Biennale Democrazia is a cultural event promoted by the City of Torino, under the aegis of the President of the Republic of Italy. March 2015 marked its fourth edition. The aim of this initiative is to create and spread a culture of democracy, which can be developed and put into practice. It is an ongoing public workshop focused on the local context, while at the same time issues on a broader scale are also addressed.

Biennale Democrazia encourages dialogue and is open to all, with a special welcome for young people. The project is divided into a series of preparatory steps and intermediary stages (workshops for schools, initiatives for young people, discussion sessions and other events) that culminate, every two years, in five days of public events that feature speeches, debates, readings, international forums, seminars and entertainment. All for a more thorough understanding of current issues, and proposals for the involvement of people at the local level.


Following the success of the first edition (April 22-26, 2009), which opened with a lecture by the President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, at Torino’s Teatro Regio:

  • The second edition (April 13-17, 2011) had for its theme Everyone. Many. Few. – a reflection on the relationship between democracy and oligarchy.
  • The third edition (April 10-14, 2013) focused on the theme Utopia. Is It Possible? – an overview of utopic visions today.
  • The fourth edition (March 25-29, 2015), entitled Passages, took a look at the great transformations that change the conditions of life and coexistence.

The last edition of Biennale Democrazia counted about 100 events, including lectures, discussions, debates, meetings, readings and workshops, for a total of over 200 hours of involvement at 8 different venues.


The success of Biennale Democrazia is based on the work of a network of more than 70 institutions, organizations and associations. This promotes the circulation of a wide range of ideas, suggestions and proposals, and encourages the active participation of citizens in forging them. An average of 40,000 people participate in each edition – many of them young people and students, through their involvement in training programs offered in 70 schools across the region of Piemonte and elsewhere in Italy. The Biennale Democrazia Campus hosts 200 young people each session – an incredible and unique experience for all.


The title of the fifth edition of Biennale Democrazia, that will take place in Turin from Wednesday March 29th to Sunday April 2nd 2017, is EMERGENCY EXITS: a reflection on the crisis of our time, looking for the answers that we need, but also for new paths to tread and to unforeseen opportunities.

The fifth edition of Biennale Democrazia is dedicated to a theme and a word we are increasingly confronted with when it comes to politics: Emergency. We’ll be focusing on the way the term is used, and abused; its hidden meanings and explicit manifestations; its capacity to signal the sudden appearance of problems and anomalies, and sound the alarm. But Emergency can also transfigure the realities and bodies it comes into contact with – like the actual bodies of immigrants, planet Earth itself under the threat of man-made destruction, cities “under siege”, economies in perennial crisis, new forms of poverty, and war plaguing many areas of the world today. In times of radical uncertainty, politics itself changes: action is fast, decisions are split-second, new formats come into play. Thus it becomes even more crucial to be aware of the decision-making processes involved. Emergency is related to the verb to emerge, which means coming out into the open. And that means the creation of new and unforeseen opportunities for change and new beginnings.

The emergency can be an unquestionable reality, or a deception. An opportunity to be seized, or a false alarm. In either case, the challenges that we face today are the same: get out of the crippling need, give back to the citizens the possibility of choice, experiment new forms of joint action. These are the “emergency exits” that Biennale Democrazia 2017 will face with particular interest.

The fifth edition of Biennale Democrazia offers four thematic proposals for reflection and study: States of Necessity; An Uncertain Society; Governing Emergency; New Beginnings.


1. States of Necessity

Emergencies mean extreme need, and that requires a response that works to counter forces and phenomena which, if left unchecked, risk to devastate human lives and our coexistence. How many of those problems that we call “emergencies” are actually situations of need? How many needy situations have gone unrecognized and neglected? This section examines problems that cannot remain unsolved: the division of the world in terms of debtors and creditors; poverty; wars and refugees; the return of tribalism; damage to the environment.

2. An Uncertain Society

Emergency is one way we have of defining our disorientation when faced with an uncertain future and our incapacity to deal with unexpected realities. Disorientation gives rise to a host of emergencies regarding our psychology, our relationships, intergenerational communication, life at the workplace, healthcare, safety on the streets, and even the Internet. Disorientation does have its appeal for consumers of news and gossip – it’s a catharsis of sorts, in which other people’s emergencies free us of our own fears. The epicenter of today’s disorientation are the cities, viewed as unstable conglomerations of people, cultures, customs and projects; where modernity is celebrated, in all its contradictions, or condemned by its enemies.

3. Governing Emergency

Emergencies call for quick and radical decision-making. The time constraint may mean that democratic forms of response may not always be possible. Constitutional powers may be invoked to reply effectively, and that may lead to a surplus of power on the one hand, and limitations of citizens’ freedoms and rights on the other. Of course, all unlimited power is alarming and dangerous. Can the contradiction be overcome? Can emergencies be governed democratically?

4. New Beginnings

To emerge means to appear where once something was invisible and unknown. Thus, emergencies arise, yet they may represent new beginnings. From such a perspective, we may consider the power of new lifestyles and how they can change our collective ethos on a daily basis. New ways of interacting come about – within the family, and in terms of solidarity, religion, communication, production and consumption, and, of course, on a political level. The prospects of high-tech also come into play, including artificial intelligence made possible by the combination of big data and machine learning.