Narratives from North and South Europe

Narratives from North and South Europe

Monday, 18 June 2018

Progettare il futuro: esperienze di partecipazione a programmi di ricerca

I will share my Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship experience in the seminar “Progettare il futuro: esperienze di partecipazione a programmi di ricerca” (Designing the Future: Experiences of Participation in Research Programs) – XVIII Incontro Giovani Pontignano 2018 (June 22). 
It’s a dialogue between sociologist who have successfully participated in prestigious calls for research funding (FIRB / SIR, Marie Curie and ERC, etc.). The objective of meeting is sharing experiences and giving advices on how to construct a successful interdisciplinary research proposal.
The seminar and roundtable is organized by Davide Arcidiacono, Gianluca Argentin, Linda Lombi, Mariagrazia Santagati. You can find here the program.
On August 31st my fellowship will come to an end:  it’s good timing to pass on the torch.
Certosa di San Pietro, Siena

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Migration, Cosmopolitanism and Everyday Life

Deadline for abstracts extended: you now have until January 25th, 2018 to submit an abstract: @ESA_RN15 Midterm Conference “The Challenge of a Global Sociological Imagination” (Helsinki, April 19-20, 2018). See the call for abstracts.

Migration, Cosmopolitanism and Everyday Life”  - Workshop 1 (here the list of workshops)
In this stream, we call for abstracts that aim to establish new understandings of cross-border mobilities and liminalities, along with the inequalities and other unintended consequences they may produce. Indeed, when actors leave their comfort zone, their usual living area, occupational niche or educational environment and migrate to new place, they have to adapt to new norms and customs. The stage of moving from one locality to another can be described as a rite de passage (Van Gennep 1909), where actors become separated from their previous setting, go through a transition process and become aggregated with their new surroundings. These rites de passage can also be understood as a liminal period in which actors are ‘neither here nor there’, feeling ‘betwixt and between’ (Turner 1969: 95), caught between the old and the new.
Questions of interest within this stream are, amongst others, whether it is possible to shed sociological light upon the liminal condition experienced by an immigrant (or expatriate) in a global world? Is it possible to point out and study the liminal spaces that facilitate encounters with alterity in the midst of the diversity of daily life in today’s global cities? 
We welcome both methodological and theoretical papers discussing (im)mobilities, experiences of separation versus attachment, and actors’ adaptations to living within transnational contexts. 
Key concepts: Globalization, Cosmopolitanism, Mobility, Liminality, Transnationalism.
- Van Gennep, A. (1909/1960) The Rites of Passage. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Turner, V. (1969) The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Chicago: Aldine.

More on 'Liminal' (from Latin limen, limin- ‘threshold’) and 'Limes'...
- Valerie A. Maxfield (2014) “Limes.” In S. Hornblower, A. Spawforth, and E. Eidinow (Eds.) The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization: Oxford University Press.
Originated as a surveyor’s term for the path that simultaneously marked the boundaries of plots of land and gave access between them. It came to be used in a military sense, first of the roads that penetrated into enemy territory (Tac. Ann. 1. 50; Frontin. Str. 1. 3. 10), and thence, as further conquest ceased, of the land boundaries that divided Roman territory from non-Roman (SHA Hadr. 12). At this stage a whole paraphernalia of border control grew up – frontier roads with intermittent watch-towers and forts and fortlets to house the provincial garrisons which moved up to the frontier line. The term limes comes to embrace the totality of the border area and its control system (but note the strictures of B. Isaac, JRS 1988 125-47 on this point).
In Europe, where the frontiers faced onto habitable lands, and where they did not coincide with a river or other clear natural obstacle, the frontier line came to be marked off (usually no earlier than Hadrian) by an artificial running barrier. In Britain this took the form of a stone wall (wall of Hadrian) or one of turf (wall of Antoninus); in Upper Germany (Germania) and in Raetia timber palisades were originally built under Hadrian and Antoninus Pius; these were strengthened in Upper Germany by a rampart and ditch (Pfahlgraben), and replaced in Raetia by a narrow (1.3-m.-/4¼-ft.-wide) stone wall (Teufelsmauer) at an uncertain date in the later 2nd or early 3rd cent. In Europe beyond Raetia (an Alpine province), the frontier ran along the river Danube (Danuvius) except where Dacia (the plateau of Transylvania) projected northwards. Here earthwork barriers were used in discontinuous sectors to the north-west and south-east where there were gaps in the encircling mountain ranges. The Upper German and Raetian frontiers were abandoned under Gallienus (253–68) and the whole of Dacia under Aurelian (270-5), leading to an intensification of military control on the rivers Rhine (Rhenus) and Danube. In the eastern and southern parts of the empire the limites took a different form. They lay at the limits of cultivable land capable of supporting a sedentary population and were concerned with the supervision of trade routes and the control of cross-frontier migration by nomadic peoples whose traditional transhumance routes took them into provincial territory. In the east, military bases were positioned along the major north–south communication line along the edge of the desert (the via nova Traiana), and concentrated on guarding watering-places and points where natural route-ways crossed the frontier line. The threat of raiding Bedouin bands increased in the later Roman period, leading to a considerable build-up of military installations on the desert fringe. The problems were similar in Africa, where the use of intermittent linear barriers such as the Fossatum Africae was designed to channel and control rather than to halt nomadic movements. In Tripolitania troops were based at intervals along the Limes Tripolitanus, a route that led right into the major city, Lepcis Magna, running around the Gebel escarpment which ran through the richest agricultural zone of the province. Three major caravan routes which converged with this road were likewise guarded by the military, with legionaries being outposted in the Severan period to oasis forts at the desert edge. The intermediate area was peppered with fortified settlements, largely of a civilian rather than a military character. The frontiers as a whole were greatly strengthened in the Diocletianic period (284-305) in response to increasing external pressure.

Friday, 22 December 2017

The Challenge of a Global Sociological Imagination (Helsinki, April 19-20, 2018)

Erdapfel, Martin Behaim (1490-1492)
Oldest surviving terrestrial globe
With Peter Holley and Sanna Saksela-Bergholm  we are organizing  the Mid-term Conference of the European Sociological Association’s Research Network 15: Global, Transnational & Cosmopolitan Sociology. The conference is supported by the European Sociological Association (ESA), the Swedish School of Social Science, the Centre for Research on Ethnic Relations and Nationalism (CEREN), the University of Helsinki’s Mi­gra­tionand Di­a­spora Stud­ies Research Group, and the  European Commission’s Marie Skłodowska-CurieActions.
Read more HERE.
The conference clearly draws on Charles Wright Mills’ The Sociological Imagination (Oxford University Press, 1959) and his challenge to a structural functionalist approach for an integrated study of self and society, history and biography: “Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.” (3) The sociological imagination is not a theoretical or a conceptual tool strictu sensu. It is a task and a promise: “The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society. That is its task and its promise. To recognize this task and this promise is the mark of the classic social analyst.” (6)
This “quality of mind” sustains the interpretation of peoples’ lives within the broader social and historical context. Developing this quality, both the social scientist and the ordinary person can partially evade their private life “traps” by connecting “personal troubles” to “public issues”.
Nowadays men often feel that their private lives are a series of traps. They sense that within their everyday worlds, they cannot overcome their troubles, and in this feeling, they are often quite correct: What ordinary men are directly aware of and what they try to do are bounded by the private orbits in which they live; their visions and their powers are limited to the close-up scenes of job, family, neighborhood; in other milieux, they move vicariously and remain spectators. And the more aware they become, however vaguely, of ambitions and of threats which transcend their immediate locales, the more trapped they seem to feel.” (3)
“Troubles” are private matters and mirror subjective challenges. “Issues” represent problems that transcend the private sphere of individuals, hence they are “public matter(s)” and deserve sociological consideration.
Yet men do not usually define the troubles they endure in terms of historical change and institutional contradiction… Seldom aware of the intricate connection between the patterns of their own lives and the course of world history, ordinary men do not usually know what this connection means for the kinds of men they are becoming and for the kinds of history-making in which they might take part. (3-4, emphasis mine)
In times of “fake news” and pretentious “fact checkers”, Mills’ lesson comes in handy: people do not need more information in the “Age of Fact”. It is not a question of bad information or good information filtered by self-styled guardians of the news inhabiting a temple of knowledge. In actual fact and as a matter of fact, in the Age of Fact information dominates individuals’ attention and “overwhelms their capacities to assimilate it”. (5) People need to interpret and hence have a better grasp of what is going on in the world and what is happening in their private lives. Mills is calling for a crucial “quality of mind” to comprehend “the interplay of man and society, of biography and history, of self and world”. (4)
Thus, the sociological imagination – defined by Mills as a form of self-consciousness – refers to the ability to see beyond isolated subjective experiences and understand them in connection with the wider social themes impinging on them. According to Mills, the aptitude to see connections and patterns is the essence of sociological talent tout court.
The sociological imagination enables its possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals… It is the capacity to range from the most impersonal and remote transformations to the most intimate features of the human self and to see the relations between the two (5 and 7).
Social analysts who have been “imaginatively aware” of the task-promise of their study, have always asked three kinds of questions: (1) What is the structure of this particular society as a whole? (2) Where does this society stand in human history? And the third question, that I would like to cite in full, is:
What varieties of men and women now prevail in this society and in this period? And what varieties are coming to prevail? In what ways are they selected and formed, liberated and repressed, made sensitive and blunted? What kinds of “human nature” are revealed in the conduct and character we observe in this society in this period? And what is the meaning for “human nature” of each and every feature of the society we are examining? (7) 
In a certain sense, the sociological imagination can, as a whole, be considered as the pursuit of a humanist sociology. And it is probably this kind of imagination that could help the researcher to overcome the challenges of a global world.
Mills introduces the expression “abstracted empiricism” (Chapter 3): the work of sociologists who equate empiricism with science and make a fetish of quantitative research techniques. In a word, data and statistical analyses are not sufficient for an appropriate sociological interpretation. Without theoretical categories and comparative historical analyses, the data is meaningless.
Regarding theories, Mills proposes another expression, “grand theory” (Chapter 2): the sociological practice of coming up with very abstract theorizing, which is obfuscating the fruitful interpretation of the social world. There is a famous passage (Appendix: “On Intellectual Craftsmanship”) in which Wright Mills summarises the basic practice underlying (good) sociological research.
Be a good craftsman: Avoid any rigid set of procedures. Above all, seek to develop and to use the sociological imagination. Avoid the fetishism of method and technique. Urge the rehabilitation of the unpretentious intellectual craftsman, and try to become such a craftsman yourself. Let every man be his own methodologist; let every man be his own theorist; let theory and method again become part of the practice of a craft. (224)

Friday, 17 November 2017

Double Boundary and Cosmopolitan Experience in Europe

Double Boundary and Cosmopolitan Experience in Europe aims to open up the debate about national, European and cosmopolitan identity through an interpretation of Simmel’s double boundary dialectic: human beings are boundaries and only those who stand outside their boundaries can see them as such. One difficulty with defining oneself as European stems from what could be called the “double Other” (intra- and extra-European) diachronic recognition process. Exploring the possible/impossible cosmopolitan meta-synthesis can identify certain traits of the cosmopolitan experience in Europe. (Keywords: Boundary, Simmel, Europe, Cosmopolitan, Culture, Trans-cultural, Trans-social).
The chapter is part of the book Globalization, Supranational Dynamics and Local Experiences, edited by Marco Caselli and Guia Gilardoni – book series “Europe in a Global Context” (Palgrave Macmillan). This edited collection focuses on concepts of globalization, glocalization, transnationalism and cosmopolitanism. The contributions provide evidence of how in practice, global dynamics and individual lives are interrelated. It presents theoretical reflections on how the local, the transnational and global dimensions of social life are entwined and construct the meaning of one another, and offers everyday examples of how individuals and organizations try to answer global challenges in local contexts. The book closely focuses on migration processes, as one of the main phenomena allowing a high number of people from contemporary society to directly experience supranational dynamics, either as migrants or inhabitants of the places where migrants pass through or settle down. Globalization, Supranational Dynamics and Local Experiences will be of interest to students and scholars across a range of disciplines, including sociology, migration studies and global studies. You can check a preview of the book here.

Birindelli P. (2017) Double Boundary and Cosmopolitan Experience in Europe. In Caselli M., Gilardoni G. (eds.) Globalization, Supranational Dynamics and Local Experiences. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 127-148.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

International Students’ Self-Identity Abroad

I was invited to the 2017 European Researchers’ Night, funded by Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (European Commission’s Horizon 2020). The event took place at the “Think Corner” (University of Helsinki). You can watch the Unitube video (I was the first one of the evening). Let me share the gist of the talk. It’s a preliminary interpretative attempt. 
I believe the decision to go abroad is influenced by a “push-pull” factor: something is attracting and something is pushing away from “home”. One of the activating question for the audience was: “Nobody knows you in the host country: new colleagues at work, new friends, new sentimental relationship. How do you present yourself?”. A) Exactly in the same old way: I want to be 110% who I am back at home. B) I change something: I do not want to be exactly the same person. C) I change everything: I want to be a totally different person. 
Once abroad, the Self is separated from the confirming and confining matrix of “home”, it is no longer an emplaced self. In this situation the “actor” is forced and allowed at the same time to present him/herself in a slightly different way. It’s a new stage with a different underpinning story: you cannot play exactly by the same old script. At the same time the young traveller is not socialized to a leading narrative of/for Finland. Thus, in Helsinki you have both the freedom and the possibility (because it’s a well-ordered and functional society) to express yourself. Finland is a mysterious place where you can partially build a new Self-image and play it on the city everyday life stage. A Nordic SelfOf course, I need to think more about this idea.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Methodological and Theoretical Pluralism

Before and after the ESA conference in Athens I presented preliminary findings in two seminars:
– Travel and Cultural Experience: Narratives from North and South Europe, University of Helsinki, Department of Social Research, 23/08/2017.
– From the Grand Tour to the Study Tour: International Students’ Narratives. TCuPS (University of Tampere Research Group for Cultural and Political Sociology), 19/09/2017.
In both occasions I gave an overview of the research path and shared possible theoretical interpretations. I received very interesting and conflicting feedbacks. My guess is that the contrast  stems from  different approaches or paradigms.
A plurality of paradigms has always occupied the field of social science, and at times one paradigm partially prevailed others. When the heuristic potential of a paradigm seemed to supersede others, we assisted to “turns,” whether linguistic, cultural, narrative, etc. Are we facing another turn in the field of social sciences? Alternatively, is it time for the end of all “turns”? Wouldn’t it be more useful, and probably scientifically adequate, to contemplate a pluralism of paradigms? We can take into consideration different objections to theoretical pluralism. The strongest one is “monism”.  The monist objection in its rough version could be so summarized: one of the contending positions is valid and all the rest are wrong, misleading, or unimportant. In a more sophisticated way: alternative approaches are historically valid but currently outmoded, as necessary but transient stages in the evolution of current true belief, or as partially valid positions which need to be incorporated in a more embracing theoretical synthesis. The heart of methodological and theoretical pluralism is instead the belief that two or more divergent positions may be entirely acceptable. Georg Simmel created the first major body of argumentation to support theoretical pluralism in the social sciences. The essence of Simmel’s metatheory consists in his refusal of a definitive synthesis.
“There can be no unification based on objective content, but only one achieved by a subject who can regard both positions. By sensing the reverberations of spiritual existence in the distance opened up by these opposites, the soul grows, despite, indeed, because of, the fact that it does not decide in favor of one of the parties” (Simmel, 1907/1991, 181).

Simmel, G.  (1907/1991) Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Italian President Sergio Mattarella visits Finland

Italian President Sergio Mattarella (photo by Francesco Ammendola)
The President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella was in Helsinki for a three-day official state visit to Finland. On Tuesday, September 26, I was invited by the Italian Ambassador Gabriele Altana and Mrs Alessandra Magalotti to a reception hosted at  the official residence of the Italian Ambassador. Here, as a representative of the Italian community in Finland, I had the great honour to meet our President Sergio Mattarella
The state visit was hosted by Sauli Niinistö, President of the Republic of Finland. The agenda included a bilateral discussion between the presidents. Sergio Mattarella expressed his pleasure of making a state visit to Finland when the country is celebrating its 100 years of independence. Themes of the discussion included migration, security policies and climate issues.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Ambassador Gabriele Altana
Our President spoke about the broad convergence of Finland and Italy on global issues and highlighted the longstanding cultural relations between the two countries, which constitute a bond of deep friendship between Finnish and Italian people. You can find here the video. During his visit, President Mattarella met also the Speaker of the Finnish Parliament Maria Lohela and Prime Minister Juha Sipilä. Themes of the meetings included political and economic relations between Finland and Italy and other current international questions. 

Monday, 28 August 2017

International Students’ Narratives: Cosmopolitan Rites without a Story

International Students’ Narratives: Cosmopolitan Rites without a Story
Pierluca Birindelli
Research Network: Global, Transnational and Cosmopolitan Sociology
Studying abroad is a growing and institutionalized practice. To find out what young people are really getting out of it we need to hear their stories and explore the implications of the educational travel within the broader context of their lives.
This paper presents preliminary findings about the significance attributed by international master students in Helsinki and in Florence to their educational, cultural and overall life experience abroad. Analysis of 50 autoethnographical essays reveals that most of the subjects had no previous familiarisation with or exposure to clear-cut narratives about the destination country and city.
We can indeed find a series of related images, but not sufficient to constitute a leading narrative for their life experiences in North or South Europe. The trace of a well-defined script derived from a structured story, such as a book or a movie, is absent. It is instead possible to catch a glimpse of a vague cosmopolitan narrative. This story, constructed on a global scale by different actors and institutions, is partially disconnected from the society and culture of the countries of destination or provenance.
The story upholds the validity of studying abroad for both instrumental and expressive reasons. And the practice seems to constitute a liminal and transitional space-time: an institutionalized rite of passage towards adulthood and global citizenship. It’s an undefined story without exemplary characters, so it’s up to the individual student to find heroes and villains along the way to construct his or her idea of who is a good citizen of the world.
Key words: international students, cultural experience, narratives, cosmopolitan, north Europe, south Europe

Sunday, 27 August 2017

San Frediano and the Worth Canon

Porta San Frediano, Firenze
San Frediano and the Worth Canon
Pierluca Birindelli

Last week many international newspapers and almost all the major Italian ones published the following “news”: San Frediano (Firenze) is the “coolest” neighbourhood of the world. Who said that? Lonely Planet: 10of the world’s coolest neighbourhoods to visit right now”. And who said that to the Lonely Planet? Georgette Jupe. Period.
Georgette Jupe keeps a blog with a Vespa as a logo: “Girl in Florence”.  In a certain sense, a Vespa must be in the Italian portrait, see the post “There Must be a Vespa” in my personal blog.  “Vespa” is indeed a very dear cultural object for the Italians. But discussing the differences between local and global meanings would take us too far. Here I would like to touch just one point about touristic guides: the “worth canon.”
The social discourse clearly pre- and per-forms an attitude towards the construction of the experience agenda. We can detect a travelling criterion moulded on the canon of “worthiness.” Roland Barthes described the Blu-Hachette guides (comparable to today’s Lonely Planet) as fetish objects of contemporary tourism. The tourist is led by the guide to places where it is “worth going.” The “worth” canon, according to Barthes, makes all trips, at least structurally, standardised.
Still following Roland Barthes’ Mythologies, “identification” is one of the key figures of the rhetoric of myth regarding other people and cultures. The identification process reveals the inability to imagine the Other; in the experience of confrontation otherness is thus reduced to sameness. In short: the foreigner projects his/her images (acquired through the media and the ongoing social discourse) on the other. The recognition dialectic is therefore blocked, crystallized around a number of stereotypes. Sometimes, when the Other cannot (because the vividness of the reality is enormously incoherent with the myth) or refuses to be reduced, a rhetorical figure comes to the aid in such an emergency: exoticism ‒ “The Other becomes a pure object, a spectacle, a clown” (Barthes, 1972 [1957]: 152). 

Barthes, R. (1972 [1957]) Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow of the Week #MSCA: Pierluca Birindelli

I was nominated Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow of the Week: cute!
Birindelli is a cultural sociologist from Italy currently based at the University of Helsinki (Finland), Department of Social Research. His project' abbreviated YouthCult, presents a comparative study (Helsinki and Florence) to investigate the meanings given by selected international students to their educational, cultural and overall life experience abroad. The preliminary analysis of international students’ narratives has shown the importance of food in their cultural experience abroad. Pierluca has already participated in the European Researchers’ Night at the Finnish Science Centre Heureka. This is his insight as an MSCA fellow:
“The programme is structured to give constant backup, so I could truly focus on the research project and grow as a scholar tout court. I would say that MSCA fellowship has a constructive effect even early on. From the very first minute you receive such recognition, you instantly feel more positive and encouraged to pursue your goals”.
Blog of the research project: