Donatella Della Porta: European Political Science Review

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Italian Political Science interviews Donatella Della Porta, former Co-Editor of the European Political Science Review.

IPS: How would you define internationalization in your field?

DD: Internationalization is of growing importance, with a varied balance of pros and cons, related with the definition we give to it. The most positive aspects I see in internationalization are understood as experiences in different countries, academic institutions, and cultures. This internationalization by personal experiences often brings about an awareness of a plurality of approaches, methods, styles, and practices. This is extremely useful in order to put one’s own national experience in comparative perspective; it helps a critical look and (hopefully!) some methodological pluralism based on the knowledge of the many ways in which social and political sciences developed.

There is, however, also an internationalization that I found extremely risky: an internationalization by homologation to a specific tradition (or evolution of that tradition). This is the homologation to the Anglo-Saxon system, with its emphasis on competition and evaluations. While in the very countries where these conceptions developed, critical voices are becoming more and more audible on the limits of these practices; the risk is that emulation is done uncritically, absorbing one and only one academic culture. This, I believe, would jeopardize the very richness of our disciplines in Europe.

IPS: How has internationalization impacted your career?

DD: My career has been international since the very start—with my DEA (equivalent of an MA) at the EHESS in Paris. Even though I saw the limits of the French system, with its (at the time, at least) closed schools, I started, however, to appreciate the stimuli coming from experiencing diversity, the excitement in learning a language, and getting in contact with a broader culture. I continued to experience (and to enjoy) internationalization during my Ph.D. times at the European University Institute. I was, paradoxically, blessed by the delays in the Italian academic system. In 1983, when I was admitted at the EUI, it was the very first year in which Italy (as one of the last countries on the continent) started a Ph.D. system. As I got the letter of acceptance from the EUI, the first competition to enter an Italian Ph.D. program had not finished yet. So, I happily went to Fiesole. While less international than nowadays— there were only Ph.D. candidates from the founding members of the European Union then—the EUI was quite internationalized for Europe at that time. Writing my Ph.D. there gave me not only language skills, but especially, once again, the curiosity for foreign cultures. Once again blessed by the nepotism of the Italian academia, when I finished at the EUI, I was told by several members of Italian universities (not by all, though) that choosing the EUI had been a bad choice—because now, I didn’t have any patron to help my career. This was again a (paradoxically) lucky circumstance as I was pushed to take positions in other countries’ institutions (among which, at the Social Science Center in Berlin), where I learned much and broadened my international knowledge.

Internationalization also impacted on my career when I went back to the EUI, having the chance of mentoring Ph.D. students and post-doctoral fellows coming from as many as 27 different countries. Although I did not visit all of them at home, I learned from them immensely about the potential for comparative politics and sociology, as well as about the immense need to go beyond the “classic” comparative strategies. But, I also learn about different cultures, histories, arts… and this is great fun.

IPS: From your experience as the general editor of the European Political Science Review, what are the efforts that are necessary to forge the internationalization of a journal?

DD: Internationalization of a journal is not easy—at least if you consider it important to have a balance between the various areas of Europe (not to speak of the world). Despite the efforts of Guy Peters, my co-editor—and I put in the attempt to spread the call beyond the Anglo-Saxon world since the very beginning, our success was important, but not total. For sure, since the very first issues (where we had invited contributions from authors with different national backgrounds), we could indeed involve an international milieu of collaborators. We easily got beyond the Anglo-Saxon world—unfortunately, with some weaknesses, however.

In particular, Southern and Eastern European scholars were more difficult to attract than those from Central and Northern Europe. We dealt with this problem pragmatically, trying to balance participation in the editorial board, as it was indeed balanced among the associated editors. I would say we have improved a bit, but there is still much to be done. We had also fewer submissions than we would have liked from the American continent. An explanation I was often given for that is that (as a young journal), we didn’t have an “Impact factor,” and this was a problem, especially for American colleagues whose departments ask them to publish in journals with IF… notwithstanding the San Francisco Declaration, signed by dozens of academic associations (especially in the hard sciences), which has strongly criticized the use of a journal’s IF to assess the contribution of specific articles…

IPS: From your experience, how internationalized is the Italian academia? And what are the improvements to be made?

DD: I think that, in general, the degree of internationalization of the Italian academia is extremely low. I was just asked to fill a questionnaire about my experience with my Advanced Grant of the European Research Council—as the granting authority wanted to understand why so few applications come from Italy. In participating in selection procedures for Ph.D. in Italian institutions, I was quite surprised by the number of Italian students who pursue all their university career within the same institution. On this, they compared indeed very badly with their colleagues in other European countries. While this might have, of course, an economic reason—in a country in which incentives for students and their mobility are among the lowest in Europe—I think there could also be cultural barriers to mobility—in particular, in the belief that, if you go abroad, you lose your contact with a/your potential patron…

IPS: What would be your suggestions to a new generation of scholars who want to incorporate an international dimension into their career?

DD: I don’t want to make it too simple, but I would suggest to actively search for all the possible occasions to go abroad, and learn how other systems work. Start with Masters abroad—true, some institutions are making a business of Masters education, and this increases class selectivity; but there are still many countries (e.g., in Northern Europe), where a Masters degree is economically accessible, and even grants are available for that. I would say, continue with a post-doc abroad—not necessarily to leave Italy for good, but to try other systems, learn other lessons, enjoy other cultures… For me, it was not only useful to my career, but also extremely gay!

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