A weak international impact has been often indicated as one of the deficiencies in the process of institutionalization of Italian political science. Indeed, a sort of inconsistency has emerged between the unquestionable growth of political science in Italy, grounded by the pioneering work of Giovanni Sartori since the late fifties [Morlino 1992], and the slow international penetration of the research produced by the Italian community, particularly in terms of research outcomes published by top level international journals.
Such deficiency has been illustrated in an article that was published about ten years ago by Plümper and Radaelli . This work analysed the amount and the impact of the articles published by the Italian tenured political scientists in the most relevant political science journals. The main implications of this research can be summarised within two points: the overall small presence of articles written by Italian scholars, especially within the top-level Political Science journals, and the parochial inclination of their research, focused mainly on the Italian politics with a relative concern for the European and international debate. A few years ago, Tronconi  replicated an analogous empirical test, which reached to very similar conclusions. According to his research, between 2003 and 2007, the Italian political science had not improved significantly in terms of internationalization of its research, notwithstanding the recent increase of this academic community. However, some promising appearances in relevant journals and a relatively broader dispersion of the Italian “expertise” in new fields of research emerged, as elements of moderate optimism.
More recently, new difficulties have emerged with the process of academic recruitment due to the increasing financial constraints caused by the economic crisis. Nonetheless, other factors could concur in explaining some improvements in terms of internationalization of the Italian research: the increasing institutionalization of a few PhD schools [Panebianco 2009, Capano and Verzichelli 2010], the diffusion of the English lingua franca among the younger generations, and the prestige of many Italian scholars involved in the international disciplinary organisations.
A few years after these first assessments conducted on the internationalization of the research produced by the Italian political science community, a new in-depth analysis of this fundamental aspect of the discipline’s institutionalization seems to be appropriate. In the present contribution, I pursue a two-fold goal. At a descriptive level, I will discuss comparable diachronic data, in order to evaluate the improvements done so far. Then, I will propose a first overview based on a greater comprehensive set of information about the international visibility of the Italian research. The next two sections will present, in sequence, an updated analysis of the amount of articles published by the Italian political scientists on the international journals and some bivariate analysis aiming to explain the diachronic changes. In the conclusive section, I will refine some interpretative hypotheses that can be offered for future analyses.
The international impact of the Italian research. A longitudinal analysis
As explained above, I want to provide an updated illustration on the presence of contributions offered by the Italian political scientists for the international debate. In order to do that, I have calculated the number of articles published by the Italian lecturers and professors belonging to the SPS/04 (political science) grouping in a collection of 89 journals included in a panel defined by Plümper and Radaelli 2. Conducting such a selective strategy (limiting the data collection only to “tenure” academics and to a very selective group of journals) left us with a number of doubts already discussed by Tronconi . Thus, it convinced me to move to a more comprehensive survey for our further exploration (see below). However, I will start with the simple update of Plümper and Radaelli data, in order to get a clear description of the diachronic trend. This picture, depicted in Figure 1, shows the summary of the average number of publications per year including the panel of international journals and a ratio publications/number of tenure positions since 19953.
As one can see, from the low and uncertain measure of internationalisation recorded during the nineties and confirmed up to the mid-2000s, the time line seems to show an increasing trend of Italian political scientists’ contributions. It is important to remember that the peaks reached in specific years (i.e. 1996 or 1998) are due to the decisions made by a couple of top journals like European Journal of Political Research and West European Politics to plan a single issue dedicated to the Italian case. Same case was applied to Journal of European Public Policy in 2004, another year in which we observed the peak of publications by the Italian scholars. After 2006, the number of pieces published by the Italian political scientists has increased more continuously, and the same trend is confirmed when looking at the number of publications written by tenure positions.
Therefore, we can reasonably argue that during the last ten years the attitude of the Italian political scientists to publish their research pieces at the international level has significantly improved. Such an expansion would probably be more evident if the figure included the broad universe of non-tenured post-doc fellows and researchers. Indeed, during the last five years, the academic recruitment has been very limited due to the budget cuts for public university resources, while the number of PhD graduates in political science in Italy has been increasing. Extending the data set to the publications of junior and “precarious” researchers is beyond our possibilities now, thus I decided to focus on the sole “tenure positions”. However, I have rearranged the strategy of data gathering, and I tried to correct the other weakness of the researches conducted since now, widening the pool of journals considered.
In order to cope with this problem, I have collected all the pieces published on a list of 216 International journals (see appendix) between 2003 and 2013 by 215 lectures and professors from the grouping “political science” recorded by the Italian Ministry of Higher Education on October 30th, 2014. In this research, I considered the single researcher as a unit of analysis, and I intended to gather an extensive set of data, allowing us to match a number of possible alternative factors explaining the degrees of success for internationalization4. A first descriptive discussion of the data, in their current shape, is available in table 1.
|Number of articles included in the panel||539|
|Number of items in the database||591|
|Number of articles included in ISI ranking journals||288|
|Number of articles included in Scopus ranking journals||393|
|Distribution articles per political scientists||2.8||3.88||0-24||1|
|Distribution articles (ISI+Scopus) per political scientists||2.1||2.96||0-17||1|
|Political scientists with an average of 1 article per year||14 (6.5%)|
|Political scientists with no international articles||70 (32.7%)|
International publications by Italian political scientists: some bivariate analysis
Overall, the summary provided in Table 1 confirms that internationalization remains a difficult challenge for the Italian researchers: almost one third of the tenure academics seems to be out of the international debate, while only a slight minority of 6.5% proves to publish regularly (on annual basis) on greater sets of International journals. However, the average number of articles published (2,8) and also the average number of articles included in ISI/Scopus journals (2,1) confirms the signs of improvement above mentioned.
|Born in the 1940s||3.0||1.6||27|
|Born in the 1950s||2.0||1.6||40|
|Born in the 1960s||2.8||2.2||71|
|Born in the 1970s||2.9||2.2||70|
|Born in the 1980s||5.0||3.9||7|
|Universities from Northern regions||2.5||1.7||86|
|Universities from Central regions||3.6||2.5||89|
|Universities from Southern regions||1.7||1.1||40|
|Small size PS units||2.4||1.7||59|
|Medium size PS units||2.8||2.0||58|
|Large size PS units||2.9||2.3||98|
|Policy Analysis/Public Administration||2.0||1.7||48|
|International Relations/European Studies||2.7||1.7||36|
|Political Systems/Comparative Politics||3.2||2.4||85|
How can we explain these signs of improvement? For the limited and descriptive purposes I have in this short article, I will employ some bivariate analyses measuring the relative impact of a few potential explanatory factors. Table 2 shows the average number of publications produced by different cohorts of scholars. Younger academics tend to be more motivated and successful than their predecessors in publishing articles at the international level. Therefore, there is a handful of scholars born after 1980, already being recruited in the Italian universities, showing a rate of international publication almost twice than the average of the whole population.
More consistently with the past, the rate of international publications of the scholars from small and peripheral universities is lower than the average, and this also applies to the universities from the South, although remarkable exceptions can be found. The traditional problem of the difficult advancement of empirical political science in the smaller universities and, in general, the asymmetric and still comparatively poor consolidation of the discipline, are still evident findings if one looks to the international visibility of the research. However, if we include in the analysis another indicator like the overall impact of the research produced by this academic community (here operationalized with the H-Factor measured between the period 2009-2014) a couple of positive elements of development emerge.
First of all, the average measure of H-factor is, overall, proportionally distributed among the different generations, with a very good result for the youngest cohort as well5. The second positive sign is the fact that the sensibility to a truly internationalised orientation is no more limited to the few large communities like the “historical” groups of Bologna and Florence [Plümper and Radaelli 2003] or the more recently developed schools of Milan or Turin. The scatterplot in Figure 2, reporting the distribution of these couple of indicators for the units from the universities with at least 5 political scientists, corroborates such a dynamic picture, showing that most of the universities where a sufficient “critical mass” of political scientists is at work are characterised by at least a minimum rate of internationalisation (an average of at least one article on an “impacted journal” every ten years, and a minimum average of 2 as H-factor in the last five years). Some universities get actually much higher rates of internationalisation, and it is interesting to note that among these latter we find mid-sized groups located in pro-active universities like LUISS in Rome, Siena or Trento. The figure reports the label of the five units with the highest scores in both the indicators.
Compared to five years ago, the overall level of internationalization of the Italian political science production seems to show relevant signs of competitiveness. However, many incongruities and uncertainties remind us that some of the problems emerged in the past are still existing, thus confirming that the process of institutionalisation of the discipline is still weak and not irreversible. More precisely, Italian political scientists are very much divided between different types of “productivity”: notwithstanding the presence of some well established and internationally active scholars, many of the tenure academics do not pay attention to the relevant journals, and others focus on alternative outcomes like monographs or edited volumes. Some scholars simply do not publish extensively, looking for other kinds of “social” impact – for instance media visibility, engagement with university management or even a role as “advisor” in some policy making processes – without paying a sufficient attention to their presence in the international scientific debate [Capano and Verzichelli 2014].
Other elements of continuity to be stressed are the traditional disparity between central and peripheral university locations and, to some extent, the asymmetric distribution of resources between the academic institutions of the Centre-North and those from the South. Beyond these signs of continuity, however, the efforts to expand the political science research units in a number of university sites, beyond the traditional “founding” schools of Florence and Bologna seems to have determined some good elements of competitiveness. In fact, the progressive establishment of the discipline determined a spread of promising internationalisation in a number of universities, where large or even mid-sized units of political scientists are at work.
However, the most impressive finding we have revealed here is the growing propensity of the younger generation to move to an ambitious and competitive “publication plan”. The consolidation of new and internationalised PhD programmes, and the role of international association in socializing fresh scholars by means of conferences and summer schools are the crucial factors explaining such a promising development. We cannot exclude, in this provisional list of explanatory factors, a process of academic recruitment more and more inclined to consider international visibility as a crucial pre-requisite for a candidate to a tenure job in the discipline of Political Science.
1 This article is a first outcome from a broader research on the role of Italian Political Science in the scientific debate and in the public sphere. Giliberto Capano, who shares the conduction of the project with me, provided suggestions and comments. Special thanks to Rossella Borri, who has worked to the data gathering.
2 The list of journals included in the panel in available in the appendix of the article by Plümper and Radaelli .
3 1995 was the first year in which we were able to retrieve the exact number of tenure political science positions in the Italian universities.
4 The data on internationalization of research is just one of the dimensions of a broader effort based on the study of the changing role of political scientists in the Italian «public sphere» [Capano and Verzichelli 2014].
5 Indeed, and as expected, the H-Factor is strongly correlated to the distributions of the two measurements introduced above: the overall number of articles published internationally (Pearson coefficient = ,687) and the number of ISI/Scopus articles (Pearson coefficient = .640).
- Capano, G. and L. Verzichelli , Good But Not Enough: Recent Developments of Political Science in Italy, in «European Political Science» 9(1), pp. 102-116.
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Morlino, L. , Political Science in Italy: Tradition and Empiricism, in «European Journal of Political Research», 20 (2), pp. 341- 358.
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