IPS: How would you define internationalization in your field?
AB: Internationalization, in my opinion, has at least two main dimensions, involving the content of research and the communication of its results. The first dimension implies awareness of the theories, methods, and publications produced by the international scholarly community on a specific research topic. The second dimension, instead, concerns the ability to make your ideas, research results, and works known within that very community. Internationalization in short, is an exciting exercise in knowledge-sharing across national borders.
IPS: How has internationalization impacted your career?
AB: As a comparativist I’ve learnt soon the importance of internationalization. First, I spent a semester at Rutgers University to finish my undergraduate dissertation, which addressed the return to the barracks of the armed forces in Latin America. Later, I spent research periods in Spain and Portugal, preparing my Ph.D dissertation. Those early experiences made clear to me that to gain expertise and understand politics in other countries, three steps are necessary: first, to go for field research whenever this is possible; second, to master foreign languages; and third, to discuss your work with as many colleagues as possible.
IPS: From your experience, how internationalized is the Italian academia? And what are the improvements to be made?
AB: If I consider the second of the two aforementioned dimensions, that is, the ability to share works and ideas within the international community, I would say that Italian political science has improved its internationalization record in recent years. However, there is still room for further improvements.
Internationalization involves activities such as attending conferences, spending research periods abroad, inviting foreign colleagues in your own department, and also participating in international research projects, publishing in international journals and books, and so on. Nowadays, the lack of financial resources—due to the Eurozone economic crisis—is hindering these activities. The consequences are particularly negative for junior scholars, who lack the economic support to internationalize their CV when it is most important—in the formative years of their careers.
But, internationalization also faces a second obstacle, concerning the ability to write in standard English. In my experience as journal editor, submissions by Italian scholars often present more linguistic problems compared to those by academics from Spain, Portugal, Greece, or Turkey. This problem could be solved at an individual level—learning to write in English, or resorting to private professional editors. Even better, in my opinion, the problem could be solved at an institutional level, should a university decide to set up a linguistic center devoted to language editing (such as the one at the EUI). I believe that investing in such structures would greatly help the internationalization of the Italian academia.
IPS: From your experience as general editor of South European Society and Politics, what are the efforts that are necessary to forge the internationalization of a journal?
AB: In the case of SESP, four ingredients were important for its internationalization; these are: the journal’s mission statement, inclusion in the SSCI, online publication, and, of course, hard work.
First, SESP is a macro-regional journal, which covers seven South European countries (Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, and Malta). Internationalization, therefore, has always been part of the journal’s DNA. Moreover, Susannah Verney (my co-editor) and I tried to give the journal a more defined profile. Nowadays, SESP’s aim is to enhance the knowledge of the changes taking place in the politics and societies of Southern Europe and in each of the seven countries that, in our definition, make up the region. In so doing, SESP has succeeded in carving out and consolidating a specific role in the publications market, serving a particular niche in the academic community.
Second, a boost to the internationalization of the journal was given by its inclusion in the Social Science Citation Index in 2008. This meant that, beginning in 2009, SESP was yearly evaluated with an impact factor. Inclusion into the SSCI resulted not only in doubling the number of submissions, but also in submissions now coming from all over the world.
Third, on electronic publishing and online accessibility, I would only like to remark that these tools are changing the nature of journal readership. Nowadays, scholars have access to article databases and research engines that make an article on a specific topic or by a specific author as visible as anything anywhere. This, of course, also increases a journal’s visibility and internationalization.
The last ingredient is hard work; this comprises actively looking for the best authors, commissioning articles on subjects of topical interest and promoting special issues, giving special attention to the referee process of each and every article, and finally, helping authors in marketing their published works. A constant effort is required, but worth it. The journal, in fact, has grown up, becoming a point of reference for the international community interested in Southern Europe—so much so that, in 2014, our editorial team acquired new members. Fabio Bordignon (as assistant editor), Leire Salazar, and Lorenzo Mosca (as associate editors for Spain and Italy, respectively) joined me, Susannah, and Senem Aidin (associate editor for Turkey), in the journal’s direction.
IPS: What would be your suggestions to a new generation of scholars who want to incorporate an international dimension into their career?
AB: I would give them two suggestions. First, to try and spend a research period abroad, possibly during the work for the Ph.D dissertation or immediately after. Second, to invest time and effort in mastering foreign languages, and especially English, not only spoken but also written. I believe that these are important assets for further integration within the international scholarly community.
IPS: What other obstacles are hindering the internationalization process?
AB: Apart from lack of funding and the English language problem I mentioned above, I see another major obstacle: the mismatch between the need for internationalization and the limited value assigned by the Italian evaluation systems (both ASN and VQR) to edited works. Edited books and journal special issues are the typical publication outlets for the results of international research projects. For this reason, they should be highly regarded. Instead, they are overlooked and no specific credit is awarded to editors who organize the project, review the writing of the individual articles/chapters, and coordinate the whole project from the start to final publication. For example, North American and UK universities consider peer reviewed, edited volumes relevant publications for tenure applications and review processes because they demonstrate the maturity and networking ability of the book editors. I believe it’s time we followed their example.