On September 16, the Sciences Po American Foundation invited Yvonne Bendinger-Rothschild and Sciences Po Alumnus Benjamin Haddad to a Sciences Po Alumni Webinar titled: Europe After Merkel? Yvonne is the Executive Director of European American Chamber of Commerce, New York Chapter, and Benjamin is the Director of the Europe Center at the Atlantic Council. Yvonne is German-born, so she shed light on Germany’s strong position in the European Union. Benjamin’s expertise on the European Union and Franco-American relations brought a French perspective to the debate around where Europe is heading. The two engaged in this discussion around Germany’s upcoming Bundestag election on September 26 and the effects this election will have on Europe and international affairs.
The discussion began with a tracing of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s rise to power and legacy. As the first woman to ever be elected Chancellor in Germany, Merkel has become known as one of the most powerful women in the world during her 16 year position as head of the Christian Democratic Union. “I think we can expect to see continuity. Merkel has become the center of gravity for German politics, and to a large extent, European politics,” remarked Benjamin. Her leadership has often been seen as extremely cautious. While critics question her often for being a slow decision maker, Benjamin pointed out two major decisions during her reign: the decision to abandon nuclear power in Germany and the decision to open Germany to Syrian refugees.
The conversation then turned to the European Debt Crisis in 2008. “Merkel was an extremely cautious leader when Europe needed bold reforms,” said Benjamin. Yvonne expanded on Merkel’s mixed legacy. The austerity measures, although credited with saving the Euro, also had extreme consequences for Greece. “Austerity was a necessary evil in some countries. It has put us back on a better path looking forward,” she said. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, another one of Merkel’s stronger decisions, supported by French president Emmanuel Macron, was the Corona Bonds. Yvonne maintained that Merkel’s decision to invest in European infrastructure and support the various member states will be one of Merkel’s strongest legacies.
The next main question in the discussion asked, if Merkel is no longer at the head of the European Union, who will be? And how will this shift the power dynamics between member states? Yvonne listed a few possible candidates to take Merkel’s spot, from Italy’s Mario Draghi to the Netherlands’ Mark Rutte. Both Benjamin and Yvonne maintained, however, that Germany will still hold a central position in European decision making.
France’s position will also shift with the upcoming election. Merkel and Macron have often worked in tandem, but with upcoming elections in both countries, France’s relationships, both with Germany and other member states, can be expected to change. “German institutions prepare the Chancellor very well for European institutions,” said Benjamin. The decentralized nature of Germany’s politics closely resembles that of the EU. However, France’s more centralized system and direct governance poses additional challenges for French leadership to adapt to European leadership. France’s role as a European leader may be challenged by these changes, but the opportunity to lead Europe remains.
An additional change arising from the election in Germany will be the age of the new chancellor: “I think this is an opportunity to bring younger 40 and 50 year olds into the mix. These leaders have a completely different outlook on the transatlantic relationship,” said Yvonne. “The way I look at the United States is entirely different from the way my parents look at the United States.” The change in leadership is a great chance to create a whole new dynamic of European leaders and relationships, beyond just Germany. The U.S. has always had relationships with individual member states, but both the Biden Administration and the new German chancellor may be able to create a stronger relationship between the U.S. and the European Union at large. The rise of Europe’s role in technology is an additional factor drawing the U.S. and the European Union together, hinted at by the recent creation of the Transatlantic Tech and Trade Council.
Lastly, the conversation shifted to Germany and Europe’s dynamics with China and Russia. “I think we can expect a hardening of position from Germany,” said Benjamin with respect to Chinese trade and agreements. “Merkel and Macron do not want to be dragged into a competition between the United States and China, but Europe is not equidistant between the two. The United States is the ally, China is seen as a systemic rival.”
With respect to Russia, Yvonne presented NATO as the main character, rather than Europe. “The conflict in Ukraine is complex. I don’t think we are going to let them sink into the abyss, but it is not one German chancellor or French president who will decide that. We need to work with NATO, and develop a strategy for how to deal with Russia in the long term.” Both Benjamin and Yvonne echoed the sentiment that stronger actions in Ukraine should have been taken originally. “It is also true that Merkel has had a contradictory, mixed opinion on this,” said Benjamin. Nord Stream 2, the pipeline built between Russia and Europe, is part of this mixed response. “This will have a negative impact on the energy security of countries east of Germany.”
The conversation ended on the question of sovereignty. Hungary and Poland’s views of national sovereignty in relation to the EU has become increasingly controversial. Yvonne and Benjamin discussed how national sovereignty is limited in the EU, but no real sovereignty can be gained by leaving the EU, either. Leaving the decision making table, but still being dependent on other countries, leaves a relative sense of sovereignty. With a new chancellor, however, a stronger tone towards Hungary may be taken up.
Overall, Yvonne and Benjamin discussed the nuances of Merkel’s mixed legacy. Strong, formational decisions taken under her leadership have placed Germany at the head of the European Union, while also creating difficulties during 2008 and in regards to Russia. However, no matter who the next German chancellor is, Germany can be expected to remain a main advocate of the European Union
The Émile Boutmy lecture theatre is Sciences Po’s historic lecture theatre and is central to the institution, from the everyday to the great moments in its history.
All Sciences Po students have had lectures and memorable moments there, and some even have a favourite seat.
Now Sciences Po is giving you, as a former student, the chance to reclaim your spot in the lecture theatre by having your name displayed on the back of a seat for a period of 10 or 99 years.
Do you have a friend or relative who also studied at Sciences Po? You might like to reserve two neighbouring seats. For larger groups—alumni associations or alumni of the same graduating class, for example—it is possible to reserve several neighbouring seats or even a whole row.
Whether or not you studied at Sciences Po, you can also choose to name a seat for a person who is dear to you and who did attend the university: a parent, child, friend, teacher, historical figure, etc.
The plaques are placed on the backs of the seats. They are engraved with the person’s full name and graduation year.
Your contribution to the “Save your seat in Boutmy” campaign will help build the Parisian campus of tomorrow.
Your gift will go to the Campus 2022 redevelopment plan that is fundamentally transforming the Paris campus on the eve of Sciences Po’s 150th anniversary and beyond.
Concentrated over the two hubs of 27, rue Saint-Guillaume and the new Artillerie architectural complex, our urban campus is destined to become one of the finest spaces in Europe to study, teach and build the future.
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The continuous and accelerated spread of technological innovations calls for an increase in academic research, particularly in the human and social sciences. The purpose of expanded research is to better understand, anticipate and act upon their impact on contemporary societies.
To foster the commitment of its scientific community to studying, deciphering and clarifying the major issues at stake for the common good around new technologies, including the Internet and social networks, Sciences Po announces the signing of a partnership agreement with the McCourt Institute.
Scientific excellence at Sciences Po as part of a global project
Through this partnership, Sciences Po becomes a founding partner of the new American research institute created by entrepreneur Frank McCourt and dedicated to the theme of "Tech for the Common Good".
“Making technology work for society is one of the biggest challenges humanity faces. It's time to reset technology: how it is designed, developed and leveraged. It should not be a vehicle to benefit a select few, but an engine for the common good. I'm launching the McCourt Institute with this mission at the centre. I am proud to have Sciences Po as a founding partner as they bring a track record of demonstrable results in advancing society. Their excellence in the social sciences is exactly the perspective that must be elevated now...it is urgently needed”, said Frank McCourt.
Sciences Po and its historical partner Georgetown University will mobilize their collective professors, PhDs, researchers and scholars to conduct interdisciplinary research on the use and development of new technologies for the common good.
“Issues surrounding technologies, the use of data and social media are central to research in human and social sciences. They cut through all disciplines at Sciences Po: from economics to history, from sociology to law and political science. The McCourt Institute serves society and the common good: It will considerably enhance the scientific production of our researchers”, stated Laurence Bertrand-Dorléac, Chair of the Board of Directors of the FNSP.
$25 million over 10 years for social science research on technologies for the common good
As part of this partnership, Sciences Po and the Sciences Po American Foundation will receive a $25 million grant over the span of 10 years to support the development of new scientific work conducted by its community of researchers. The grant will fund annual or multi-year research projects on topics related to "Tech for the common good,” including public policy, ethical and legal issues. This grant is part of Frank McCourt's plan to provide the global research community with the means to explore the topic of technologies for the common good, to shed light on the scope of the disruptions they are causing, and to contribute to vigilance in matters of ethics and societal and environmental responsibility.
The FNSP, the McCourt Institute and the Sciences Po American Foundation are entering a signed grant agreement. The independence of the researchers' work with respect to the various projects carried out by the donor, in particular in the choice of research protocols and publication of results, are key to the agreement.
A partnership with Georgetown University
The academic partnership with Georgetown University will begin on June 22, 2021 with a working seminar in Paris between the two universities, on the rue Saint Guillaume campus.
The research projects conducted and financed within the framework of the McCourt Institute will be selected by a steering committee based at Sciences Po, which will meet twice a year.
Composed of members of Sciences Po ‘s leadership, the Sciences Po American Foundation, the McCourt Institute, Georgetown University and of scientific experts, this committee will submit high-impact academic projects from all areas of research at Sciences Po.
On June 3, the Sciences Po American Foundation honored Emilie Mazzacurati ('02), Global Head of Moody's Climate Solutions and Mike Schmuhl ('15), Chairman at Indiana Democratic Party and former presidential campaign manager for Secretary Pete Buttigieg, at the 2021 Alumni Award. The ceremony began with a conference on the Impact of Climate Change on the Midwest and beyond led by Sam Miles, the first laureate of the Michel David-Weill Scholarship and current PhD student at UC Berkley. The event concluded with networking sessions for Sciences Po alumni, who joined virtually from across the globe.
After an introduction by the Foundation’s Chairman, Stephan Haimo, the conversation began with Schmuhl’s role in Biden’s American Rescue Plan tour in Indiana, the state Schmuhl called “the crossroads of America,” and Mazzacurati’s work at the intersections of climate change and business analytics at Moody’s and FourTwentySeven. Zooming in on the Midwest, the honorees agreed that climate change could have devastating economic effects on both agriculture and manufacturing, though the Midwest is less exposed to threats such as wildfires and sea level rise. Miles also engaged the two honorees on the subject of the interplay between local and national politics when addressing climate change.
A video from Science Po’s European Chair of Sustainable Development, Dr. Shiv Someshwar, introduced attendees to the driving principles behind the development of the chair: first, understanding how to have socially inclusive climate neutrality in Europe and second, how Europe can be a global leader in this socially inclusive climate neutrality. Dr. Someshwar expressed his eagerness to work with American leaders to achieve these goals, reinforcing the transatlantic camaraderie that was tangible throughout the evening.
Returning to the honorees, Miles broached the question of leadership in the face of climate change. Mazzacurati suggested that Europe and China lead global efforts; though the US has a lot of catching up to do, she reminded the audience that change will not happen without the US, a country with a chance to “reclaim a strong, bold leadership role.” Schmuhl discussed sources of US domestic division—including politics, geography, and generation— but reiterated Biden’s commitment to American leadership on the global stage.
Miles expressed his admiration for the honorees’ ability to work steadfastly despite the grim threat of climate change and concluded the climate change discussion by turning toward the future, asking Mazzacurati and Schmuhl to envision what their lives might look like in the year 2050. Mazzacurati shared her fears for her young daughter’s future, yet also her increasing hope that due to the renewed energy she already sees toward tackling climate change, 2050 will see widespread technology that allows us to have a “quality of life that we enjoy.” Schmuhl described his commitment to a life of service, first in his town and then the state of Indiana, and his future hopes to serve the United States, to make it the global partner he believes it can be.
Miles asked the honorees about the professional relationships that have shaped their careers and the advice they would give to young alumni. Schmuhl described the pivotal example of his professional mentors, including former US Senator Joe Donnelly and the late NBC journalist Tim Russert, and he advised alumni to make mentorship a two-way street by giving opportunities to younger generations of professionals. “Don’t pull up the ladder as your career advances,” Schmuhl added. Mazzacurati emphasized the importance of alumni networks, especially her Sciences Po community. “Being part of that community was incredibly useful when I was a recent graduate,” she said.
On Monday, April 26, the Sciences Po American Foundation welcomed Hubert Joly in conversation with Evan Epstein. Joly is the former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Best Buy and is now a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School. He is also a member of the board of directors of Johnson & Johnson and Ralph Lauren Corporation, a member of the International Advisory Board of HEC Paris, and a Trustee of the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Joly has been recognized as one of the top 100 CEOs in the world by the Harvard Business Review, one of the top 30 CEOs in the world by Barron’s and one of the top 10 CEOs in the U.S. by Glassdoor.
Epstein is a corporate governance expert and the inaugural Executive Director of the Center for Business Law, and Adjunct Professor, at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, in San Francisco, California.
Natacha Valla, economist and Dean of the Sciences Po School of Management and Innovation concluded the conversation.
Joly began the conversation describing the multi-faceted crisis faced today by the US and the world at large, arguing that there is a necessity to reinvent business and capitalism around purpose, people, and all stakeholders.
This also requires us to re-imagine leadership:“The whole idea of the leader as the superhero who is the smartest person in the room does not work anymore,” he said, “that is not the kind of leadership people want.”
He described his experience at Best Buy where change started by listening to the people on the frontlines.
“We followed a people-driven approach,” he added. Joly denounced the idea of business as a zero-sum game and encouraged business leaders instead to build relationships with stakeholders in a win-win approach.
Epstein asked Joly further questions about his views on noble purpose and humanity in business. Joly described the three imperatives of business:
- the people imperative,
- the business imperative, and
- the financial imperative, with profit being an outcome, not a goal
"A noble purpose needs to become the cornerstone of the company's strategy." At the end of the day, Joly added, “a company is a human organization made of individuals working together on pursuit of a goal.”
Epstein asked Joly his thoughts on criticisms of stakeholder capitalism as simply trying to sell a story. Joly responded that from his perspective, stakeholder capitalism does not need to be opposed to shareholder capitalism.
“What is at the heart of business" Joly said, "is pursuing a noble purpose, putting people at the center, embracing all stakeholders, creating an environment where employees can blossom, and treating profits as an outcome. Stakeholder capitalism is a way to perfom for everybody."
He argued that ignoring the wider community is nonsensical when one’s employees and customers all come from the community.
Valla concluded the conversation by introducing a European perspective and discussing the case of new reforms coming from Brussels. She reiterated the importance of linking frontline workers to the boardroom, reforming business incongruency, defining one’s dream, and redefining the evolving role of the CEO.
“It’s a renewal of capitalism,” she said. “We need to have the ambition to write the next chapter.”
Joly’s upcoming book, The Heart of Business: Leadership Principles for the Next Era of Capitalism, was released on May 4, 2021 by Harvard Business Review Press. The Heart of Business unveils the powerful philosophy behind the resurgence of Best Buy, a company that was expected to fail in 2012 when Joly took over as CEO.
More information on The Heart of Business can be found on Joly’s website.
On March 11, the Sciences Po American Foundation hosted alumna Chine Labbe in conversation with Professor Nancy L. Rosenblum, Senator Joseph Clark Research Professor of Ethics in Politics and Government emerita at Harvard University.
Chine Labbe is the Managing Editor for Europe at NewsGuard, a start-up fighting disinformation through human-written analyses of news sites based on their credibility and transparency, and the founding host, editor, and producer of Good Code, a podcast on ethics in digital technology. Nancy Rosenblum studies historical and contemporary political thought and most recently published the book A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy with Russell Muirhead. Labbe and Rosenblum were joined by Gérard Araud, former Ambassador of France to the United States.
Labbe began the conversation describing the atmosphere of 2020 and “how a pandemic fed a growing distrust in institutions, in governments, and in elites throughout the world, and created the perfect fertilizer for conspiracies, for conspiracy mindsets, and for false narratives to gain momentum and reach a wider audience.” She painted a picture of the self-appointed QAnon shaman Jake Angeli at the U.S. capital on January 6, adding that while conspiracies and false narratives have always existed, the mix of widespread fear and anxiety and the impression that no one had answers that swept the population at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic “was the perfect cocktail for false narratives and conspiracies to thrive.” Rosenblum agreed that Covid was a very good environment for the spread of conspiracy, especially in the context of two external conditions: a president who had the capacity to impose his conspiracist mindset on the nation and years of delegitimization of all knowledge-producing institutions. What Covid introduced, she asserted, is the big issue with conspiracies: they raise the question, “who owns reality?”
Rosenblum explained the difference between conspiracy and conspiracy theory, and how this difference can explain some of conspiracy’s political potency. A conspiracy theory, she said, is an explanation of an event that claims things are not as they seem. Conspiracy theories are built on evidence, patterns, and argument, and some conspiracy theories are true. When conspiracy becomes decoupled from theory, however, it dispenses with argument and instead relies on repetition. The power of these unsupported charges can be explained by three things: a love of the performative aggression of charging conspiracy, the collective—especially the collective identity of conspiracy that Rosenblum argues Trump has created—and the fact that one does not have to believe the particulars of a conspiracy claim for it to resonate.
Labbe gave a description and history of the QAnon movement, and Rosenblum analyzed some of its particularities. Unlike most conspiracy charges, QAnon is not a response to a singular event. The movement is incredibly politically potent because it attacks its enemies by charging them with sexual degeneracy, it went offline and into public life early on, and it is an apocalyptic conspiracy, based on prophecies and violence leading to the birth of a new world. QAnon is different from most conspiracy claims, Rosenblum adds, “because it is like a participatory role-playing game. The story isn’t coming from one person.”
In the United States specifically, Labbe and Rosenblum discussed the role of conspiracy in delegitimizing institutions by question their meaning, value, and authority. The political effects of conspiracy have been the delegitimizations of two essential institutions of democracy: knowledge-producing institutions and political opposition. Labbe expressed an increasingly critical effect of the delegitimization of knowledge-producing institutions in 2020, that conspiracists were able to pose as credible news sources online to spread alternative facts as the truth. On a larger scale, each time conspiracy strikes hard in the U.S., it strikes hard in Europe. The QAnon narrative, Labbe said, found a home on European websites and slowly attracted more followers. The idea of a stolen U.S. election was also adopted to the European context, threatening not just the essence of American democracy, but also threatening to sow distrust in the European electoral process, too.
Labbe and Rosenblum concluded with the question of what is to be done. Labbe stressed the importance of media literacy in order to help the public learn to spot misinformation and conspiracy. “We have to add into our toolkit,” she said, “this idea of understanding who is behind our sources and who has been feeding us the news.” Rosenblum underscored the “moral imperative to speak truth to conspiracism, not in attempt to convert, but to give a sort of moral backbone to the rest of us.”
Gérard Araud concluded the discussion with a history of conspiracy, beginning with the French Revolution, “a momentous example of conspiracy theories,” arguing that conspiracy has historically always been “a background noise to normal life.” Conspiracy, he says, is the result of disarray, of those trying to find an explanation for their feelings of powerlessness. In times of crisis when people feel really frightened in their existence, conspiracy gives a human source to the problem, and thus a sort of human hope to solve the problem. “A crisis of conspiracy theories,” Araud stated, “is a symptom of a political, economic, and social crisis of our societies. The best way to return conspiracy theories to background noise is to solve the political, economic, and social crisis of our Western societies.”
The next installment of the #AlumniWebinar Series will welcome Hubert Joly, former chairman and CEO of Best Buy on April 26th at 12 PM EST. He will discuss his upcoming book The Heart of Business: Leadership Principles for the Next Era of Capitalism to be published on May 4th.
The Universities of Sciences Po, Princeton and Columbia are launching a major three-year research project on Muslim communities in India thanks to the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation.
This project was jointly developed by Christophe Jaffrelot, Professor at Sciences Po and CERI-CNRS Senior Research Fellow and a leading scholar of India, along with Bernard Haykel, Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University and a scholar of Islam and the Middle East. The resulting research will offer new analysis and insights into the challenges faced by Muslim communities in India today. Bringing together a community of over 30 scholars and researchers in India, the United States, France and the UK, the project will provide a detailed examination of the multiple factors impacting Indian Muslim communities and shaping their future.
Manan Ahmed, Associate Professor in the Department of History at Columbia University, and a specialist in the history of South Asia, will lead the development of visualization and spatial mapping highlighting the results of the research.
Christophe Jaffrelot said: “India has inherited a rich civilization to which the Muslim community has contributed in many different ways. Indian Muslims are facing the same challenges as many other minorities in the world. In order to analyze their condition in cultural, educational, sociological, economic and political terms, our team will systematically promote a mixed research methodology combining ethnographic fieldwork and survey-based data collection, at all levels – local, regional and national – and in urban as well as rural contexts. This collective endeavor will present the kind of comprehensive picture that one needs in order to make sense of the present situation of the 200 million Muslims of India – the largest minority in the world.”
Bernard Haykel said: “Further study of the Muslim communities of India—a large and diverse minority that has faced considerable challenges since independence—is much needed. Our project aims to generate factual data about the social, economic and political conditions of these communities as well as to produce original scholarly analyses. Princeton University has a long and distinguished history in Islamic studies, has one of the finest research libraries in the world and excellent faculty and students who will collaborate on this project. Our study of the Muslim communities in India will also be informed by a transregional and comparative approach, one that will take into account comparable dynamics in wider South Asia, the Middle East and Central Asia.”
Manan Ahmed said: “Muslims in India are facing significant challenges. It is our goal to illustrate, illuminate and widely disseminate the important research undertaken under this timely project. We aim to do this by marshalling the democratic power of social media. At Columbia, our partnerships with Columbia Libraries and with the Center for Study of Muslim Societies will allow us to bring critical collaboration on the research produced under this important and timely project.”
The project’s findings will be disseminated through a final report and a collective book. In addition, a dedicated website will feature interactive maps and graphs, video interviews with members from various communities in India, as well as podcasts with experts and academics.
The project was developed in partnership with the US Sciences Po Foundation and the Alliance Program.
The Alumni Webinar Series invites prominent members of the Sciences Po Alumni network to share their experiences.
This online format is an opportunity to bring the Sciences Po community in the United States closer and to foster additional connections between the members of this network, and beyond.
The run of show includes a 10-minute insight by the keynote speaker, followed by a conversation, and Q&A.
On August 26th, we welcomed Alumnus Mike Schmuhl, Pete Buttigieg's campaign manager for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries, to discuss the 2020 election with Celia Belin from Brookings.
On September 30th, the Foundation welcomed alumna Maëlle Gavet, in conversation with Christophe Duthoit, for “The New Cold War is Coming – the Internet is the Battlefield,” the third installment of the Alumni Webinar Series. Alumnus Hubert Joly, senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School and the former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Best Buy Co., Inc concluded the session.
Alumna Anastasia Colosimo was in conversation with Adam Gopnik, staff writer at the New Yorker and acclaimed author on October 20th on the topic of Religion and democracy.
On December 2nd, Alumna Camille François was in conversation with William G. Howell and alumna Delphine Halgand, to discuss disinformation and misinformation in the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election for the last installment of the series in 2020.
The Sciences Po American Foundation welcomed alumna Camille François, in conversation with William G. Howell and alumna Delphine Halgand, to discuss disinformation and misinformation in the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. Camille François is the Chief Innovation Officer at Graphika, working to detect and mitigate disinformation, media manipulation and harassment. She also works with the Election Integrity Partnership, a coalition of research entities with the objective of detecting and mitigating the impact of attempts to prevent or deter people from voting or to delegitimize election results. William Howell is a professor in American Politics at the Harris School of Public Policy and chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago. He most recently co-authored the book Presidents, Populism, and the Crisis of Democracy.
François began by clarifying the difference between misinformation, information that is false but is not shared with an intent to mislead, and disinformation, which is created with an intent to believe. She also explained the ABC framework for disinformation, which considers the actors sharing information, distortive behaviors, such as those that make misinformation look like a viral campaign expressing a grassroots movement, and the false content itself. Misinformation, she said, spreads cyclically, beginning with isolated incidents, then becoming a narrative, and then leading to a movement, such as the “Stop the Steal” political mobilization following the 2020 Presidential Election.
Since 2016, François believes that disinformation detection and mitigation has come a long way. In 2016, no one was prepared to handle online disinformation, which did not match existing conceptions of a threat. Now, government agencies and platforms have clear definitions and consensus on foreign interference. The U.S. government in 2020 has been proactive in tackling disinformation, at great personal risk for agencies and their directors, yet François believes that they did an enormous amount of work to help get ahead of disinformation.
François warned the audience against a tendency to see foreign interference everywhere. Not only does this help foreign adversaries themselves in their goals of sowing chaos and undermining trust, she said, it also impacts our ability to trust real social movements that use social media. François cited the gilet jaune movement in France and the large-scale racial justice movements in the U.S., saying “this is what actual online activism looks like.” In the future, she believes more attention is needed to address disinformation at the level of the whole internet. While Facebook, Twitter, and Google have drawn intense scrutiny, many platforms who consider themselves outside of the political conversation and other alternative platforms designed to host content moderated away from the main platforms carry the risk of creating an entire alternative ecosystem where disinformation and hate can thrive. François emphasized the importance of rigorous, independent, evaluations of platform interventions in order to determine which interventions are actually working.
Delphine Halgand is the Executive Director of the Signals Network, a non-profit organization encouraging transparency, accountability, reporting, and whistleblowing. She most recently served as the lead rapporteur of the Forum on Information and Democracy’s Working Group on Infodemics. The working group recently published its report, a set of 250 recommendations for combatting misinformation and disinformation, including strong public regulation of platform transparency, the need to invent a new co-regulation model for content moderation, and ways to change the design of platforms to slow the spread of disinformation. With Halgand, François discussed the question of scale: can we expect the same level of commitment to things that are not just the U.S. Presidential Election? How do we create best practices that extend across the world? Halgand concluded the conversation by asking François what comes next for the Election Integrity Partnership. François described the continued efforts to monitor for election-related disinformation that will last until the inauguration. The EIP institutions also plan to share their notes and observations in order to empower more research on disinformation.
The Sciences Po American Foundation welcomed Anastasia Colosimo, in conversation with Adam Gopnik, for a discussion on religion and democracy. Colosimo is an essayist and the author of Les bûchers de la liberté. She received her PhD in political theology from Sciences Po and currently serves as the Chief of Staff to Richard Attias & Associates. She was joined by Adam Gopnik, staff writer at The New Yorker, acclaimed author of Paris to the Moon, and most recently, A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism.
Colosimo spoke fondly of her time at Sciences Po, where she undertook both her Masters and her PhD. Despite the fact that religious studies did not really exist in France at the time, she “found the right people and the right place at Sciences Po” to complete a PhD on blasphemy. Although Gopnik was never a Sciences Po student, he expressed his honor to be engaging with the school. Among the faculty, students, and alumni of Sciences Po, he said, one encounters “a level of clarity, lucidity, and scintillating omniscience that one finds in few other places.”
Both speakers addressed the gravity of their subject in the era after the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack, a turning point for an entire generation according to Colosimo. Just days after the tragic killing of teacher Samuel Paty in a Parisian suburb, the discussion now seems even more crucial.
Colosimo began the conversation discussing blasphemy, reminding the audience that two of the biggest figures of western civilization, Socrates and Jesus Christ, were blasphemers. Before the political modernity of the 16th and 17th centuries, religion and politics were one and the same. The blasphemer was extremely dangerous for society in the ancient world, because speaking out against religion was speaking out against political power. After modernity then, Colosimo asked, how come blasphemy is still so political? Before turning to this question, she addressed a French specificity. In the wake of the French Revolution, France was rebuilt on anti-religious sentiment. Today, laïcité guarantees French citizens the right to express their beliefs and convictions and mandates separation of the State and religious organizations.
Gopnik described American secularism as far from just a translation of the French laïcité. America is a country founded on religious freedom, so according to Colosimo, “in the very heart of the political system, there is a place for mysticism.” In France, on the other hand, mysticism was broken by the Revolution, when the doctrine of rationalism took its place. Additionally, in French political philosophy, there is the notion that the community, whether family, religion, or corporation, must be dissolved in order for the state to have a direct connection with its citizens; one is defined not by a community but by freedom of thought. In America, however, where the state can sometimes be viewed as the enemy, it is one’s community that protects against the state’s encroachment. Gopnik stated his admiration for the conception of a non-neutral French laïcité. American secularism, he said, is intended to show no favor among religions. The French laïcité, however, says that the Republic has positive values; “you must bring into the public square yourself as an individual.”
On religious assimilation in France, Colosimo explained two aspects of a religion: dogma and culture. In France, it is the cultural component that can change and offer a renovated perception of religion, in order to start practicing in a way that is compatible with the laws of the Republic. Religion adapts, therefore, both religiously and culturally to the national context.
Gopnik described one of the beauties of the French tradition: not only freedom from persecution for being convicted of blasphemy, but also the right to blaspheme, as vital as the right to practice a religion itself. This critical French freedom demonstrates the possibility of affirming the right to blaspheme without demeaning religion. Colosimo agreed, describing blasphemy as “a French national sport, part of French heritage.” She added that it is not just about religion. “The way that the French people would write and talk about sex, about food, about everything… there is something very decadent, very provocative in the French culture.” In the wake of old tensions reappearing in France, she reiterates that it is critical to defend the French system and its values of universalism. The current fight between intolerance and pluralism must be taken seriously.
Ariane Ville, Sciences Po alumna, sociologist by training, and Project Director at Fabernovel, concluded the conversation. She summarized the French mindset of leaving one’s religious and cultural ties at home to be a good citizen in contrast to the American perspective of bringing one’s cultural or religious attachments into the public sphere. In light of each country’s pathway to political autonomy, she said, their divergent understandings of the place of religion in the public sphere seem clear.
The next installment of the Alumni Webinar Series will take place in late November and will feature alumna Camille François. Camille is the Chief Innovation Officer at Graphika and works on the detection of disinformation. She will speak about disinformation and the 2020 Presidential Election. Stay tuned for more information and to register at usscpo.org.