Narratives from North and South Europe

Narratives from North and South Europe

Monday, 8 May 2017

The EU and Global Challenges: Twenty-eight Ideas from the Erasmus Generation

I took part to the International Conference “The EU and Global Challenges: Twenty-eight Ideas from the Erasmus Generation”, School of Political Science “Cesare Alfieri” and Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence, University of Florence (program). The conference was scheduled during the 2017 Festival of Europe which takes place in Florence every two years and runs for a week.

The purpose of the conference – one-of-a-kind – was to allow a group of students coming from all over Europe (two from each member country) to present specific proposals and discuss their views on the European integration process and its current challenges with representatives of EU institutions.
The 28 teams were asked to write a position paper on the issues that are – in their view – a priority for revitalizing the European integration process. 
As an expert appointed by the local scientific committee, I coordinated, with Gemma Scalise, the Session “Shared Values and Rising Nationalism in the EU: A difficult Fit” (Cyprus, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal).
Federica Mogherini

Monday, 27 March 2017

L'amateur cosmopolite

I participated to a very interesting international seminar “New Generations and the Reinvention of the Social” (University of Genoa, School of Social Science), organized by Andrea Pirni and Luca Raffini (chair: Mauro Palumbo).  Here I've been one of the discussants to the presentation of the book by Vincenzo Cicchelli and Sylvie Octobre L'amateur cosmopolite. As Cicchelli puts it (2012), an experience abroad might foster an education to alterity, a sort of cosmopolitan socialization or Bildung. He questions whether this praxis is oriented more towards aesthetic, cultural, ethical or political forms of cosmopolitanism. Adopting this clarifying grid, we may affirm that several scholars construct a hierarchical scale where aesthetic orientations constitute the lower and most superficial step for the development of cosmopolitan spirit, and the political orientation represents the highest. This hierarchy within cosmopolitanism’s dimensions (Gemann Molz 2011) opposes an authentic form of cosmopolitan openness to another that is more superficial (Cicchelli, Octobre, & Riegel 2016). Basically, the awareness of different cultures channeled by aesthetic and cultural cosmopolitanism is often considered “superficial and cosmetic” (Sassatelli 2012, 235).
The Swedish anthropologist Ulf Hannerz pointed out the Two Faces of Cosmopolitanism: one more cultural and one more political. The latter, he argued, is “often a cosmopolitanism with a worried face, trying to come to grips with very large problems”, whereas in its cultural dimension may be a cosmopolitanism happily “enjoying new sights, sounds and tastes, new people”: “And in combination, and merging with one another, they may be that thick form of cosmopolitanism, where experience and symbolism can motivate identification and a will to action.” (Hannerz 2005, 204).
Hannerz’s invitation is to pay attention to “on the ground” cosmopolitanism, where people engage in everyday cultural activities (Cicchelli and Octobre 2015). In some liminal public spaces the cosmopolitan “simulacrum” can become a “canopy”. These are everyday life stages that allow people from different backgrounds “to slow down and indulge themselves, observing, pondering, and in effect, doing their own folk ethnography, testing or substantiating stereotypes and prejudices or, rarely, acknowledging something fundamentally new about the other.” (Anderson 2004, 25) These spaces, at home or abroad, can foster “a kind of confidence, and a code of civility”: “Expanding out of the neighborhood to take in more of the world, is not to be underestimated. A kind of modest bottom-up cosmopolitics may at least be a matter of maintaining a certain immunity to extreme antagonisms, of hatred or of fear” (Hannerz 2005, 212, emphasis added).
Hannerz notes that in the decades after the fall of the Berlin wall there has been a renewed interest in cosmopolitanism among social scientists, while headlines and storylines portray new wars, human wrongs, things falling apart. “Yet those may again be the kinds of things that go most readily precisely into headlines and storylines. It may be worth looking more closely for the small signs of banal, or quotidian, or vernacular, or low-intensity cosmopolitanism.” (Hannerz 2005, 27).

Anderson, E. (2004) “The Cosmopolitan Canopy” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 595(1): 14-31.
Cicchelli, V.  (2012) L’esprit cosmopolite: Voyages de formation des jeunes en Europe. Paris: Presses de Sciences Po.
Cicchelli, V., Octobre, S.  (2015) “Sur le Cosmopolitisme Esthetique des Jeunes” Le Débat 183: 101-9.
Cicchelli, V., Octobre, S., & Riegel, V. (2016) “After the Omnivore, the Cosmopolitan Amateur: Reflections about Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism” Global Studies Journal, 9(1): 55-69.
Gemann Molz, J. (2011) “Cosmopolitanism and Consumption” in M. Rovisco and M. Nowicka (eds.) The Ashgate Research Companion to Cosmopolitanism, 33-52. Farnham: Ashgate
Hannerz, U. (2005) “Two faces of cosmopolitanism: culture and politics” Statsvetenskaplig tidskrift, 107(3): 199-213.
Sassatelli, M. (2012) “Festivals, Museums, Exhibitions: Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism in the Cultural Public Sphere” in G. Delanty (ed.) Routledge Handbook of Cosmopolitan Studies, 232-44. London: Routledge.  

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Omnivores vs. Veg-Veg (Vegetarians/Vegans)

The preliminary analysis of international students’ narratives has shown the importance of food in their cultural experience abroad. Thus, I decided to co-organize (with a start-up on grass-fed cattle, Carne Italiana) introduce and chair the debate Omnivores vs Veg/Veg (Vegetarians, Vegans) A qualcuno piace carne” (Some Like Meat)
The debate starred two popular Italian journalists, Giuseppe Cruciani and  Giulia Innocenzi. The debate had an impressive audience on Facebook. 65,400 people were reached, 8,900 interacted with the post, 19,000 watched the debate from beginning to end, 867 comments were left and the debate was shared 76 times.
Here you can find a short introduction to the debate (in Italian).

Monday, 28 November 2016

Ethnographic and Narrative Ways of Knowing

"The Open Youth Research Seminar Ethnographic and Narrative Ways of Knowing focuses on the use of ethnographic and narrative approaches in youth studies. By reconsidering, challenging and remixing these approaches the seminar seeks to find new ethnographic and narrative ways of knowing. The seminar consists of two key note lectures held by two leading scholars in the field: Ann Phoenix (Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies / UCL University College London) and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow Pierluca Birindelli (University of Helsinki)". Read more about the seminar here. The title of my lecture was Cultural Experiences Abroad: An Ethnography.  I presented the key points of ethnography as a practice: “If you want to understand what a science is, you should look in the first instance not at its theories or its findings, and certainly not at what its apologists say about it; you should look at what the practitioners of it do …. In anthropology, or anyway social anthropology, what the practioners do is ethnography” (Clifford Geertz, The Interpretations of Culture, 1973, 5). Therefore “doing” ethnography is not a matter of methods but, still with Geertz, it’s the kind of intellectual effort: “thick description”.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The Annual Conference of Youth Studies 2016: Global Responsibility in Youth Research

In the XV Annual Conference of Finnish Youth Studies "Global Responsibility in Youth Research", global migration and movement will be addressed from the perspective of young people and youth studies. The conference aims at critical discussion about the global responsibility of youth research. The focus of youth studies will be challenged by questioning the geographical emphasis and methodological premises of Western youth studies. Read more about the conference here. I’ve presented the research methodology and approach in the session “Education and Youth Transitions” and pointed out the lack of qualitative studies. Beyond quantitative socio-demographic data, there is little qualitative empirical material for a deeper understanding of students’ overall experience from an authentically narrative and comparative slant. Furthermore, existing studies tend to suffer from separation into distinct disciplines (sociology, social anthropology, communication, education, psychology, cultural studies, ethnography) and thematic fields (youth, human development, mobility studies, cultural globalization, education).

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

TCuPS: Tampere Research Group for Cultural and Political Sociology

TCuPS (Tampere Research Group for Cultural and Political Sociology) is a multidisciplinary research group within the School of Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Tampere. You can read more about the research group here. I presented and discussed the paper Cultural Experiences Abroad: Narratives and Self-Identity within the TCuPS fall 2016 research seminar programme. The multidisciplinary seminar is a weekly gathering forum for researchers and PhD students working on or interested in themes and processes related to e.g. institutionalism, domestication, governance, globalization and transnational change.The main objective of my paper was to reconstruct a leading narrative for cultural experiences abroad. My hypothesis is that the Grand Tour narrative guides the experience of travellers, tourists, sojourners who are visiting Florence (Italy, South Europe). I will test my interpretations with more fieldwork in Italy in the next future. I am now engaged in the attempt to search for a narrative (out of subjective scripts) supporting the cultural experience of international students in Helsinki (Finland, North Europe). I have received many, many interesting and constructive feedbacks from every participant.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

The Cultural Experience of International Students: Narratives from North and South Europe

These days, young people are travelling more than ever before. Studying abroad is a growing and institutionalized practice, (e.g. Erasmus program). But to find out what they’re really getting out of this travelling, we have to get them to tell their stories and explore the meanings of their experience within the broader context of their lives. The results of this study can usefully orient EU policymakers in sustaining young people in their transitional challenges – becoming adults, Europeans and citizens of a globalized world – as well as fostering ongoing education in cultural diversity. Using a mixed-method and interdisciplinary approach, this study investigates the meanings given by a group of international students to their educational, cultural and overall life experience abroad in Helsinki and Florence
Through analysis of in-depth interviews, autobiographical-autoethnographical essays, ethnographical observations and focus groups I will address topics connected with self-construction processes in another culture: family of origin and its economic, social and cultural capital; perception of European social and cultural identity and sense of belonging to a “Cosmopolitan Generation”; fundamental cultural objects shaping the idea of Finland (North Europe) / Italy (South Europe) and Europe in general; interaction with locals and involvement in the host culture; key life passages during students’ stay abroad. The narrative approach yields a clear, in-depth and comprehensive vision of what students abroad are actually doing and what they think about it
UH International Master Students
The aim of the research project is to select a group of international students in Helsinki and in Florence who are willing to: (1) be interviewed following a template divided into three sections addressing the basic phases of travel: departure–transition–arrival. The full transcription of the interview will be given to the participant and becomes the draft of the (2) autobiography-autoethnography where one can revise, change, add, edit and delete at will. The participant is also free to develop other topics and/or to decide to develop certain themes of the template in greater or lesser depth, since it is his/her story. It will be made clear that it is entirely up to the participant to decide what to write and what not to write. Afterword (3) I will organize a focus group session where we can discuss together themes emerged from your narratives 

That’s all!
All international students who are interested in taking part in the research project study, or having more info, can contact me by email ( and find out more about me by visiting this blog. All the participants will be provided with an informed consent form as well as a detailed information sheet.
Pierluca Birindelli

Monday, 3 October 2016

European Researchers’ Night

The European Researchers’ Night is held at the same time in around 300 cities across Europe on the last Friday of September. European Researchers’ Night is financed by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme (Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions). Over 12000 people visited the European Researchers´ Night in Finland. I gave a poster presentation at the Finnish Science Centre Heureka, organized by VTT (the leading research and technology company in the Nordic countries) and the University of Helsinki.