The Italian “alcohol question” from 1860 to 1930: Two opposing scientific interpretations

Enrico Petrilli, Franca Beccaria


Petrilli, E., & Beccaria, F. (2015). The Italian “alcohol question” from 1860 to 1930: Two opposing scientific interpretations. The International Journal Of Alcohol And Drug Research, 4(1), 37-43. doi:

Background: In recent years, English-speaking and Northern European alcohol researchers have turned a historical gaze towards their subject, and in particular have explored how a medical view attempted to describe and explain phenomena such as alcohol abuse and addiction. Although there was a heated and prolific debate in Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there are few historical studies of the first scholars’ thoughts on alcohol-related problems.

Aims: The article depicts how the Italian scientific community interpreted and explained alcohol-related concerns following the emergence of the alcohol issue in the late 19th century. Specifically, the stances of the two main groups of scientists who dealt with the issue, the Positive School of Criminology and Legal Socialism, are examined.

Method: The article is based on the materials collected by the Italian research group during a comparative study carried out as part of the ALICE RAP project. More than 40 books and five scientific journals were consulted.

Results: Medical-related concerns were never predominant in the late 19th-century Italian debate on the alcohol question, but were addressed in the broader discussion of criminality, where positivists’ and legal socialists’ perspectives both focused mainly on social consequences, albeit with differing interpretations of causalities and remedies.


alcoholism; alcohol history; Legal Socialism; Positive School of Criminology; Italy

Full Text:




  • There are currently no refbacks.