Bruno Benvenuti – in memoriam

Bruno Benvenuti

 On the 15th of September 2011 we received the sad news that Bruno Benvenuti has passed away. For several of us working in the Rural Sociology Group, Bruno Benvenuti has been a professor who left a strong imprint on our academic formation and research work. Benvenuti enriched the body of rural sociological theory with his analysis of the Technological-Administrative Task Environment (TATE) within which farmers have to operate – an analysis that proves to be even more valuable today than at the moment it was formulated for the first time. 

For Benvenuti the interest in TATE relations and the way they ‘discipline’ farmers, whilst simultaneously standardizing farm practices, represented a wider concern, i.e. the general relations between structure and agency. This wider interest resulted in a range of scientific papers, some still very well known. The same interest reflected, on its turn, part of the complex biography of Benvenuti. After the horrors of war and fascism (being an adolescent he lost his father during a bombardment after which he had to take care of the family) he met, as angry young man who was extremely worried about the agricultural situation in Italy, the later EU commissioner for agriculture, Sicco Mansholt. After considerable quarrels about the role of politics, the latter invited Bruno Benvenuti to come over to the Netherlands in order to get acquainted with Dutch agriculture and the Dutch agrarian policy. He came to know Evert Willem Hofstee, the founding father of rural sociology in the Netherlands who invited Benvenuti to study the ‘modernization’ of agriculture and to write a Ph.D. about it. 

The successful defence of his thesis was followed by a career, first in the then emerging European Commission, then in Mogadishu. This was followed by path-breaking research in the North of Italy where Vito Saccomandi, who later became Minister of Agriculture, was one of Bruno’s young research assistants. This was followed by a period of teaching, first in Italy, then again in Wageningen and finally, before his retirement, in Viterbo in Italy. 

Bruno Benvenuti experienced, as it were, in his own life, the overwhelming powers of e.g. fascism, neo-colonialism (in his Mogadishu period) and the supra-national state. At the same time he knew, from his own experiences, that differences could be made: that agency matters. This turned him into a very serious and dedicated man, permanently worried about the big contradictions of our time. Superficiality was a horror to him and as a teacher he made us feel, time and again, our responsibility in this ‘age of extremes’.

Bruno Benvenuti died in the Italian village Pietrasanta, where he spend the last years of his life in joy. We lost an important and thoughtful colleague. Several of us also lost a very good friend and a source of inspiration.

Che la terra che ha amato tanto, gli sia lieve.

On behalf of my colleagues,

Jan Douwe van der Ploeg