Paolo Virno

Paolo Virno (b. 1952) is an Italian philosopher, Semiologist and a figurhead for the Italian Marxist movement. Implicated in belonging to illegal social movements during the 60’s and 70’s, Virno was arrested and jailed in 1979, accused of belonging to the Red Brigades. He spent several years in prison before finally being acquitted, after which he organized the publication Luogo Comune (lit. Cliché in Italian ) in order to vocalize the political ideas he developed during his imprisonment. Virno Currently teaches at the University of Cosenza.


Virno was born in Naples, but spent his childhood and adolescence in Genoa. He had his first political experiences whn joining the social movements of 1968, - the association between personal fulfilment and anti-capitalism, typical of the critique artiste of he 60s, which then constituted one of the key reasons for his political philosophy. He moved to Rome with his family at the beginning of the 70's, where he studied philosophy in university. Simultaneously, Virno was involved in the labour movement and campaigned in the organization potere operaio, a Marxist group involved in the recruitment and mobilization of industrial workers; potere operaio, unlike political communists of the Soviet Union and China, who sought to combine the student bodies with the workers unions, Potere Operaio focused mainly in factory and industrial workers in a program stemming from the dogma's of Marx's theory criticising the organization of work. Virno participated in the movement, organizing protests and strikes in northern Italian factories, until its dissolution in 1973.

In 1977 Virno presented his doctoral thesis on the concept of work and the theory of consciousness of Theodor Adorno, while actively participating in the ‘movement of ‘77’’, which was organized around the precarioussnes of workers. The Metropolitan magazine, which he founded along with Oreste Scalzone and Franco Piperno, was revered as the body of the intellectual movement at the time. Two years later, the editorial board of metropolitan France was jailed on charges of belonging to the Red Brigades.

The three-year period of custody was a time of intense intellectual activity for Virno and others involved. After being sentenced in 1982 to 12 years in prison for "subversive activities and which constitute "banda armada" (though the charges of belonging to the Red Brigades did not materialise), Virno appealed and was released pending trial in the second instance; in 1987 he would eventually be acquitted, along with Piperno. His experience during years were fed into the organization of the Luogo Commune publication, devoted to analysis of life forms in the social situation of Postfordism. In Virno 1993 left his post as editor of Luogo Commune to teach philosophy at the University of Urbino. In 1996 he was invited to talk at the University of Montreal,and upon his return, he held the chair of philosophy of language, semiotics and ethics of communication at the University of Cosenza (Calabria).


The early works of Virno were directly linked to his political participation, but after years of imprisonment, which along with his fellow prisoners, he conducted intensive studies of philosophy, abd his focus on theoretical research has become more ambitious, covering political philosophy, linguistics and the study of mass media.

On the one hand, studies pertaining to Philosophy of Language have led to the confrontation of the classic themes of philosophy-like the ańalisis of subjectivity - with the limits imposed under linguistic. On the other hand, Virno has explored the ethical dimension of communication. The juncture of these fields was found to be a materialism that encompasses the processes of language and thought as a working link, keeping in line with the traditions of Adorno and Alfred Sohn-Rethel, the interrelationship between work, thought, language, society and history is the nexus of its philosophical thought.

The philosophical concepts, however, maintained a close link with theory and action related policies; notions of "world", "power", "potential" or "history", which have been the focus of many of his works, were in fact conceived in key by Marx.

Virno maintains the status of historical and linguistical concepts as being political-state, sovereignty, obedience, legality, legitimacy, which are accepted in social theory and philosophy as invariant, although polemically are considered tp have been invented in the seventeenth century, with political objectives very specific and controversial. The reinvention of the concepts of society is part of the political task that has been proposed, regarding the concept of exodus - perhaps the best example of this joint, where the personal experiences of emotion are understood as an act of resistance toward established power and status quo. The assumption by the personality of the flight as a reaction to the social structure. On these lines, Virno has criticized these restrictions as symbolic of the countercultural movements

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