The 3rd Summer School of the ECPR Standing Group on Extremism and Democracy

The 3rd Summer School of the ECPR Standing Group on Extremism and Democracy

Interview with Pietro Castelli Gattinara, ULB, Sciences Po, CEE
  • Actualité Sciences PoActualité Sciences Po

Pietro Castelli Gattinara is a Marie Curie Fellow at CEE and assistant professor in political communication at Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium.

He presents, as a convenor, the 3rd Summer School of the ECPR Standing Group on Extremism and Democracy.

Question 1: Please, can you introduce yourself and the summer school you will organise at Sciences Po?

Since October 2021, I am a Marie Curie fellow at CEE (Sciences Po) and assistant professor in political communication at Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium. Together with Andrea Pirro (Scuola Normale Superiore), I am also the convenor of the summer school of the ECPR Standing Group on Extremism and Democracy: Concepts and Methods for Research on Far-Right Politics, which will take place on 4-8 th of July at Sciences Po.

The ECPR Summer School is a 5-days event addressing 15 young scholars and students enrolled in PhD programmes in social and political sciences. It sets out to discuss how to apply established research techniques to the study of far-right politics. The school is delivered in English by a team of 10 scholars from different universities across Europe and the US, and it offers a comprehensive conceptual and methodological toolkit to investigate the foundations of contemporary far-right politics, drawing on comparative empirical expertise on far-right mobilisations, electoral performances, and violent manifestations. It features two keynote speeches and 12 theory/methods classes focusing on the rationale and practices of a number of methods employed to study far-right politics, at the micro, meso, and macro levels. Its main goal is to familiarise students to applying mixed-methods approaches and pluralist practices to their own research projects.

Question 2: How did you come up with the idea of a summer school on far-right politics?

The idea to organise a Summer School on far-right politics came up during the discussions I ad with Andrea when we were colleagues at Scuola Normale Superiore, in 2017. Back then, we had two main objectives in mind. On the one hand, we sought to build a community of young scholars and PhDs that shared a common interest in understanding and studying the far right in its populist, radical and extreme variants. On the other, we considered the Summer School as an opportunity to re-embed this emerging subdiscipline within broader fields of study in political science, most notably comparative research on political parties, social movements, political violence, and political communication.

In this respect, one of the main goals that Andrea and I had in mind when we first set up the school was that of transmitting students the inclination for methodological pluralism. We in fact believe that addressing issues of debate concerning methodology and understanding the commonalities and differences between alternative research designs is essential for producing good research in general, and on the far right in particular. As a result, the teaching programme of the summer school introduces students to the major research approaches and social science methodologies that can be used to study far-right politics. Each year, we ask instructors to hold a “theory” class focusing on a specific theme related to the far right, and a “methods” class focusing on the specific methodology, or approach, that they would deem most appropriate to tackle this topic.

Building a summer school from scratch was not an easy task, but we were lucky enough to obtain the enthusiastic support of our institutions and colleagues, as well as students and potential participants. To set up the first edition, Andrea and I built a network between two research groups focusing on these topics: the ECPR Standing Group on Extremism and Democracy (where Andrea was one of the convenors until last year), and the Center for Research on Extremism of the University of Oslo (C-REX), where I was based back then. The support of these two prestigious sponsors allowed us to offer a high-quality teaching programme featuring leading scholars from around the world, while keeping student fees to a minimum.

Question 3: Can you tell us something about the past editions of the School?

The first edition of the Summer School took place in summer 2018 at Scuola Normale Superiore, Florence. To set up the list of instructors, we got in touch with scholars that we anticipated students would be interested in getting to know personally. At the same time, we committed to offering a pluralist understanding of the many aspects that comprise contemporary far-right politics, and the multiple approaches and methodologies that can be used to study this topic. From the onset, we received enthusiastic replies from leading scholars in the field, including Cas Mudde and Kathleen Blee who agreed to act as keynote speakers (see the full programme here). It is no chance, in fact, that the bulk of our team of instructors is pretty much the same today. What is more, the Summer School triggered a demand far beyond our most optimistic expectations: we launched a call for participation for a max of 15 students, and received over a hundred applications from PhD students from all over the world…

After the success of the first edition of the Summer School, Andrea and I decided to turn this into a regular event, to be held every two years. A second edition was planned for June 2020 in Oslo, where it would have been hosted by C-REX, one of the leading research centres on the far right in Europe. We had confirmed the list of instructors and student participants (again, the demand largely exceeded the number of available spots!), but unfortunately the event had to be postponed due to the pandemic. Ultimately, we opted for a virtual Summer School in summer 2021 (the programme is available here). The virtual format was challenging in many ways (interactions, management of time zones, etc.), but it was also a great opportunity to get to meet a group of brilliant students, to share experiences with them about doing research during a pandemic, and to host a keynote lecture by Sarah De Lange (University of Amsterdam) on the Populist radical right and academic freedom. The positive feedback that we received from our students, sponsors and instructors convinced us that it would be worth to organise a new summer school already in summer 2022. ECPR and C-REX were happy to sponsor us again, and Sciences Po and CEE were excited to host and support us with the logistics.

Question 4: What are the main highlights of the 3rd edition of the Summer School?

The format will be the same as in previous editions, with two keynotes, 5 days of class, and 5 student presentation sessions. As regards the keynote lectures, on July 4 th, Cas Mudde (University of Georgia) will hold the opening keynote on “The fourth wave of Far-right politics and the transformation of European party politics". On July 8 th, Nonna Mayer (Sciences Po) will close the event with a keynote on "Gender and Radical Right Populism". We then have 5 days of teaching, which offer a mix of theory and methods classes. On Day 1, Andrej Zaslove (Radboud University) will present macro explanations for the emergence and breakthrough of far-right parties, and introduce students to the use of expert surveys to address this type of question. On Day 2, Tore Bjørgo (C-REX, University of Oslo) will focus on theories of Far-right violence and terrorism, whereas Maura Conway (Dublin City University) will hold a class on Right-wing extremism and the internet. Day 3 will be opened by a theory class by Linda Bos (University of Amsterdam) on the Populist Radical right and the mass media, which will be complemented by a methods class on the use of experiments to study the populist radical right, and by a class by Caterina Froio (Sciences Po) focusing more specifically on Social network Analysis to study online and offline connections between far-right groups. Day 4 will shift the attention to the study of the Far right as a social movement, and its study via Elite interviews (Andrea Pirro, Scuola Normale Superiore), and Protest event analysis (Pietro Castelli Gattinara, ULB). Finally, on Day 5, Kathleen Blee (University of Pittsburgh) will have a mixed theory and methods class on Ethnography and life histories for the study of the far right.

Just like in previous years, each day also features a session devoted to student's presentation of their own research project. This interactive session allows participants to get to know each other’s work and get feedback from their peers as well as the instructors. Our experience shows that this format helps create strong ties between students and instructors. Some of the participants of our past editions have then teamed up for joint publications based on the draft manuscripts they had presented at our summer school, others have built their own thematic research networks, joining forces with colleagues they had met at the summer school, and many have now joined the research teams of established scholars that they could meet as instructors in past events.

Question 5: Last question, will there be a fourth Summer School?

Absolutely yes. We have already started talking with ECPR and C-REX about the possibility of holding a fourth edition sometimes in Summer 2024. The location, schedule and specific content are still to be decided: all comments and suggestions are welcome!

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