Italian Culture and Work Ethics

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Innovation, Vol. 12, No. 4, 1999


Working Values and the Italian Family


A B S T R A C T History teaches us that it is through the family that new generations are equipped with ethics and values regarding work. The advent of bourgeois society, with its characteristic openness towards other social classes, appears to have relegated the promotion of working values by families to the background. This study sets out to test the hypothesis according to which the family continues to maintain an important role in the transmission of working values. Based on data from the Work Importance Study (Super and Sverko, 1995: Life Roles, Values, a n d Careers, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass), two subgroups were compared (working adults, and high school and university students), considered as representing two different generations (youths vs adults). Some results from cluster anatysis show how substantial similarity exists between adults and youths in terms of ideal values, expressing 'what would be important in an ideal world'. The difference between the subgroups lies in expectations (termed 'expected values') relating to 'what would be important in my actual work environment'. Here, relatively more important values for young people are relatively less important for working adults. Another result presented concerns the relationship existing betiveen value typobgies (classed into six categories) and personal character associated with birth order. What emerges is that the only children are prevalently the 'tough type', while the first bom, considered by some to be custodians of family traditions, tum out to be more independent than the second or third bom, identified above all by their calm and sociable characters.

Introduction: the work ethic and the family ethic This study presents the results of a survey conducted nationaUy in 1995 on a sample of 1523 subjects (represendng the three main geo-cultural areas of Italy: North, Centre and South—see BeUotto, 1997). The objecdve of the survey was to determine values associated with work. For this a quesdonnaire, a values scale (VS) was used, devised by an intemadonal team pardcipadng in a world-wide survey called the Work Importance Study—WIS (Super and Sverko 1995). With the data coUected, a profile of the value judgements of Italian families was formulated. The importance of working values within the family context has been little explored from a psychological point of view. Yet the family is characterized by the ethical nature of the reladonships it contains, hence its values (Boszormeny-Nagy and Spark, 1973; Cigoli, 1992). The family is rightly placed in that class of insdtudons that Hegel indicated as the ethical horizon of human society.' There are very few Italian studies on the processes of value transmission within families, not to mendon the handing down of working values. While one of the principal funcdons recognized as typical of families is the socializadon of the individual, studies regarding the socializadon by families with regard to work are rarely encountered. 1351-1610/99/040583-13 © 1999 Interdisciplinary Centre for Comparative Research in the Social Sciences


Massimo Bellotto and Alberto ^atti

The lack of research in this field can be partly explained by the relatively recent history of the concept of the 'family' as a scientific subject for study in social psychology. At least until the end of the 1940s, families were considered as a group typology (Lewin, 1951). Successively, interest focused on the pathology of family relationships (Bateson et al., 1956; Epstein et al., 1982; Bamhill, 1979; Watzlawick et al., 1967). It was only in die 1970s that the so-called 'normal' family was considered worthy of psychological investigation as a scientific subject (Scabini, 1985). In recent years, however, the theme of values and the ethical importance of families has emerged strongly in a variety of fields, from individual...
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