Why Does Italian Academia Suck?

by Henry on March 23, 2010

Tyler Cowen tosses in an aside about Italy in a post on changes in economics department rankings.

The big change in the former has been the rise of economics departments around the world in virtually all developed countries (though not Italy). It’s now quite easy to encounter a place you have heard of—yet never really thought of—and find they have a bunch of young faculty with articles in tier one journals.

Diego Gambetta and Gloria Origgi make the argument (previewed in this post last year) that people in Italian academia (and in Italy more generally) may not have much incentive to deviate from an equilibrium in which genial incompetence is rewarded with genial incompetence. Roughly speaking – if everyone promises high quality goods or services to each other, but everyone actually delivers low quality services to each other, this may work out to everyone’s advantage because no-body expects too much of anyone else. They provide a fictional example:

After many years since I left my native town in Italy, one of the universities in Milan invites me to give a series of lectures. They offer me, say, 900 Euros for 15 hours of teaching in two weeks. I accept with enthusiasm, because it gives me an opportunity to visit my family and keep in touch with my old town. Although my previous experience in dealing with Italy tells me that I will probably be paid in no less than six months later, that the 900 Euros will be reduced to 600 due to mysterious taxes not previously announced, I nevertheless accept, because I also know that they will not strictly enforce 15 hours of teaching, but will be satisfied with 10, given that they won’t be able to keep the economic deal they announced. This suits me perfectly because I have extra, personal interests to go to Milan and the less I’m asked to do the better it is for me: I will have more time to spend with my family. And it suits also the university, because they can have an invited professor for a cheap salary, so that we both end up satisfied. Nobody explicitly states that the original deal has not been entirely fulfilled. I know that they know that I won’t respect the deal and that neither will they and we end up in a mutually advantageous equilibrium in which we both have advantages in delivering less than we promised.

And some real world ones.

Italy is among the few if not the only developed country that recruits virtually no foreign researchers in its universities; also, few universities invite foreign lecturers. A reliable source that wishes to remain anonymous, mentioned two cases concerning Law faculties in major Italian cities. In one of them, ample funding meant to be used to invite foreign professors goes systematically unspent, and according to our source, this would be because local L-doers [producers of low quality work] fear that foreign H-doers [producers of high quality work] could make them look bad. In the other Law faculty, they recently reduced the gross salary for a 20 hours teaching stint for an invited professor from 5000 to 1700 Euros, not apparently for lack of funding, but to discourage foreigners from coming and preserve the jobs for their less financially demanding local protégés. The ostracism of H-doers extends to Italians who migrated. Evidence of this is that the Italian government itself, on several occasions, established special funds, which could only be spent on employing Italian academics who worked in foreign universities and wanted to return to their country. No matter how internationally distinguished the chances of expatriates to obtain a chair in the regular competitions were zero.

and:

When Federico Varese (1996) revealed that Stefano Zamagni, a well-established Italian economist, had plagiarised verbatim several pages from Robert Nozick, Varese was criticised by several Italian colleagues who together evoked nine norms or reasons that he would have violated by blowing the whistle. None of these include a justification of plagiarism per se. Varese discusses them in an unpublished article (“Economia d’idee II”). They are worth listing, their range is staggering:
1. There is nothing original, everyone plagiarises, so why bother? [journalist]
2. Whistle blowers are always worse than their targets [sociologist]
3. What is the point of targeting Zamagni? They will never punish him anyway.
4. What is the point of blowing the whistle as you will pay the consequences [family, friends]
5. He is a good “barone”, much better than many others, so why target him? [economist]
6. Zamagni is a member of the left and you should not weaken the left during election times [economist; various friends]
7. Zamagni shows good intellectual tastes as he plagiarises very good authors, so he does not deserve to be attacked [philosopher]
8. Given that many are guilty of plagiarism, targeting one in particular shows that the whistle blower is driven by base motives.
9. In addition, an economist suggested an explanation rather than a justification saying that the real author of the plagiarism was probably a student of Zamagni who wrote the paper for him. This would, funnily enough, imply that Zamagni was innocent of the plagiarism, but still that he signed a paper he did not write, written by someone who also did not write it!

Unfortunately, rationalizations for plagiarism are not a solely Italian problem (although as Gambetta and Origi note, the range and generality of these rationalizations is unusual). From my experiences (as an outside observer) with Italian academia, the theoretical argument and the empirical illustrations all ring true. It’s an excellent paper (and, I would think, a far better assignment for classes on signalling theory than much of the usual stuff).

{ 52 comments }

1

John Quiggin 03.23.10 at 7:35 pm

Even in Italy, some departments are on the way up. I visited Verona recently, and the economists there are serious academics.

2

Enzo Rossi 03.23.10 at 7:42 pm

There’s a fairly interesting and instructive exchange on the (pretty dismal) state of the art of Italian academic philosophy in the latest issue of Philosophia:

http://springerlink.com/content/120128/

There are some notable exceptions (even in philosophy), and some fields (e.g. physics) are much better than others, but the overall situation really is dire. The epistemic authority of academics affords record levels of cronyism, nepotism, and general corruption.

3

Steve LaBonne 03.23.10 at 7:46 pm

I once had an Italian expatriate biochemistry professor who said, “Never trust an Italian scientist who didn’t leave Italy.”

4

Anderson 03.23.10 at 8:23 pm

virtually all developed countries (though not Italy)

Cue A.J.P. Taylor:

“It becomes wearisome to add ‘except the Italians’ to every generalisation. Henceforth it may be assumed.”

(This of course being his notorious footnote to the remark that “all diplomatists were honest, according to their moral code” in the period 1848-1918, in The Struggle for Mastery in Europe.)

5

Umberto Echo-Echo 03.23.10 at 8:59 pm

genial incompetence.”
And what form of incompetence is Tyler Cowen and the rest of the GM economic department supposed to represent?
No matter what, I think I prefer the italian variety.

And why do at least two of the academics in the small circle posting their choice of 10 important books put the Bell Curve as a positive influence?

Get off your high horse.

6

Hidari 03.23.10 at 9:46 pm

I would be the last person to defend Italian academia, except to point out that in my extremely limited experience, Italian academics don’t tend to be any worse than academics anywhere else.

But this really does beg the question: compared to where? The presupposition that is being bandied around here is that Italians are ‘inefficient’ compared to….what? The levels of ‘efficiency’ achieved by the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ countries? It’s certainly true that British academics (British academia being the area I have most experience of) publish a lot…because they have to. Whether any of it has any real merit or value is another issue. On the other hand, British academics are under increasing pressure to ‘bring in money’ from whatever source, which means they have less time to work on their (abysmal) lecturing standards, and which also means that academics increasingly bear ‘commercial applications’ in mind for their research. On the other hand British academics generally speaking can’t lecture because being able to lecture is not, in most cases, part of the criteria for….being a lecturer.

So doubtless in British and American academia there is a lot more running about and filling in forms and applying for grants and writing papers for the sake of writing papers and doing admin and marking papers and preparing to go to conferences and going to conferences and even occasionally getting a bit of lecturing done….but whether any of it actually amounts to anything (i.e. anything more than the Italian system) in the long run is a moot point.

7

Henry 03.23.10 at 10:07 pm

Trust me – until you have seen how an Italian university without a strong administration runs – you have _no idea._ British lecturers may not be very good lecturers. But they usually turn up – or get fired. Competitions for lectureships are usually actually competitive. You aren’t usually able to pay lecturers at prestigious universities in advance to find out what is on the exam. And so on. Really – if you know any Italian academics well enough, ask them – they will almost certainly have quite a lot to tell you.

8

John Quiggin 03.23.10 at 10:17 pm

Re #1, I should say, though, that getting my expenses reimbursed was something of a nightmare, so maybe I was out of equilibrium.

9

piglet 03.23.10 at 10:17 pm

At least one fact speaks in favor of Italian Academia, though: they don’t have Tyler Cohen.

10

piglet 03.23.10 at 10:17 pm

At least one fact speaks in favor of Italian Academia, though: they don’t have Tyler Cowen.

11

Sam C 03.23.10 at 10:53 pm

Hidari: ‘On the other hand British academics generally speaking can’t lecture because being able to lecture is not, in most cases, part of the criteria for….being a lecturer.’

I wonder which subjects and universities you’re thinking of; because I’ve been student, peer observer, and lecturer in philosophy and in politics departments in several universities in the UK, and what I saw was my teachers and colleagues mostly being pretty good lecturers. In some cases, brilliant lecturers. And OK, blowing my own trumpet: I’m quite good at it too. I put a lot of work into being. (If anyone cares, evidence is available in the form of free to download creative commons licensed audio; URL on request).

You’re completely right that there are a number of perverse incentives in UK academia. But – again, in my experience – many of us care a great deal about resisting those incentives, and about teaching.

12

StCheryl 03.23.10 at 11:03 pm

Even worse – many of the promotions and openings are mafia-controlled. The promotions are often made via written and oral competitions, and the fix is almost always in.

13

Hidari 03.23.10 at 11:12 pm

My basic point was the fact that, grotesquely, the main criteria for getting a lectureship in the UK are publications, and, more importantly, ‘bringing in money’. Actually being able to lecture won’t help you at all.

14

engels 03.23.10 at 11:17 pm

Oh Piglet how can you hate Tyler Cowen – the Ned Flanders of Neoliberalism…

15

Substance McGravitas 03.23.10 at 11:21 pm

The hate so nice he hated thwice.

16

Metatone 03.23.10 at 11:22 pm

I don’t think you can dissociate academic institutions from the society they are part of… given that Italy has well documented problems with politicisation of public service roles and with corruption in general, it shouldn’t surprise that this affects the universities too.

However, my own experience with some Italians in the organisation studies field (specialising in healthcare) is that they were high-achievers… better thinkers and researchers than some academics in the UK who get better placement in high-ranking journals… Language is part of the barrier, but also fundamental problems still exist in the peer-review process…

Of course, a further distortion is that 70% of the papers published in this field in the US are nonsense micro-studies that have no general validity or use… but these do get high praise from certain top US journals… so I’m not completely convinced of the “efficiency” of US academia in this regard…

17

The lonely foreigner in Italy 03.23.10 at 11:56 pm

As the butt of this joke, I thought I should throw in an observation or two.

I am an American PhD student (in econ no less!) at an Italian university. About half of the students in my program are not from Italy, so I am a little skeptical of the “no foreign researchers in its universities” claim. I have enjoyed weekly seminars with a host of noted European and American researchers, although I don’t know if my program is representative in this respect.

I am also paid to study and encouraged to travel as much as I wish. It is not all that much money in the scheme of things, but it is enough, especially considering all of my living, travel, and healthcare expenses are covered as well. I get to decide if and when I teach, which is… very nice. Many of my friends working in the US are paid less (if at all), have no health insurance, and have very little time to spend with their advisors. I count myself fortunate in all of these respects.

Everyone in my program is expected to spend a year with a foreign university, in most cases in the UK or the US, and we are paid 1.5 times our normal stipends when we go abroad (all of this is paid for by the Italian government regardless of one’s nationality). There is somewhat less pressure to publish papers early on, but I suspect most of this is due to difficulty with English language, rather than any negative feelings towards publishing and research. Almost everyone in my program excels at math, to a degree that I have never experienced in the US. Most of the papers published here are dryer and more methodologically oriented (perhaps because it requires less English?).

I think that many of the other criticisms mentioned above are true everywhere and I can honestly say that I was challenged far less studying in the US than has been the case for me here. That said, there are a lot of bureaucratic problems, far more than I have seen in other parts of the world. More importantly from my point of view, there are few famous universities, and researchers here seem to publish much less overall, even in Italian. These are obviously huge problems, and an Italian university would be a bad choice for most people looking to make it big via academic journals.

So, if you take all this together, the US/UK schools probably win as far as career opportunities go. In my case, I hope that is not true, but I understand and agree with many of your criticisms. Anyway, in earnest, it is not as bad as all that.

18

Enzo Rossi 03.24.10 at 12:29 am

@ Henry

You aren’t usually able to pay lecturers at prestigious universities in advance to find out what is on the exam.”

Seriously? I grew up and did my first degree in Italy but never heard anything of this sort.

19

Marc 03.24.10 at 12:32 am

In astronomy (where I’m more familiar with the system) the basic problem is that permanent research positions are awarded in a national competition (which is also true for France) and that there is a much sharper division between teaching and research, which tends to result in lower stature for people who primarily teach. There is also a lot of deadwood, the result of very early permanent tenure. Add in serious politics in the national selection commitee and you have the recipe for, well, pretty much what you see. Individual universities can have similar problems in the US/UK, but it’s much harder to stifle the entire system. And the overall process in France/Italy is much more insular (e.g. fewer outsiders) than in the German or Dutch systems, which are far more cosmopolitan.

20

Henry 03.24.10 at 1:00 am

Enzo – sorry – that was sloppy wording on my part. I didn’t mean ‘usually’ in the sense that this was a norm across all universities everywhere – but there was a fairly notorious situation involving multiple lecturers, professors etc in the law school at La Sapienza a few years ago. I recall a sex for grades scandal at La Sapienza too – but can’t remember if it was part of the same scandal or a different one.

Lonely foreigner – are you at a public university or a private one? The private ones – like Bocconi – have a lot more leeway, and the very good ones are definitely internationally competitive.

There are some foreign instructors in Italian universities – often in languages. They get a miserable deal (there was an ECJ case a few years ago because the Italian justice system was taking so long to act to relieve their miserable situation – universities have still to comply). See “here”:http://davidpetrie.wordpress.com/ for more.

Marc – the French system is getting a bit more flexible around the edges, at least

21

t1 03.24.10 at 1:02 am

Based on my limited experience with the Italian University system (my 3rd year abroad at the University of Bologna) I would have to say that the excerpts above don’t even scratch the surface of how screwed up the Italian university system is.

We attended regular classes at the University of Bologna – not some special classes for foreigners. One class was the standard introduction to Ital. Lit. , pretty much the Italian version of English Lit 101. The instructor was prominent and had an international reputation. His lectures were utterly brilliant. They were the highlight of my time there. But these lectures were pretty free-form digressions on theories of theatrical performance. I had been studying post-modern criticism back in the states so I was pretty comfortable with method. Great stuff.

But never did any of these lectures take up the basics of Italian Literature. There was no survey of prominent authors/works, etc. You see, you were supposed to learn all of that on your own from the four turgid volumes that were the course readings that started with Dante and ended with Calvino’s short stories. (The instructor never referred to any of these works.) There were no primary texts assigned. None. There were lots of excerpts in the 4 volumes selected to prove whatever point the author was hammering away at. The exam at the end of the year covered the basics from the volumes. No part of the exam discussed the instructor’s lectures or ideas. Never came up.

So his lectures were purely entertainment. You could go, not go, take notes, sit there and work on a crossword puzzle, didn’t matter. But at the end of 9 months, you had work your way through an overview written by some hack and be ready to regurgitate that back on the exam.

Just bizarre.

22

clod Levi-Strauss 03.24.10 at 1:54 am

I think people should acknowledge that one of the reasons for what you would consider “positive” change is the fading of the old aristocracy and the rise of the aspirant petit bourgeois. In England that meant Thatcher, and in France Sarko. Since the subject of the miners’ strike comes up now and again on this site, it’s worth noting that the old aristocracy had at least a sense of noblesse oblige. Thatcherites had none. But now London is full of millionaire stockbrokers with accents straight from the pub or the coal mine.

Enzensberger argued once that Italy should be something of a model: nothing gets done, nobody starves.
I’m not entirely unsympathetic to that argument.

23

Cagliaritana 03.24.10 at 3:15 am

As a Bocconi graduate with a M.Sc. from a British institution and a U.S. Ph.D. (all in econ), and now a TT job in the US, I can attest to a few things: Italian undergraduates at Bocconi, Luiss, politecnico di Torino e Milano and some other institutions get a great, world class education – way better than the average student at Research I schools gets here.
That said, to stay in Italy, you have to navigate the feudal system to a ridiculous extent. We call them barons because they have feuds….
That is not to say that politics plays no part in the Anglo-Saxon system, but it is child’s play compared to Italy.

24

Henry 03.24.10 at 4:01 am

Yes – Bocconi is an excellent school by all accounts.

bq. That said, to stay in Italy, you have to navigate the feudal system to a ridiculous extent. We call them barons because they have feuds….

To quote a former professor of mine, with extensive experience in the US, UK and Italian systems – ‘To be a professor in Italy is heaven. But you have to crawl through a sewer first.’

25

Robert 03.24.10 at 8:21 am

Tyler Cowen will never be as great an economist as Neri Salvadori, Luigi Pasinetti, or Paolo Sylos Labini.

26

ale 03.24.10 at 9:31 am

I am one of those Italian academics working in a foreign university (Germany) who were supposed to get hired by Italian universities thanks to the law mentioned above (which bears the nice name “rientro dei cervelli”: come back, you brains who got drained by bad bad foreigners!). They offered me a 3-year contract for a salary way under the one I was getting at the time. After those 3 years the Italian state will stop the fundings and then… well, with a little bit of luck (or the right contacts…) the university might find the money to give you a chair. Maybe. Or maybe not. No wonder that almost no one went back under such conditions. I remember a distinguished researcher (medicine) who decided to move back to Italy from the US out of a sense of obbligation to his native country, only to return to America after one year complaining that he got no fund for research, actually not even money enough to mantain his lab running.
And then we could enter the wonderful realm of “concorsi”, the hiring processes! Cagliaritana is right: if they call them barons, it is because universities are their feuds.

27

ajay 03.24.10 at 9:32 am

the fading of the old aristocracy and the rise of the aspirant petit bourgeois. In England that meant Thatcher, and in France Sarko.

Enlighten me, please, on the “old aristocracy” roots of Clem Attlee, Ernest Bevin, Ramsay MacDonald and James Callaghan.

28

Sam C 03.24.10 at 9:34 am

Hidari:

My basic point was the fact that, grotesquely, the main criteria for getting a lectureship in the UK are publications, and, more importantly, ‘bringing in money’. Actually being able to lecture won’t help you at all.

And my basic point was that your conclusion – ‘British academics generally speaking can’t lecture’ – doesn’t follow, and isn’t true. I agree with you that teaching ability should be a more important part (not the only part) of selection for academic jobs. I just wanted to point out that there are a lot of other pressures on lecturers, not least our consciences, which tend to mean that we put a lot into teaching.

29

Daragh McDowell 03.24.10 at 9:47 am

I recently sent this post to my significant other, who is an Italian academic. Her response? Gratitude that someone is finally publicising the problem, combined with frustration that it encourages a continuing bias against Italian academics at other institutions, even if they’re good. Anyway Henry, my honest-Italian-Academic GF gives you thanks!

30

stostosto 03.24.10 at 9:48 am

Meanwhile in other Italian news:

Silvio Berlusconi to push for change to Italian constitution for greater powers

He is looking to remove the two remaining constitutional irritants to his unfettered self-infatuated one-man show: The magistrates (judiciary system) and the president.
He may look comic to some of us foreigners, but he really is a dangerous man. Not Mussolini dangerous, more like Hugo Chavez dangerous.

31

dsquared 03.24.10 at 10:02 am

Enlighten me, please, on the “old aristocracy” roots of Clem Attlee, Ernest Bevin, Ramsay MacDonald and James Callaghan.

Or for that matter, Harold Wilson and Edward Heath, both of whom fit the description “aspirant bourgeois” at least as well as Thatcher. Even Chamberlain and Macmillan can hardly be called old aristocracy.

Nicholas Paul Stéphane Sarközy de Nagy-Bocsa, by the way, is from a very good Hungarian noble family.

32

Berliner2 03.24.10 at 10:10 am

When I was a guest professor in Milan I was paid well and quickly, and I spent it all on a really nice Zegna suit. But that was the Cattolica, and not a state university.

33

Phil 03.24.10 at 10:14 am

He may look comic to some of us foreigners, but he really is a dangerous man. Not Mussolini dangerous, more like Hugo Chavez dangerous.

He’s much more dangerous than Chavez.

34

belle le triste 03.24.10 at 10:36 am

I once watched a TV documentary in which a Tory elder offered a sympathetic explanation of Heath’s difficulties with his party roughly as follows: “Of course, one big issue was his working-class Cockney accent.”

35

Richard J 03.24.10 at 10:42 am

Running for PM of one of the world’s largest countries predominantly as a way of resolving certain legal/regulatory difficulties has a certain chutzpah about it however.

36

ajay 03.24.10 at 12:00 pm

30: very true. Not to mention Lloyd George, Bonar Law, even Baldwin (ironmaster)…

Also this:
Since the subject of the miners’ strike comes up now and again on this site, it’s worth noting that the old aristocracy had at least a sense of noblesse oblige. Thatcherites had none.

… I think “noblesse oblige” means that when the old aristocracy ordered the cavalry to charge the unarmed demonstrators, they used sabres rather than batons.

37

bert 03.24.10 at 12:52 pm

Toby Young’s not-very-good How to Lose Friends and Alienate People builds to a peak by blustering on the same theme. The importance of noblesse oblige, the unshowy je-ne-sais-quoi of the ancien regime. And, by comparison, the inherent inferiority of those swanking Yank vulgarians.
He takes as his example his own dear daddy, Baron Young of Dartington (Australian, leading Fabian, head of research for the Labour party in 1945, innovator in applied sociology and Callaghan life peer).

38

Richard J 03.24.10 at 12:55 pm

He takes as his example his own dear daddy, Baron Young of Dartington (Australian, leading Fabian, head of research for the Labour party in 1945, innovator in applied sociology and Callaghan life peer).

Author of ‘The Rise of the Meritocracy’…

39

belle le triste 03.24.10 at 1:01 pm

To be fair, ‘The Rise of the Meritocracy’ is actually more a critique of the concept than a celebration.

40

Richard J 03.24.10 at 1:03 pm

Oh, I know, but there’s a cheap irony in the title to strong to resist…

41

Chris Hanretty 03.24.10 at 1:23 pm

Some data for those who would quantify suckiness: Gagliarducci et al. show that, in economics, the median number of publications in top-70 journals for Italians in Italy was 1; the same figure for Italians abroad was 7. There’s also data on impact factor and citations/researcher (but beware the denominator):

42

Walt 03.24.10 at 2:23 pm

Stostoso’s link has the amazing quote about a Berlusconi rally: “PdL officials said that more than a million people attended the rally in Rome, staged under the slogan ‘Love always wins over envy and hatred’ to the soundtrack from Star Wars. “

43

Anderson 03.24.10 at 4:24 pm

But never did any of these lectures take up the basics of Italian Literature. There was no survey of prominent authors/works, etc. You see, you were supposed to learn all of that on your own from the four turgid volumes that were the course readings that started with Dante and ended with Calvino’s short stories.

I like to tell my Shakespeare prof’s story of another prof who was teaching a Sh’re survey and began with Hamlet, act one, scene one. And stayed there. Covering Elizabethan attitudes towards death and ghosts and purgatory, with the inevitable implications for Protestants v. Catholics, etc., etc.

About two weeks before the Thanksgiving break, a brave student ventured to ask whether the final exam was going to cover any of the other dozen plays assigned on the syllabus. To which the prof drew himself up and retorted, “Young man, you are to read the works yourself. I am here to teach you the method.”

– So maybe that’s what Famous Lit Prof had in mind.

44

Another lonely foreigner in Italy 03.24.10 at 10:42 pm

@The lonely foreigner in Italy

This is just a shout out from another American studying in Italy, though without your luck to find such a good program. Which one would that be, if you don’t mind my asking?

My biggest complaint for my program thus far has been the abysmal quality of some Italian lecturers, plus the idea of the three-hour lecture senza breaks. Oh, and oral exams. Not fun. However, I should say to be fair that we do have an Italian professor on government who is an extraordinary lecturer. I fear, however, that he is a rare bird.

Thanks for the interesting article and discussion, all.

45

Guilherme 03.25.10 at 1:04 am

Just to spread a paper by David Nelken on the Italian concorso.

It appears in the Book Rules of Law and Laws of Ruling edited by the Von – Beckmann and Julia Eckert published in 2009 by Ashgate.

46

clod Levi-Strauss 03.25.10 at 4:22 am

“the rise of the aspirant petit bourgeois.”
I guess I should have written “victory.”

Pierre Bourdieu wrote a silly book called “Distinction,” with arguments that could never be applied to the US and apply less and less to western Europe. The words of old “oiks” describing their childhood relations to the “toffs” in another post and the words of the miners linked to a couple of weeks ago here made the same point. “We are what we are and it’s ok,” but a little more respect would be appreciated.
Those days are done.

I wish people wouldn’t confuse the old conservatism of land and the new conservatism of capital. It gets tiring to hear “economic liberals” refer to Tocqueville as one of their own. As tiring has hearing neoliberals refer to themselves as socialists

47

Bewkes 03.25.10 at 5:58 am

Actually, Pierre Bourdieu’s book is titled Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, and it’s hardly “silly,” it’s a very insightful sociological critique of Kant’s Critique of Judgement, which is to say, one of the foundational texts of aesthetic theory. Bourdieu’s book productively utilizes sociological methodology to demonstrate how class, in terms of social position and formation, education, and personal and socially inflected attitudes, shapes our tastes. Perhaps you missed most of what the book was talking about, but you might go back and read it again, given how utterly wrong your initial post was.

And everyone should beware of anyone labeling a major, prodigious intellectual from any culture or society, American, British, Italian, or otherwise, “silly,” if the critic cannot even articulate properly the ideas that intellectual espouses, let alone properly make an argument drawing upon well-known British political history. Wikipedia is a finger tap a away, countless encyclopedias available at your nearest library.

48

Simon 03.25.10 at 8:27 am

I am a foreigner (a South African) at an Italian University – The University of Siena. I went there because I wanted to be taught by Sam Bowles, Herb Gintis, Ugo Pagano and affiliated people in micro and institutional & evolutionary econ. I thoroughly enjoyed the coursework, which involved both a normal Micro, Macro, Metrics cycle plus heterodox approaches (as taught by above profs and others). We also have numerous people who come for visiting lectureships, e.g., Pranab Bardhan came over to lecture us on international econ. Other visiting lecturers like George Loewenstein, Bob Rowthorn, and many others covered topics in Psychology and Econ and Evol Econ. We’ve gotten other interesting international people across the board of theoretical and empirical work: since I was there we’ve had people like David Card to someone like Erik Wright to many good Italian professors, e.g., Eliana La Ferrara. On publications of recent students: several recently graduated students have been well-published. Working with my supervisor, Alessandro Innocenti, I can also use the university’s experimental lab.

Other places are also doing well. At Trento, for instance, you’d also get access to people like Axel Leijonhufvud, Vela Velupillai and numerous younger experimentalists and computational economists. John Hey at LUISS is also doing great work and recruiting internationally. Several people at Bologna are doing well. I get the sense that younger people are trying to reform from the inside, though the system doesn’t lend itself to reform. As much as there are institutional problems, though, many Italians also welcome heterodox thinking and writing and are willing to accept pluralistic approaches.

One other student commented above about funding – that was another reason I went to Siena. I was accepted at several places in the UK, and though I was offered a fair amount of funding, I still would have had to pay exorbitant foreigners’ fees – in the region of GBP10 000 – 13 000 and somehow pay living expenses. I couldn’t afford that. Many of my colleagues were in similar positions of being offered places at other institutions, but not being able to afford them. Siena offered comprehensive funding, as do many other Italian institutions. Many of these universities are now trying to use the funding to attract international students.

49

Manta 03.25.10 at 8:43 am

As an expatriate Italian, I found Gambetta & Origgi entertaiing, but completely wrong: they manage to write 24 pages on (mainly) the disfunctions of Italian academia, without mentioning even once the main reason for such disfunctions: lack of money.
If in the last 20 years French, British, or German research received the amount of money that Italian research receives, we would be now discussing why French, British, or German academia sucks so much.

50

Italiano Pizza Spaghetti Mandolino 03.25.10 at 4:16 pm

Right, Manta. Give the “barons” more money. They are on the lookout for ways to enlarge their fief.

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The lonely foreigner in Italy 03.25.10 at 5:07 pm

@the other lonely foreigner.

I am sorry to hear that you are not enjoying your lectures, it is really disappointing how often the criticisms above are justified.

I am at the University of Milan, and while I can think of dozens of improvements that could be made to my program, I really have not seen the level of ineffectiveness that you are describing. In economics we are lucky: our professors teach to very small classes (in most cases), and about half of the time they work at other universities, but specialize in something we need. So we get quite a diverse set. The quality of the lectures in my program is, thankfully, quite high.

I think that my situation is perhaps a bit different. There are very specific things that I need to understand to effectively complete my research, and my professors so far have done a good job presenting methodology and other skill-oriented topics. But that is not what everyone is looking for.

I hope things improve for you, but anyway, the food is good and the wine is cheap.

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Chris Hanretty 03.26.10 at 3:45 pm

@Manta: but the link I posted at 41 suggests that lack of money is not the problem: total expenditure per academic is higher in Italy than in the UK, as is total expenditure per FTE student.

Also, total research expenditure for research per researcher is *highest* in Italy out of Germany, UK, France, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Canada. As a percentage of GDP it’s low, but that ought to explain why Italy should have few professors, not why the professors it has are so unproductive/utterly uninterested in what they do.

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