Progetti di ricerca

Ex post Italy. Experts and politics on Science and Technology in Italy: a problem of democratic legitimacy and international reliability? The interplay between experts and political decision-makers/representatives in Italian foreign policy from the crisis

Ambito disciplinare Macroarea 3

Area scientifica Area 16 - Scienze politiche e sociali

Tipologia finanziamento PROGETTI DI RICERCA DI ATENEO (Finanziamenti di Ateneo)

Stato progetto Concluso (archiviato)

Data avvio: 16 February 2015

Data termine: 28 February 2017

Importo: 33.300,00 Euro


The project analyses the interplay between experts and political stakeholders/representatives in managing technological and scientific policies from the crises of the 1970s to the beginning of a new international and European system in the early 1990s. According to the international history approach, the project will study whether the political stakeholders/representatives did actually take decisions or rather the experts did it in their place. In other words, the aim is understanding whether the politicians simply rubber-stamped the outcome of a decision making process led by experts and delegated to them, either as they lacked cognitive skills or because the experts tried lukewarmly to impress on them the pros and cons involved. The decision process, in this way, might lose any democratic legitimacy, calling into question the responsibility of a ruling class of which the politicians and the experts are part. There is also the question of the "modernity" of contemporary Italy in facing global challenges.
The role of experts has been studied by European integration history, international organization history, as well as social, cultural, and technology history. Taking stock of the state of art in Italy and abroad, the general aim of the project is starting a wider consideration of the interplay between experts and political stakeholders/representatives (Governments, Parliaments, parties) in the decision-making process with regard to the international dimension of national policies. In order to carry out this goal, firstly the research group will draw on the specific expertise of the different participants in the techno-scientific, economic-financial, and social policy fields linked to international cooperation/competition as well as their experience in several archives in both Europe and the USA. Accordingly the approach shared by the participants will be based on the interrelation of a plurality of archival sources – both public and private – from different countries, institutions and international organizations. Secondly, the core group based at University of Padua has already asked one Italian colleague to join in, and to deal with the impact of new diplomatic practices and actors on the Italian Foreign Affairs Ministry. This colleague shares the same research approach and methodology of the Padua core group. We also contacted four European colleagues interested in the topic in order to stay in touch during the implementation of the programme. They come from different communities of historians - economic, social, technology, European integration history – but their methodological focus is the interconnection of different historical sub-disciplines. Finally we would engage a young researcher to investigate whether and how new technologies are perceived as a key factor in Italy in the 1970s-1980s.
Thanks to the structure and methodology of the research group, the programme would investigate the Italian case in the light of international historiography linked to economic, political science and sociology analyses in long period. Then we would verify the possible creation of an international interdisciplinary network on the wider topic of the interplay between experts and political stakeholders/representatives in the international context. For these reasons, the programme schedules a workshop and an international conference with the participation of other Italian and foreign researchers selected through a call for papers. These initiatives will corroborate and spread the programme results in the scientific community. In its turn, this will represent the founding moment of the above mentioned network. A selection of the most innovative papers would be published on a special issue of an international review, which the group will contact from the beginning of the programme. Then the contributions of the research group and some papers of the workshop and the conference will be published in a collective volume in English.


As described in the programme presentation, there are two goals: the first, specific aim is the consideration on the relation between experts and political representatives in the Italian foreign policy from the 1970s to the 1990s for technology and science; the second and wider objective is suggesting the value of the experts-representatives relation as a key factor for international historiography. The participants to the programme will comply with these two goals. “From the Euro-American plane to international space missions: the techno-scientific structure of Italian aerospace between public enterprise and universities through international competition and cooperation from electronics to the new high technologies” (David Burigana, University of Padua): The 1970s saw the strengthening of the Italy-US relations in an intergovernmental European framework outside the EEC: all the European countries realized a cooperation with the American worldwide leaders in aeronautics. Even the Airbus to which Italy was invited in the 1980s too was a Euro-American cooperation. Since the 1980s, Italy promoted civilian and military cooperation in Europe (with France ATR) and internationally (with Brazil AMX) and participated to Eurofighter launched in the mid-1980s. In the meantime Italy searched for space with the first San Marco satellite (1964), the foundation (1975) of the European Space Agency and finally becoming, in the framework of the National Space plan (1980) managed by the CNR, a leading actor in 1988 with the Italian Space Agency. In that same year the Centre for space studies and activities (CISAS) is launched by the University of Padua; as for aeronautics, the Milan Polytechnic emerged as leading institution in the 1990s. Taking into consideration the turning point represented by IT and high tech, the research will focus on experts – ministerial directors, engineers, public firm managers, servicemen, scientists, university scholars – who were involved in the decisional process, close to the stakeholders. “Experts, information infrastructures and dynamics of cooperation in design in Aeronautics”(Alessandro Mongili, University of Padua): Aeronautics is characterized by an increasing amount of multi-actor collaboration. Research, development, and production are often multi-sited, multi-organization and multinationally featured. This large scale collaboration level is not only a frame of the everyday experts’ activities, but it is deeply embodied in their practices, specially following the changes in designers’ work in the digital era. In Aeronautics, the most evident change the development of computing produced was into the air traffic control systems and in the management of the various large technical systems which make possible flights (Urry 2007). However, a parallel change occurred in development of devices. Following the actors, and at the same time trying to see how they were networking, drove many science and technology scholars to deal with the fact that experts use many instruments and collaborative and remote resources which are often described as information infrastructures, or cyberinfrastructures, that saturate and influence the experts’ material and immaterial surroundings. Furthermore, they are often shaped and intertwined with networks of relations and distributed agency. The research proposed here aims to investigate the role of these textures of collaboration and cooperation among heterogeneous actors working on the same project, focusing mainly on their role in performing the technical experts’ identity and on their stance into the decisional processes. “Italy’s presence in European and international dynamics of cooperation in the research on controller thermonuclear fusion, in the intersection between national logics, community identity and scientific internationalism” (Mauro Elli, University of Padua): The Euratom programme in controlled thermonuclear fusion started in 1959 through contracts of association with laboratories in the individual member-countries. Following a Soviet breakthrough in plasma confinement by a toroidal design, in the 1970s the European Community established JET (Joint European Torus) as a joint enterprise. Accordingly, a first area of research would be the decision-making process leading to the choice of Culham Laboratory (UK) for JET and the reasons for the option in favour of the joint enterprise approach, apparently against the prevailing tide of intergovernmental nuclear cooperation. Another turning point took place in mid 1980s when a quadripartite initiative (EC, the USA, Japan, URSS) was considered – eventually leading to the ongoing ITER project. By this time the long-standing director of the Community programme, Donato Palumbo, was considering it as one single entity. Therefore a second area of investigation should regard in-house developments of the programme and the wider international cooperation, especially in connection to the phasing out of the Cold War. Special attention should be given to the involvement of European industry and research entities; as a 1988 Commission confidential study pointed out the majority of industrial firms considered the programme a good source of innovation. The research would tentatively stop by the end of 1991, when JET produced the first controlled energy release and represented less than one half of the budget of the thriving fusion programme. The research group as a whole will benefit from the important contribution from a physicist Alessandro Pascolini (University of Padua), thanks to his contacts with Italian and foreign research groups of scientists who are involved in debates, and institutional initiatives on science and disarmament. He will deal with “The role of Italian physicists in the international debate on the nuclear issue between civilian science and military applications”, starting from the international experience of Isodarco (International School on disarmament and Research on Conflicts) founded by the Italian Pugwash Group in 1966 and then expanding his investigation to the political involvement of Italian scientists as Government and Parliament consultants and as member of parties. “NATO and the defense of Western Europe: Italy’s participation in the process of the Alliance defense modernization between the 1970s and 1980s” (Marilena Gala, University of Rome III): The USA was to acknowledge that the establishment of strategic parity with the URSS called for an expansion of military options in case a conflict broke out in Europe. Instrumental to such an expansion was the improvement of capabilities and effectiveness of both conventional and nuclear forces available to NATO countries. In the 1970s a vast program of military modernization inevitably involved the European allies. Italy took part in this process, eventually named Long-Term Defense Program, concurring to the decision to increase NATO’s efficiency in terms of interoperability of forces and standardization of equipment, and to augment defense budget to 3% of the annual national one; but, inter alia, Rome decided to participate in the modernization of the Theatre Nuclear Forces which, within a few years, took to the dual-track decision of 1979. In the last decade, Italian role in the implementation of the dual-track decision has already been the focus of the analysis of a very few scholars in Italy. Still, this research also aims at extending the comprehension of inter-allied dynamics in the field of military modernization once the traditional emphasis on nuclear deterrence was superseded by the high ground reserved to the Strategic Defense Initiative, and potentially bound to radically change the tenets of US and Western security for the decades ahead. “The perception of science and civilian and military technology, security and techno-industrial innovation by the Italian political scene” (Marco Almagisti, University of Padua): – not only parties, but even movements and public opinions – are analysed taking into consideration the evolution of Italian politics from the end of the 1960s to the revival of peace rallies at the beginning of the 1990s. In the meantime, it will be studied how new technologies can be seen as a factor of renewal of a recovering society after the deep crisis of the 1970s. In fact, in the 1980s electronics and biotechnologies become innovation sectors. The Minister for the Coordination of scientific and technological research, the Christian Democrat Luigi Granelli, placed these two fields, together with aerospace and aeronautics, in the Recovery Plan of universities, research centres and industries. The Minister also endorsed the project for a European synchrotron, and created in Trieste the Elettra synchrotron, an accelerator for fundamental studies on the matter; with biologist Arturo Falaschi he opened in the same city the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology supported by UNIDO and prepared for the establishment the Italian Space Agency. The public control of companies guarantees the positions of the majority parties, DC and PSI. Given the confrontation/fascination with the USA of Italian political parties, including the Communist Party, does the clash between the parties in terms of power and influence extend to the new technologies, reaching the CNR laboratories and universities? This is the aim of the research on “The techno-scientific cooperation euro-US, a key factor in the politics of PCI?” (Valentine Lomellini, University of Padua). “Innovation as the lever to competitiveness: the role of experts and their political representatives in the social system of innovation between competition and international cooperation in the new technologies” (Francesca Gambarotto, University of Padua): the attitude of companies towards innovation is a key factor in a capitalist society since it keeps the market dynamic, stimulating economic growth and promoting reinvestment of revenues. Innovation is a process of destruction and creation of wealth that requires ingenuity, investments and inclination to risk, as well as cognitive abilities that combine in a new way the knowledge gained through the activation of processes of learning and knowledge sharing. The "technological creativity" of a society partly depends on the preferences of individual economic actors and partly on the socio-institutional context in which individuals are to act. The combination of these two elements - the ability of companies to innovative activities and the institutional scenario – creates the social system of innovation, that is the structure of coordination between the various institutional functions involved in the production structure of a country. The research aims to identify the key role of the institutional context in the innovation process, since its function is in fact capable to create a virtuous circle of systemic process of innovation and thus actively contributes to the expansion of the economic base of a country. “Career diplomacy and the establishment of new centres of elaboration and realisation of international choices from the 1970s to the beginning of the 1990s” (Federico Niglia, LUISS): the aim is the impact that the redefinition of the institutional and operative map of Italian foreign policy had on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). During the first year the project will focus on a MFA structure and foreign network mapping, with an analysis of the staff, skills and tasks performed in the period 1970-1992. In this phase there will also be a study on values and the self-perception of the diplomatic élite in those years. This work, which is preparatory to the following research year, will also give a contribution for a prosopography of MFA civil servants (until now available only for the pre-World War II period). During the second year, the research will focus on the MFA adaptation to the proliferation of decisional centres in foreign policy, evaluating how career diplomacy coped with this loss of centrality and if and how it was able to reconsider its role in national bureaucracy. The goal is understanding if and when Italian diplomacy we able to complete that reform of functions and values that was successfully performed in many European countries, starting from France. “Party experts? Political parties and experts in the International dimension between membership and influence (programme Post-Doc, University of Padua)”: the aim is identifying the relationships of the parties with the different experts: member of governmental or parliamentary commission as well as party adviser or party member. The post-doc fellow would work in synergy with the other participants to the programme who will update the database form with the names of the experts they will meet in their research, in order to establish possible contacts and collaborations with party representatives. At the beginning of the programme, there will be a meeting of the research group dedicated to the state of archival sources and of the sources that can be used until the early 1990s; to the witnesses to be interviewed; to the directions for the research of the programme Post-Doc; to listing networks, reviews, societies of the different history communities in Italy and abroad - history of international relations and related areas, of technology, of international organizations, of European integration, social history – in order to keep all of them informed of the programme; to the workshops and conferences organised in Italy and abroad where coordinated papers or panels could be presented by the participants to the programme. In order to give visibility to the programme, there will be a close contact with the Public Relation Service and the Press Agency of the University of Padua on the occasion of the launch of the programme and of the organised events, as well as to show the results (participation to workshop and conferences, publications). There will be an agreement with the Department of Political Science, Law and International Studies to have a dedicated page in its website. At the end of the first year, the programme schedules a 3-day workshop dedicated to the mid-1980s, that will aim at verifying the conceptual framework of the research through an exchange of views with the foreign colleagues of the programme (Laurent Warlouzet, Andreas Fickers, Léonard Laborie, Christophe Bouneau) and with other foreign and Italian colleagues invited via a call for paper. The debate will play an important role with the circulation of draft papers; every panel will have two discussants, one of the members of the research groups and one Italian or foreign scholar. The workshop will conclude with a meeting of Italian and foreign researchers interested in establishing a new, informal network which would be a candidate for possible European applications. The most innovative papers would be published on a dedicated issue of an international review which the group will contact from the beginning of the programme. The programme will conclude with a 3-day international conference structured in panels matching the three different area, with the participation by invitation of national and foreign researchers partly contacted at the workshop. Every panel will have an Italian or foreign discussant chosen by trying to involve historians from different disciplines. The contributions will be published in a collective volume in English: this will not be a mere collection of essays, but the contributions will be structured and organised according to the different implications of the conceptualisation emerged during the whole research.



Bando PRAT anno 2014