Amie Kreppel is professor of Political Science at the University of Florida, where she also serves as the Director of the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence. She is the Chair of the European Union Studies Association (EUSA). She was awarded her PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of journals including Comparative Political Studies, European Union Politics, European Journal of Political Research, Journal of European Public Policy, Journal of Common Market Studies, British Journal of Political Research, Political Research Quarterly. She is the author of European Parliament and the Supranational Party System: A Study of Institutional Development (Cambridge University Press, 2002).
Fabio Franchino is professor of Political Science at the University of Milan. In the past, he held positions at the London School of Economics and the University College London. He received a PhD from the London School of Economics. He has published articles in journals such as the American Political Science Review, European Union Politics, European Journal of Political Research, West European Politics, Journal of European Public Policy, British Journal of Political Science. He is the author of The Powers of the Union: Delegation in the EU (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
As from 2014, they will be general editors of the Italian Political Science Review. We interviewed them on the subject of academic internationalization.
IPS: How would you define internationalization in our field?
Amie Kreppel: Internationalization can mean many things, incorporating both the subject and the actor – in this case the topics of research and the character of the researcher. My understanding of the term includes both as well. This means research projects that, even when focused on a particular case, integrate an awareness of the broader context and (international) comparative cases. For academics it means the development of research networks that ignore national boundaries. Increasingly research groups are international and research projects integrate methods, questions and evidence from multiple sources. The availability of so many national journals, conference paper databases and working paper archives online has opened many new research doors, making this type of research more achievable than ever.
Fabio Franchino: I would say the degree to which one’s work is influenced by and influences the work of colleagues in the international academic community. This community may well comprise colleagues whose office is next to mine, so it is more a frame of mind than a matter of geography. If, when beginning a research project, one draws from theories and insights that travel across national communities and geographic boundaries and, when disseminating research results, one tries to communicate to the international academic community – that would be internationalization.
IPS: How has internationalization impacted your career?
AK: As a comparativist my work is inherently international in character, however my own career trajectory began as a project in internationalization. Having studied as an undergraduate in Italy (Universita` di Firenze) my perspective has, from the beginning, been influenced by scholars and research topics (that at the time) I would not have had access to had I stayed in the USA. These early experiences shaped my thinking long before I ever considered a dissertation topic and have remained very much a part of my approach to research and teaching. Since that early experience I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to teach and conduct research in several countries and to build collaborative relationships with scholars from across the globe.
FF: Quite a bit, initially through student mobility, between Italy and the UK; I was then lucky enough to carry out my doctoral training and my first steps in the profession in an academically competitive environment. You end up by default benchmarking against leading scholars in the profession. It can be daunting at the beginning, but it is very stimulating.
IPS: From your perspective, how internationalized is the Italian Academia? And what are the improvements to be made?
AK: I cannot speak for all of Italian academia being familiar primarily with political science and to a lesser degree law. But, in these two fields, and political science in particular I think Italian scholars are among the more internationalized in Europe, particularly among the non-native English speakers – which naturally creates a barrier to internationalization given that so much is conducted in English. Even in the 1980s when I first studied in Italy, many (if not most) of the books and articles I was assigned were non-Italian in origin and the topics (again in comparative politics) were inherently international in character. Italy has a large number of English language, or mixed English-Italian graduate programs that facilitate the internationalization of young scholars. Methodologically I see more Italian political scientists being open to a wide array of different approaches and a comparatively high level of collaboration. That said, as might be expected there is a generational divide and these trends are more prevalent among younger scholars. But remember perhaps the best known modern Italian political scientist, Giovanni Sartori, is himself emblematic of internationalization in both his work and his career. I think this example has been important.
That said, there are certainly improvements that could be made. A greater emphasis on getting the great work done by Italian scholars to be more generally accessible is part of it – through English language publications that are readily available on line so that people who are not specialists and who are outside of Italy can have access to them. Increasing transnational collaboration and, perhaps most difficult – increasing efforts to study Italy as a comparative case. In many ways (and for some very good reasons) Italians who study Italy often treat it as “exceptional” in the same way American scholars of US politics often eschew comparison because of the exceptional character of the US system. This limits not only our understanding of Italy, but also the reach of the work. Placing Italian studies within a broader comparative context would expand the circle of scholars working on Italy as a case and would significantly expand the internationalization of the discipline within Italy.
FF: These are important questions that are hard to answer – not because I want to shy away from them, but because they should be properly answered with data at hand (the VQR exercise could come handy). In my rather impressionistic opinion – taking other European countries as benchmark -, we are probably lagging behind our north European neighbours, but we are doing fine compared to other south European countries.
However, internazionalization should not be an end in itself, but, as I said, a tool or a frame of mind to produce excellent research. Excellence in research is our top priority as scholars. The two concepts do not necessarily go hand in hand. One in theory could attend the best international conferences in the profession, be quite internationalized, but fail to publish in top journals or with top publishers. And there may be colleagues that attend fewer conferences but manage to produce excellent research.
In practice however, we know that internationalization and research excellence are strongly correlated, for obvious reasons. One wants to draw from the best theories on offer out there, without boundaries, wants his or her research to be challenged by the most prestigious colleagues, wherever they are, and likes his or her research to be acknowledged as having improved our understanding of important political phenomena, and, ideally, even to have an impact on policy makers. It is unlikely that we can accomplish these objectives ignoring what goes on beyond national boundaries; scholars in top universities certainly do not do this. For a mid-sized academic community of political scientists in a mid-size country like Italy, the continuous interaction with the international community is the key to producing excellent research.
IPS: What would be your suggestions to a new generation of scholars who want to incorporate an international dimension into their career?
AK: As indicated above – it would involve a two-prong approach. Internationalizing both content and character. This means on the one hand, incorporating research topics and methods from different schools of political science, and in comparative politics and Italian studies working to expand the cases examined. On the other hand Italian scholars need to actively develop their international networks – build relationships and develop research projects with scholars from outside Italy.
FF: Young scholars (as well as anyone else, I would say) should concentrate on producing excellent research – and the production of excellent research is deeply ingrained in an attitude that merge intellectual curiosity and scientific rigour with hard work, adaptability and continuous learning (caring about your object of study also helps). What I like the most in young scholars is when they challenge established works – not for the sake of being gratuitously confrontational -, but because they say: ‘This is what I have discovered, and this supports only partially – or does not support – the established theory, for the following reasons’. Rigorous falsification is what I truly like.
Scientific innovation can take several forms – this is the first thing that I say to my doctoral students. Once you get acquainted with the best literature on the phenomenon that you are interested in understanding, you can innovate with data, theory, method and measurement or any combination of the above. Opportunities abound. The international dimension is instrumental to excellence in research because it is where the frontier of research lies, it is where you can find new data, refine theories, learn new methods and develop better ways at measuring your objects of interest.
There are of course several broader ‘life experience’ benefits associated with spending a period of research and work abroad (as well as some costs); but if one wants an international experience to foster his or her own career, I think she should use it to acquire knowledge and learn important skills.
IPS: As from 2014, you will be general editors of the Italian Political Science Review. What are your plans to make this journal more international?
AK: My presence as co-editor is a good start. I believe I will be the first non-Italian to serve in any governing capacity with the journal. Fabio Franchino and I have worked hard to expand the international editorial board and we will work with them to attract high quality manuscripts from a broad range of scholars from Italy and elsewhere. Fabio and I will also be working to encourage scholars (young and more established) to consider the IPSR as a valuable outlet for their research by attending conferences and looking for research we think would be suitable. We have also worked to increase our reviewer pool and to ensure that reviewers represent multiple countries and methodological approaches wherever possible to improve the quality of reviewer feedback and integrate an international component into this stage of the process as well. Our goal is a lofty one, we would like to see IPSR join the ranks of the British Journal of Political Science and the American Political Science Review as a truly great national journal. This will require time, and a good deal of effort. The move to English language will help increase the readership of the journal beyond the national confines. Working to make it easily accessible online will also be critically important. Then we need to focus on getting really top-notch work in the journal to increase citations and with them – awareness. This will create a virtuous circle that naturally serves to internationalize the journal.
FF: From ebooks to journal articles, almost the entire scientific knowledge produced in our discipline in, say, the past ten years is at a click-of-a-mouse away. For any scholar, this is nothing less than wonderland. If one wants to update his knowledge, acquire new skills or disseminate research results, the barriers have dropped significantly. The market of scientific journals in our discipline is global – we cannot ignore this.
Under the editorship of Luca Verzichelli, the Review has moved fully to the English language and I sincerely welcome this change, both because it allows disseminating worldwide our research and makes the Review a more attractive outlet for publication for our colleagues both at home and abroad. The truth of the matter is that, if a young scholar applies to a position abroad, a publication in Italian adds less value to her resume than one in English – for the simple reason that it can be read by the hiring committee. I want the Review to be an important outlet for dissemination of good research as well as a springboard for the career of young talented scholars.
Therefore, the challenge for the Review is now to acquire more recognition in the international market of political science journals. There are plans and options on the table that we are considering, together with the executive board of the Italian Political Science Association, but which we are not in a position to discuss openly as yet, but the key objective is significantly enhancing diffusion while preserving quality for the entire editorial process, from submission to review and publication.