Narratives from North and South Europe

Narratives from North and South Europe

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: