The EXIT project aims to explore the causes and multiple forms of territorial inequality in so-called left-behind areas. The project has an intersectional perspective and applies a methodology attentive to the specificities emerging from local areas, based on the active involvement of the communities where the research is carried out.

Although the expression “left-behind areas” is not commonly used in Italy, the roots of left-behindness can be traced back to the North-South divide and the so-called “Southern question”, i.e. the North-South divide in Italy and the lower degree of economic development in the South compared to the more industrialised North. For decades, this issue has been inspiring a rich literature on the study of marginality, territorial fragilities, and related socio-economic inequalities. It is no coincidence that a significant strand of analysis – what we might call the “scientific-operational” strand – has taken shape, with a focus on inner areas (Barca & Lucatelli, 2014; Monaco & Tortorella, 2022; Lucatelli et al., 2022).

This strand proposes a theoretical analysis combined with forms of political implementation and consequently intervention: the “Strategia nazionale per le aree interne” (“National Strategy for Inner Areas”) reflects precisely this commitment. It is a place-based policy approach centred on the valorisation of underutilised local resources and an intervention strategy based on multi-level governance, i.e. a strategy that includes both local actors and regional, national, and supranational authorities. The emphasis, therefore, is on the need to overturn the idea of marginality as something to be tackled in a top-down manner: the fight against marginality is instead waged by enhancing the variety of contexts (as well as within contexts), through the knowledge of each local area, by promoting the provision of integrated public goods and services adapted to each context. The objective is to trigger institutional changes.

The dialogue between the wealth of knowledge, practices, and strategies afforded by the “Strategia nazionale per le aree interne” and the Exit project can lead to a process of mutual learning and growth, thereby improving the capacity to address territorial inequalities.

The intersectional and multidisciplinary scope of the EXIT project also allows for the framing of both the issue of industrial crisis areas – territories afflicted by economic recession and job losses – and the environmental issue, embodied by “sacrifice zones” (Boyd & Orellana, 2022), within the sphere of territorial inequalities. These zones encapsulate issues such as harmful pollution, environmental racism, health inequalities, and environmental health inequalities. The responsibility for this condition is attributed to short-sighted political choices that reflect a market logic. In this regard, the literature has established that having to choose between work and the environment – that is, between the well-being of people and nature on the one hand, and productive greed on the other – is a false paradox.

The harmful pollution that characterises these areas represents a mere exercise of power that, according to the dictates of productive profitability, makes the development and economic survival of an area depend on harmful industrialisation. The “right to pollute” is justified as the only instrument capable of guaranteeing the interests of the workers who are materially involved in the production process: the “employment-environment” nexus underlying the so-called “job-killing argument” thus emerges[1]. According to this interpretation, the dependence on harmful industrialisation – perpetuated by the absence of productive reconversion processes and/or technological upgrading – has an impact on the environment and negatively affects local economic development. These risks leading to the collapse of local areas, which become abandoned places with few job opportunities, low wages, and high depopulation rates.

Authors: Fabio Perocco, Giorgio Pirina


  • Barca, F. & Lucatelli, S. (2014). A strategy for Inner Areas in Italy: Definition, objectives, tools and governance, (31), Materiali Uval Series.
  • Boyd, D., & Orellana, M. (2022). The right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment: Non-toxic environment (Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Issue of Human Rights Obligations Relating to the Enjoyment of a Safe, Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment A/HRC/49/53). United Nations.
  • Monaco, F., Tortorella, W. (Eds). (2022). L’altra faccia della luna. Comuni ai margini tra quotidianità e futuro. Soveria: Rubettino Editore.
  • Lucatelli, S., Luisi, D., & Tantillo, F. (Eds.). (2022). L’Italia lontana: una politica per le aree interne. Donzelli editore.