Italy and the International Political Economy


After attending the annual convention of the International Studies Association and an ECPR Joint Session Workshop on the politics of banking regulation, I found myself wondering about the state of the international political economy (IPE) discipline in Italy. I have especially been wondering why Italian scholars, who make important contributions to other subfields of political science and whose works are internationally recognized and respected, do not have the same standing in IPE. In the words of a leading IPE scholar who recently offered an overview of the field, “[i]n Italy, IPE remains largely ignored” (Cohen, 2014: 118).1 The apparent neglect of IPE in Italy is also puzzling in light of the recent global financial crisis and its impact on the discipline. As the editors of the Review of International Political Economy (RIPE) stated in their 20th anniversary issue, if the Cold War and the events of 9/11 prioritized security studies and relegated political economy to the backseat, today’s crisis and its implications have given renewed impetus to IPE scholarship (Johnson et al., 2013).

Based on these insights, in this paper, I will reflect on some of the characteristics of IPE in Italy in both numerical and substantive terms.2 I will also attempt to develop some comparative insights: what do IPE scholars write about in Italy as compared to their international counterparts? In addressing these issues, the paper will speculate on some of the reasons that account for the specificities of IPE in Italy.

Before proceeding, some caveats are in order. Data on the publications of IPE in Italy as presented below are by no means exhaustive, and the methodology employed to collect the data is rather embryonic. Furthermore, my assessment of the issues dealt with in the international IPE is more suggestive than systematic. Despite these methodological weaknesses, however, I believe that the data and insights that follow provide a helpful starting point to reflect on the state of IPE in Italy. Finally, in this paper, I solely examine the presence of IPE scholarship in Italy—not the impact of Italian scholars on international IPE (which would require an assessment of publications by Italian scholars in international journals and of their impact factor).

1. IPE in Italy

Let us first try to quantify the scientific production that can be broadly included under the IPE heading. To this end, I collected data on the articles published in two Italian journals whose publications cover the broad spectrum of political science scholarship: Rivista Italiana di Scienza Politica (RISP) and Quaderni di Scienza Politica (Quasp). Data include articles issued between 1990 and 2013 (Table 1).3 Articles were coded as IPE or IR articles based on the content of their abstract (explained in detail below).

Table 1. IPE and IR articles in RISP and Quasp, 1990–2013

RISP Quasp
IPE RI Total IPE RI Total
1990-94 1 3 83 0 1 9
1995-99 0 2 77 4 6 59
2000-04 4 3 81 2 6 79
2005-10 3 15 97 1 14 104
2011-13 3 8 52 0 4 41
Total 11 31 390 7 31 292

Following the definition offered by Jeffrey Frieden and Lisa Martin (2002: 118), according to whom IPE include “all work for which international economic factors are an important cause or consequence,” all the papers where international economic factors are either a dependent or an independent variable were coded as IPE articles.4 Both theoretical and empirical contributions authored by Italian scholars alone were coded as IPE articles.5 As for the articles that deal with the globalization phenomenon, I included them into the IPE list only if the author/s explicitly refer to the economic dimension of globalization. The following were coded as IR articles: all articles, both theoretical and empirical in scope, that address issues related to international politics, regional integration, interstate relationships, and relationships between state and non-state actors and among non-state actors when they occur at the international level. Articles about the European Union (EU) have not been coded as IR unless the EU is explicitly studied from the perspective of IR. The data analyzed include RISP research articles and focus sections, and Quasp research articles, reviews, as well as “classici,” “letture,” and “research notes.”

The results presented in Table 1 clearly show that IPE is not particularly well represented in the Italian political science discipline. The percentage of IPE scholarship, in the context of political science as a whole, is negligible throughout the period under examination. However, if we compare IPE scholarship with IR scholarship, we obtain a different picture. Indeed, from 1990 to 2013, the total number of IPE articles represents approximately 35% of the total number of IR articles published in RISP. As for Quasp, the percentage is approximately 23%. Interestingly, although there are differences across the five intervals of time, these percentages are well above the international average. For instance, data from the 2011 Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) global survey of 3464 IR scholars in 20 countries, reveals that 735 respondents report IPE to be their primary or secondary field of research—that is, IPE scholars represents approximately 21% of international respondents (Sharman and Weaver, 2013) and approximately 30% of US respondents (Maliniak and Tierney, 2009: 10).6

Does the data suggest that the Italian IR community is host to a crowd of IPE scholars, thus proving Cohen’s conclusion regarding the absence of an Italian IPE wrong? I strongly doubt that. While it is certainly difficult to extrapolate firm conclusions from the data just discussed, I assume that more than a case of IPE dominance, the strong representation of IPE depends on the criteria on which the coding of IPE scholarship has been carried out. Indeed, as I will argue in following section that a glance at the content of the Italian IPE scholarship reveals that articles coded as IPE only rarely engage openly with the recent theoretical debates and findings of the international IPE scholarship. More often, articles coded as IPE engage with IR literature. Furthermore, the apparent over-representation of IPE as a percentage of IR may also depend on the nature of issues under investigation. That is, many international problems that are the object of investigation of the IR community can no longer be examined without taking into consideration at least one political-economy variable.

2. What does the IPE in Italy write about?

Examining the content of the articles and papers coded as IPE, one observation regarding the empirical material is the proximity to IR scholarship. In general, articles coded as IPE deal with issues such as the evolution of the international political system (Andreatta, 2003; Fossati, 1995) and the impact on state sovereignty (Cesa, 2002), the relationship between economic interdependence, democracy and peace (Baroncelli, 2003; Baroncelli, 2008), and security (Baroncelli, 1998). Since these themes also feature prominently in the abstracts of the articles coded as IR, it is plausible to argue that the IPE has made its way into the Italian academic community via the traditional areas of IR expertise (see also Lucarelli and Menotti, 2002). From this perspective, we can say that, in Italy, IPE is clearly a sub-field of IR, whereas at the international level, the discipline is much more “pragmatic” with the implication that, to examine real world problems, it draws from different subfields of political science and economic sociology (Johnson et al., 2013). A further sign of the insularity of IPE in Italy is the lack of involvement with the rationalist-constructivist debate that has animated the international IPE community over the past decade (Moschella, 2011).7 Furthermore, a glance through the content of the articles coded as IPE reveal that the authors only rarely engage explicitly with the debates and findings of IPE scholarship published in the international political economy journals, such RIPE and New Political Economy (NPE). Of course, RIPE and NPE are not the only journals that publish IPE research; journals such as International Organizations, International Studies Quarterly, and World Politics have long published what is considered to be the most authoritative IPE scholarship. However, RIPE and NPE were created (and are dedicated) to give voice to high-quality IPE research. The lack of reference to articles published in these journals can thus be read as a sign of the limited involvement between Italian IPE scholars and their international counterparts.

But what issues do international IPE scholars focus on? While it is very difficult for such a varied field, focusing on diverse issues such as trade, finance, and development, to answer these questions in a systematic manner, it is possible to extrapolate some of the themes that have recently received increasing attention; this can be undertaken by browsing the program of the latest ISA Annual Convention, and in particular, the panels sponsored by the International Political Economy Group (which is one of the 28 thematic groups that the ISA supports for its more than 6,500 members). The 2014 IPE sponsored panels include 86 items covering well-established areas of IPE scholarship (e.g., governance of trade and finance, foreign economic policy making, businesses behavior, and the role of emerging and developing countries in international economy) as well as topics that have recently attracted attention, such the politics of the Eurozone crisis and the management of resources.

Insights into both present and future IPE research can be further gleaned from the 20th anniversary issue of RIPE. Indeed, the RIPE editors provide a number of illustrative examples of research topics which ought to be covered more comprehensively by scholars in future research including topics with a long-terms dimension such as geopolitics, transnational financial regulation, currency competition, resource struggles, demographic shifts, climate change, and welfare state sustainability; they also include short-term issues such as trafficking, shadow finance, policy networks, lobbying, and the creation of deliberative forums. While I am aware that the data here do not provide a comprehensive picture of global IPE scholarship and that my analysis of the content of IPE in Italy provides only an impressionist account of the field, I believe that the themes dealt with in international scholarship are largely absent from the Italian agenda—for the moment, at least.


The analysis began with Cohen’s observation that IPE is largely ignored in Italy. In contrast to this assessment, the empirical analysis reveals a more nuanced picture. In numerical terms, IPE represents a fairly good share of the Italian IR scholarship. Further, even if the result is largely influenced by the coding technique, Italian IPE scholarship is far from being totally absent. So is Cohen completely off the mark in reading the state of the Italian IPE? Not entirely. As I argued in this paper, articles coded as IPE do not explicitly engage with the findings and theoretical debates that dominate international IPE scholarship. This finding thus casts doubt on the existence of a fully-established IPE sub-field, especially of a community of scholars that speak to, and engage with, the international scholarly debates and findings.

Is the limited development of IPE an Italian specificity? To answer briefly, no. In fact, we are in good company. Focusing on Europe, there are few countries outside the UK where a well-developed IPE community is established—a situation that has led some scholars to conclude, “the study of international political economy is largely absent in continental Europe” (Jabko 2009: 213). There are few exceptions to this trend. In particular, some Scandinavian countries (notably Denmark), Switzerland, and the Netherlands are host to a fair amount of IPE scholarship (Cohen 2014, Ch. 6). In general, however, IPE remains a nascent field in much of continental Europe; this may be explained by the Anglo-Saxon origins of the discipline (Cohen, 2008). Indeed, it is in the United States and the UK where the two scholarly communities are the most developed (Phillips and Weaver, 2010).

In spite of these common trends across non Anglo-Saxon countries, it is possible to speculate on a number of features that are specific to the Italian scholarship and that have probably hindered the development of IPE. The first is the widespread specialization of IR Italian scholarship in security-related themes. Given the strong connection of IPE to IR scholarship, it is not surprising that economic problems trail behind in the list of issues that are of interest to Italian scholars. Furthermore, Italian IR has a strong theoretical orientation and focus. For a strongly empirically-oriented field such as IPE, this characteristic could obstruct its development. Finally, the dialogue between political science and economics is not well-established in Italy. Neither economists nor political scientists see the reason (and have the academic incentive) to work jointly on issues of mutual interest. Of course, difficulties in dialogue among different disciplines are not confined to those between economics and political science. However, combined with the other general and Italian IR-distinctive features, the result is that IPE in Italy lack a sufficient number of scholars in order to claim to be a distinctive subfield or a community of scholars that share research interests and methods.


1 To do justice to Cohen’s interpretation of the state of IPE in Italy, he cites some exceptions to the virtual absence of IPE in the country, including the (failed) attempt of a group of economists to set up an IPE community at the end of the 1980s and my works on the politics of international financial organizations.

2 For the purposes of this paper, I will not investigate the methodological differences across Italian IPE publications given the negligible sample of IPE publications as presented below.

3 Whereas the data on RISP articles are accessible during this period, the number of observations for Quasp articles begins from 1994, when the first issue of the journal was published. Furthermore, the 2013 issues for Quasp are not yet available online.

4 Since the coding is based on abstracts, I acknowledge potential mistakes in the coding process. That is, I could have missed some IPE article if international economic variables do not figure clearly as dependent or independent variable in the abstract. Furthermore, I might have even coded the works of those scholars whose works do not expressly engage with the IPE literature as IPE.

5 I did not include articles authored by non-Italian scholars as Italian IPE articles even if the dependent or the independent variable is an international economic factor.

6 For more information on the TRIP project, see this link.

7 In this respect, the state of IPE in Italy lends support to the observation that are also applicable to other fields, that the Italian political science discipline tends to be largely impermeable to international academic trends (Giuliani, 2009; Lucarelli and Menotti, 2002).


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  • Baroncelli, E (2003), ‘Democrazia e commercio: il caso delle grandi potenze tra il 1980 ed il 1998’, Rivista Italiana di Scienza Politica, XXXIII (1): 31-69.
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