Dismantling hate through cultural consumption

By Daria Denti, Economist, and Assistant Professor at the Gran Sasso Science Institute, L’Aquila, Italy and Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics

The spread of hate has stimulated institutional commitments in victim support, deterrence, and the investigation of local risk and protective factors associated with the emergence of hate. Current research on risk factors indicates that the geographies of unemployment, inequality and climate conditions are relevant, while evidence concerning local protective factors is still limited. In a recent paper, together with Alessandra Faggian and Alessandro Crociata, I have investigated the effect of local participation in cultural activities on hate proliferation. 

Our research hinges on evidence from behavioral studies supporting a beneficial effect of participation in cultural activities in promoting tolerance. This evidence is conceptually grounded in the ‘indirect contact’ theory, which speculates that participating in cultural activities encourages the development of new perspectives, as it leads viewers to empathize with proposed characters and themes and step outside the boundaries of familiar social norms. Currently, evidence supporting this theory comes from experimental settings, which consider a small number of people. With our research, we tested this theory extending the analysis to an entire country.

What the data tells us: Hate and cultural consumption in Italy between 2009 and 2018

We focused on the nexus between cultural consumption and hate in Italy, which is an interesting case study for the alarming growth rate of hate and for the increasing number of Italians who do not participate in any cultural activity.

At a preliminary stage, we needed to find data to measure both hate and cultural consumption at the sub-national level. Data on hate came from the Lunaria database, which collects geolocalized information of hate events and cross-checks them through different sources. This database has been vetted by international institutions engaged in hate monitoring. Data on cultural consumption are retrieved from SIAE’s Osservatorio dello Spettacolo, which measures attendance at public and private cultural events such as concerts, films, plays, operas, musical comedies, dances, exhibitions, and travel show attractions. In some places, cultural initiatives have more participation from tourists than residents, who are the focus of our investigation. It was therefore necessary to calibrate the SIAE Observatory data for the tourist attractiveness of the respective province. This step serves to purify the cultural consumption measured by the SIAE Observatory from the contribution of tourists. These data allowed us to design an empirical investigation at the province level from 2009 to 2018.

We found that Italian provinces with higher levels of cultural participation had lower rates of hate. This is also confirmed when we examined the influence of other contextual factors that may play a role, such as: levels of human capital, social capital, foreign population, crime, refugees and unemployment.

In Italy increasing cultural consumption determines a reduction in the incidence of hate

We then moved from this preliminary evidence to look for causal measures. For this second aspect, we used an estimation model that included one instrumental variable to estimate the statistical impact of participation in cultural activities on the occurrence of hate.

The instrumental variable was designed using historical participation in cultural activities in Italian provinces. Provincial data on cultural participation for 1955 were used to construct a synthetic index of cultural participation which allowed to isolate specific factors that can affect results, such as the emergence of hatred that affects participation in cultural activities, the movement of local people and the so-called reverse causality. Technically, this is done by increasing provincial participation in cultural activities in 1955 each year along with the country’s growth rate. This designs a synthetic index of cultural participation that is correlated with changes in an area’s cultural participation but is not otherwise associated with local changes in other dimensions.

Estimates from the instrumental variable approach confirm the causal effect of increased participation in cultural activities on reduced hate. Importantly, during the reference period, most of the Italian cultural activity addressed issues of inclusion and tolerance, producing cultural content that facilitated the overcoming of prejudices according to the “indirect contact” theory.

Policy targeting hate should consider supporting cultural activities

The results of our investigation emphasize the importance of promoting local access to cultural activities to foster more inclusive communities. This role of cultural activities should be addressed by hate-countering policy. Also, policy supporting cultural production should consider its impact on hate reduction and promote activities that address issues related to diversity and tolerance.    


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