to be centres of political / social dissent. Notably the Tute Bianche and Ya Basta Association developed directly out of the social center movement, and many social forums take place in social centers. They are also used for hacklabs, activist copyleft centers (for example, LOA Hacklab in Milan). […]

So well, what Wright has written is certainly true, and historically the Social Centres might have been tied to the extreme political dissent of the seventies. I don’t say that that old model was right; but over time they grew to be very different and beautiful aggregation places where a lot of different activities take place. People have grown up, they calmed down, and are now building spaces for everybody who wants to join in and enjoy and share. There are places for concerts, and theatre, and kids play.

Playground | Forte Prenestino

In certain occasions beautiful stories are told, and the audience listens, open-mouthed and enchanted:

Che meraviglia che meraviglia!

There are happenings where a lot of creativity takes place, such as the yearly juggler meet-up, that is filled with so much joy and fun:

5° Festival Romano di Giocoleria

There is sharing of ideas, knowledge, and interests, such as the Hacklabs / Hackmeetings:

HackMeeting 0x0A

Someone commented ironically on the above, stating they found it strange to see a Microsoft employee joining that crew of the Hackmeeting.
I say that there is nothing wrong in passing by a computer geeks convention. Because that’s what it is, after all.
Only difference from commercial conferences is that, well – it isn’t commercial or sponsored by any company. Nobody will try to sell you anything, but nonetheless you might be able to learn something.

Talking about non-commercial, non-profit sharing, another example is the terraTERRA market that started in Rome at “Forte Prenestino” a couple of years ago:

[…] terraTERRA is the experimentation of an economic model where producers and consumers are committed to each other in order to subvert distribution chains, shorten food distance, value social relations, pleasure and taste. […]

terraTERRA | Forte Prenestino

With all this amount of activities, even tourist resource recognize their importance and you start find reference of them on the net when searching for “what to do in Rome”. From the previous link:

[…] If a visit to a squat doesn’t rank high on your list of holiday priorities, think again. As any local musician will tell you, the best place to feel the pulse of Rome’s music scene is in the Centri Sociali – semi-legal social centres organising concerts, film screenings, theatre and dance events, evening classes, language courses and a host of other activities. Some bands such as Rage Against the Machine play only in the Centri […]

So why would you go and fight and declare war against these places and people?

Because they offer socialization and fun and aggregation, but they do it FOR FREE, and outside of lobbies and commercial interests. Because they undermine the logic of having to buy and own something in order to feel well.

It really boils down to what seems to be the only accepted way of socializing today, in some circles: free sharing and respect are labeled as dangerous, and the only accepted form of a social place is what turns around money: shopping centres, cinemas, restaurants, and any other place where you can be part of society by spending. If you can’t spend you have no place. Anything that does not involve money but sincere expression and sharing is not allowed, when not even actively banned.  Talking about the squatted building that has ben emptied yesterday, it had been left to degrade for decades. Now that is was used for something useful, the owners decided they want to build a supermarket in it. So the occupants had to move out. No bombs, no dangerous people. Just money talks.

Birth of Rome Celebrations

Natale di Roma

Every year proud Romans celebrate the birth of the Eternal City (21 April), founded by Romulus in 753BC, with a series of events at venues throughout Rome, including the Roman Forum and the Campidoglio.

Celebrations include parades, gladiator shows, traditional Roman banquets and public speeches galore from local historical societies.

See the complete set of picture I took this time.

Merry XMas

This post is to write down some thoughts before Christmas, along the lines of what I have written yesterday in an email to a lot of colleagues (and I definitely forgotten some of them because there are too many great people I’ve worked with… so if you are one of the forgotten ones and you are reading this: I’m sorry!).

The last few months have been very busy with work. As much as I enjoyed them anyway, and learned a lot in the process and from the people I worked with, I now really want to enjoy these few coming days of Christmas holidays and RELAX and spend some quality time with my family and friends.

So I wish the same for all of you: that you may spend a Merry, relaxing Christmas, and have a great start for a grand, brilliant new year!

Merry XMas 1


As a side note, having been very busy I have blogged a lot less. Blogging implies that I already have a sort-of-well-formed thought, that should span a few lines or paragraphs, otherwise I don’t find it worth it. That does not mean I don’t have small ideas or other things I like to share when I come up with them. That is why I am using microblogging and Social Networking a lot lately, so I remind you that even if this blog’s builtin feed only includes the REAL FEW blog posts, then I also have another (very “chatty”) feed that you can use to “follow me” and that one includes all of the following combined feeds: my status messages from Facebook, my Twitter messages, my pictures on Flickr, the stuff I read somewhere else and then share on Facebook, the places I visit and mark on 43Places and the goals I achieve, want to achieve, or I simply talk about on 43Things, as well as the REAL posts on this blog. It is my implementation of what has been called a “lifestream” by other bloggers.

43things Facebook app

WOW I already have 13 (thirteen) users for my Facebook application showing your goals pulled from 43things!

Sure, gapingvoid has got 700+ users in 3 days, I know. But hey, he’s famous, and I don’t see the point of cluttering my already busy Facebook profile with a cartoon. I do read him and generally like his cartoons, and I am in the “friends of the blue monster” group (so to say I like him).

But I prefer reading him in my “normal” aggregator.

I think Facebook apps should rather “inject social objects” (where did I read this definition? sorry I cant recall it or I would appropiately link to you… I swear).

There are of course other similar applications that just pull comics in your profile (like Dilbert, Garfield, etc) but again – I think this is all stuff that YOU are interested in, and thus should just go into your aggregator – so YOU can read it; on the opposite your profile in Facebook should talk about YOU and things YOU are doing, for example. Occasionally they can be YOUR posts or they can even be someone else’s posts that you read and want to share/let other people see (that’s why I pull in my Google Reader’s shared items for example – things I read and want you too to see). If this includes importing other social objects/information from other social networks, like the music you are listening to on last.FM, or the photos you published on Flickr, then it is fine. That’s why I wrote an app that shows the things you want to do, pulled in from and one that shows the places you want to visit pulled in from Because I felt those social objects from another network were missing. In fact a user commented “[…] Glad someone finally took a step forward to create this, though 🙂 […]“.

But of course what I wrote about which kind of applications you should or shouldn’t have in your profile, remember that this is just my personal opinion rant, and everybody is free to put whatever stuff he/she likes onto his/her profile, in the end 🙂

New Photo Category Visualization

New Photo Category Page

Copying the advice by Small Potato, I made a different page for the ‘Photos’ category/tag on this blog. It has been a bit trickier than I first thought, because he keeps his picture uploaded into wordpress itself, while I had to write a small plugin using a regular expression to extract the “IMG SRC” portion of the post content. This way I also experimented with WordPress templates, plugins and structure a bit more than I had done before… and I am even more convinced than before that it can easily be used as a CMS rather than *just* a bloging software.

Facebook development

I have been quite hooked into Facebook for the last couple of days, figuring out what it can and cannot do. It can do a lot. The possibility to inject code and brand new application into it is absolutely awesome.

PopFly lets you create mashups and even custom blocks, and I liked that too. But you have to use fancy-shiny Silverlight (which is very cool indeed, but probably not *always* necesary) and you can only create blocks using Javascript. Sure, as someone as already written, the meaning of AJAX is “javascript now works”. I can understand (even if I don’t know them for sure) the reasons behind certain choices. But I find it limiting. Maybe it is because I don’t like Javascript. It must be it. 

Facebook, instead, empowers you to inject code into their social networking framework. Any code. In whatever language you like. They started it in PHP, but you can plug-in whatever you like: Java, Ruby, Perl…. you can even have your application running on your own server, still providing a seamless experience inside of facebook. This opens up to millions of possibilities, and I got fascinated by that.

At the same time, the paranoid part of myself has been thinking to the security implications of it. This open platform is cool, but it also sounds like a framework for cross-site-scripting (XSS) attacks. Sure, you can “report” an application made by a third party that does something weird… but who will really notice if all that happens under the hood is that your cookies get stolen (and someone accesses your bank account) ? Will you figure it out it has happenend because you wanted to see the “dancing pigs” loaded in your profile ? Or will you figure it out at all ?

This said, I set aside my fear for a while and I delved into coding. What I did learn in the last couple of years, having slowly moved away from security engagements, is to relax. When I was working costantly with security I was a lot more paranoid. Now I case much less, and I live a lot more.

So I developed a couple of quick and simple apps running from this very server into Facebook, and I started using thePHP5 library they provide, so to be able to follow the examples first and figure out how it was working.

Now I also want to take a look at the .NET library for facebook when I have time. It sounds cool.



Facebook_Daniele, uploaded by Daniele Muscetta on Flickr.

Yet another social networking. I am on there too, now.

Ah, and by the way, I really find it incredible that every time I invite some people to a new social networking site (it has happened for all of them), it happens that some (many) of the persons I have invited reply to me or call me asking me “is this really sent by you ?” “it looked like spam” “what is this thing” and the like.

Come on, guys, we are in year 2007, you still don’t know what social networking is… especially if you work in IT you are sort of a dinosaur, you know?

On this website we use first or third-party tools that store small files (cookie) on your device. Cookies are normally used to allow the site to run properly (technical cookies), to generate navigation usage reports (statistics cookies) and to suitable advertise our services/products (profiling cookies). We can directly use technical cookies, but you have the right to choose whether or not to enable statistical and profiling cookies. Enabling these cookies, you help us to offer you a better experience. Cookie and Privacy policy