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Research topics

Research themes suggested by the members of the Doctorate's Academic Board (proponents' names are into parenthesis). 

Prospective applicants are invited to take them into consideration, also transversally, in drafting their research projects.

1.     Cultural pluralism, religious diversity, and human rights (Giuseppe Giordan, Adam Possamai, Siniša Zrinščak, Stefano Solari)

The contemporary process of global mobility has caused a transformation from the social, cultural and religious homogeneity, either real or socially constructed in many nations, and especially in Europe, to the acknowledgement of diversity, though this acknowledgement is evolving at different pace in different European countries and has been, at the same time, constantly challenged by other social processes. At various levels this transition is governed by civil authorities as well as other social actors, such as different religious institutions. The significance of religion within contemporary so-called post-secular society lends to multifarious interpretations that try to explain the individualization of belief, the challenge of the fundamentalist movements, and the use of religion in an identity and ethnic role. The continuous process of interaction and mutual influence  between historically embedded social-religious nexus, on the one hand, emerging cultural pluralism and/or religious diversity, on the other hand, and human rights, will be studied by focusing on specific research topics, preferably in a comparative and interdisciplinary way, such as: (i) minorities identification and protection strategies (potential, content and implementation of cultural rights) and their relations with the “language” of human rights; (ii) mapping “religious minorities”, “new religious movements”, and atheist groups; (iii) majority-minority(ies) relations; (iv) cultural and legal responses to religious diversity; (v) religious strategies to adapt to human rights issues; (vi) civil and religious “institutional arrangements” for the recognition of religious diversity.


2.     Citizenship and human rights (Elena Pariotti, Costanza Margiotta)

Citizenship has a twofold and persistent relation with human rights. On the one side, within political communities, in both sociological and legal terms, the notion of citizenship is the core of the ascription, implementation and warrantee of fundamental rights. In this sense, it is an emblem of inclusion, participation and belonging and the concrete setting for the enjoyment of fundamental rights. On the other side, the notion of citizenship can be seen as a source of exclusion and cannot but represent a challenge to the inherent universality of human rights, which therefore work either to stretch the criteria for ascribing the status of citizenship or to weaken the impact of this status on the ascription of rights. A further level to which the idea of citizenship turns out to have complex relations with the wider framework of fundamental rights, on the one hand, and with the idea of nationality, on the other hand, is represented by the notion of European citizenship, the developments of which are mainly a result of the interpretative activity of the Court of Justice of the European Union.


3.     International law, international order, and human rights (Elena Pariotti, Paolo De Stefani)

Several issues has been arising in human rights studies that basically deals with (i) the impact of the structure of international law (features of sources, international community, subjects, actors, functioning and aims) on human rights recognition and protection; (ii) the ways human rights affirmation affects the developments of international law, i.e by functioning as a source of hierarchy. Many issues are worth being addressed in these terms, for example: What does order can and should mean in international sphere in the light of human rights requirements? How can the notions of democracy and rule of law be properly adjusted in such international order? How global justice can be framed as a goal of international order? What kinds of accountability and legitimation for decisions can properly take place in it? In what sense, if any, is it possible to devise a process of “constitutionalisation” of international law? What relations are there between “constitutionalisation” and “fragmentation” of international law?


 4.     Governance and emergencies (Paolo De Stefani, Andre Renzaho)

Since the early 1970s, the international community has witnessed a dramatic growth in humanitarian emergency action. According to some scholars, emergency has become a sort of counterpart to the prospect of global order. Governance – as requiring a reasonable framework of rules, predictability and accountability to which relevant actors are committed – is confronted with a pervasive setting of emergency-based practices, often short-sighted, highly politicized and self-referential, but that draw considerable funding and media attention. How can humanitarian action effectively support human rights implementation in post-conflict or post-disaster contexts? How can the international human rights legal framework help deconstructing the socio-political and legalistic justifications of politically construed “emergencies”? Is there room to enhance governance and human rights concern in emergency operations? This research stream promotes empirical research in a variety of contexts (humanitarian action and relief, development cooperation, “structural adjustment” programmes…) whereby the clash or the harmonization between the potentially competing instances of emergency and human rights emerge, with the aim of learning lessons useful to improve governance patterns.


5.     Human rights in the EU external relations (Marco Mascia)

The catalogue of principles and values of the common foreign and security policy regime - democracy, rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights, human dignity, multilateralism law based - is connected with the innovative and human-centered part of the international political system that is rooted in the United Nations Charter and in the international law of human rights. The logical reference paradigm is that of human security.

Literature regarding the EU in international politics includes categories such as "normative power", "soft power", "civilian power", "smart power”, the use of which raises expectations of a highly innovative role also from an ethical point of view. At the same time several questions interrogate research, among others: is the only soft power sufficient to meet the new global challenges of the 21th century? To keep its soft power and protect its attractive potential from erosion dangers, does the EU need a balanced combination of soft and hard power? What is the contribution that civil society organizations and movements can effectively provide to the EU in carrying out its security strategy? May the Lisbon Treaty open the way to further communitarising common foreign and security policy, or does it represent a more sophisticated form of "rationalised intergovernmentalism"? What steps should the EU take to bridge the gap between the ambitions that are typical of a global actor, and reality? A further question regards the EU international identity: does it reflects its internal identity, which is that of an actor pursuing the political (supranational) integration of its member states, or is it unable to overcome the old state-centered identity that the old continent has inherited from the Westphalian Peace?


6.     Social vulnerabilities, public policies and human rights (Paolo De Stefani, Paola Degani)

This area of research aims at critically assessing, in the light of the human rights paradigm, the development of the policies and systems to regulate and intervene in a number of situations involving specific groups or individuals whose status is characterized by elements of vulnerability, due to the influence of multiple socio-political, economic and legal factors. Research may include, among other things: cooperation and referral mechanisms between systems providing protection to victims of trafficking and to persons seeking international protection; effective networking in fighting male violence against women and in protecting the victims of such violence; prevention of serious exploitation of children in forced criminal activities, and protection of the victims thereof; women’s discrimination and women’s rights denial in a variety of socio-political contexts.


7.     Racial discrimination in the labour market (Arrigo Opocher)

The ‘equal pay’ legislation and the general legislation on human rights prescribe that wage setting and worker hiring be completely ‘colour-blind’. Yet there is a considerable racial wage gap in advanced economies and segregation phenomena are widespread, meaning that people of different ‘race’ (i.e. different skin colour or national/ethnic origin) are concentrated in different jobs. Are these market outcomes explained by differences in productivity? Or rather are they ultimately determined by social tastes and stereotypes? Is there any discrimination, based on race alone, in the labour market?

A vast economic and interdisciplinary literature, empirical and theoretical, addressed such difficult and important questions since the 1970s. Some topics that are attracting particular interest (and controversy!) in current literature are:
i) Racial bias in educational choices. The cost of human capital investment can be higher for racial minorities than it is for the majority, due to a disadvantage in family environment; conversely, the return to such an investment can be lower, due to a lower probability of being hired in ‘high-skill’ jobs.
ii) The effects of stereotypes. Discrimination in the labour market can be ‘statistical’, meaning that, for a given educational attainment, a member of a racial minority is expected to have a lower productivity than a member of the majority.
iii) The effects of ‘affirmative actions’. Segregation and discrimination are sometimes contrasted by a system of benefits enforced by law aimed at counterbalancing reduced opportunities (‘affirmative action’). These measures, however, are highly controversial, and the design of an efficient affirmative-action institutional framework is a very complex task.

Two main methodologies are adopted for the study of these issues: regression analysis (based on statistical surveys) and field experiments (based on real outcomes in fictitious randomized settings). Such a mix of methods mirrors the position of this topic at a crossroad of different disciplines: economics, sociology, political science, and law.


8.     Multi-level Governance, (intercultural) dialogue, education (Léonce Bekemans) 

The ongoing transitions in the global and regional (European and beyond) landscape offer opportunities for innovating ideas, research and policy strategies of governance building within an  international and European context. The research area is set within the context of rethinking social sciences as a change agent to study interconnecting trajectories of sustainable statehood for human governance, in particular to promote sustainable human development in rapidly transforming societies. This implies a paradigm shift from a disciplinary-driven research agenda to a problem- and change-driven research, adopting a clear interdisciplinary perspective. The multi-directional process of formal and informal governance building in the international and regional systems assumes various levels of governance (up, down, across and beyond) with institutional, political, educational, sociological, legal and ethical consequences.

The recognition of these interlinkages and their impact on changing statehood and governance structures constitutes the main research focus. The conceptual building blocks of the research are the universality and indivisibility of the human rights, the importance of global public goods in relation to international  organization and transnational democratic practice and the cosmopolitan perspective of multi-level governance structures (See U. Beck, D. Held, D. Archibugi, Z. Bauman, R. Falk, J. Habermas, etc.). Specific  policy-oriented research themes are related to the dimensions of traditional statehood monopoly (i.e. security, territory, citizenship, democratic practice and cultural identity, including management of cultural heritage). 

This broad research area also covers the study of (intercultural) dialogue and (active/responsible) citizenship as well as education/learning processes for intercultural realities in a multi-level governance structure. The crucial role of education, as well as the use and practices of teaching and learning, are rethought within the dramatic acceleration in the speed of social change brought about by the process of globalisation. In short, objectives, competences and practices of (intercultural) citizenship education are studied in order to develop proper answers to society’s current challenges and cultural realities.


9.  Social Justice, Human Rights and Public Health (Roberto De Vogli)

The fields of health equity and human rights have different languages, perspectives and methodologies, yet they share a number of fundamental concepts and tools for study and action. Evidence from social epidemiology showing that socioeconomic conditions (e.g. poverty, unemployment, homelessness, education) are among the strongest determinants of health overlap with the human rights literature that focuses on the role of both socioeconomic rights (e.g. access to a decent standard of living, housing, education, healthcare, water and sanitation) as well as civil and political rights (e.g. the right to collective bargaining, political participation and non-discrimination). A growing body of evidence also indicates that both categories of human rights are plausible mechanisms explaining why more egalitarian societies have better health and psychosocial outcomes than more unequal ones. This proposed research area focuses on: a) a trans-disciplinary approach in the study of social justice, equity, health and human rights; b) the study of the impact of public policies on health, equity and human rights; c) the use of cross-national secondary datasets and longitudinal aggregate-level analyses in the study of the interrelations between policies, health and human rights.

10.  Globalization, Migration, Health, and Humanitarian Assistance (Andre Renzaho) 

Globalization and international migration are two concepts that will continue to divide international opinions and to polarize policy makers, politicians, and advocates depending on which side of the fence one is sitting on. However, while labour migration continues to dominate the discussion around people movements in the context of globalization, data by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on the impact of globalization on the environment suggest that globalization impacts the whole migration spectrum: it increases greenhouse gas emissions; impoverishes biodiversity; creates uneven political efforts, and creates capitalistic and democratic political systems that foster trade and cross-border mobility. As Globalization continues to gain momentum, the burden of forced migration (i.e. internally displaced people, refugees, and asylum seekers), voluntary migration (i.e. student and labour migration, and family stream migration) and irregular migration (i.e. visa over-stayers) will always represent a challenge for policy makers. The proposed PhD program provides a package of themes to explore the health and social effects associated with migration from a global perspective. The package included but not limited to: 1) complex humanitarian emergencies: response and policy governance; 2) internally displaced people: the effectiveness of soft and hard laws 3) international migration and skilled labour shortages; 4) immigration impacts on government expenditures and revenues; 5) demographic transition in advanced and transition economies; 5) the effectiveness of policy responses to international migration (restrictive migration policies vs. the diaspora option vs. reverse brain drain); and 6) bridging the rural-urban divide.


11.  Development, structuring and challenges of the European Administrative Space (Ivan Koprić, Stefano Solari

The European Administrative Space (EAS) is based on the idea of administrative harmonization and convergence of traditional models of public administration (Westminster or Anglo-Saxon, Weberian or German, Napoleonic or South European, and Scandinavian or Nordic) and traditional administrative solutions. There are three developmental lines in further structuring of EAS: Europeanization of policy formulation, Europeanization of policy implementation, and harmonization of European citizens and other societal actors (businesses, civil society organizations, etc.). In such a way, bottom-up Europeanization, with citizens in the centre, complements top-down Europeanization. Citizens and other societal actors expect, presumably, approximately equal level and quality of public services for all European citizens and other people.

Several issues will be studied in detailed manner: a) which meanings and conceptual components of EAS can we distinguish; b) which values and social and citizens’ expectations, governance principles and standards of public administration organisation and functioning have been incorporated into the EAS; c) which bodies and other actors, procedures and mechanisms support and facilitate further structuring of EAS; d) what are the main fields of harmonization.

Besides that, certain legal documents (the Code of Good Administrative Behaviour, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, etc.), as well as connected theoretical and doctrinal notions (EU integrated administration, services of general interest, multi-level governance, good local governance, etc.) will be analysed.


12.  Social policy, new social risks, social rights and good governance concept (Stefano Solari)

The concept of welfare state has been designed for social security system typical for western countries in period of fast industrialisation and challenges with urbanisation. It was an appropriate and efficient way of meeting the needs of working class people and the middle class. Welfare state and measures of social policy dominantly were covering classical social risk. Recent developments, globalisation processes and economic crises seriously threaten social policy programmes in terms of their appropriateness to all citizens. The crisis of current welfare state can be recognised as a problem of dualism. From one side older and employed population are protected in terms of social risk. From other side young, unemployed population are not covered with social security system and they are mostly socially excluded. Having in mind also the changing, more precarious nature of labour, this process will be long lasting problem. What are the social rights of the mentioned population, faced with new types of social risks? Do we have empirical evidence to describe and understand the complexity of the problem? In that context, how the approach and principles of good governance, on different levels, can be helpful to provide efficient respond to new social risks? How far can we count on a decent level of social capital, active citizens and civil society organisations to tackle this challenges? These are some questions this research line would address.


13.  Microfinance and social inclusion (Alberto Lanzavecchia)

Microfinance is considered as an activity which can have a positive impact on social inclusion and hence serve as an important policy tool for policymakers.
The aim of the project would be to improve the understanding and measure the impact of microfinance on financial and social inclusion of maginalized people, and to identify the conditions necessary in order to maximise the efficacy of this tool with the aim of providing a decision-making tool within the framework of SDGs strategy for 2030 for sustainable and inclusive growth.
The research programme will be focused on the following key questions:
In which ways can financial inclusion be seen to impact social inclusion and vice versa?
How can the impact of microfinance on financial and social inclusion be quantified and measured at micro-economic and macro-economic level (e.g. impact of microfinance in terms of business creation and as a route out of unemployment)?
What are the links between micro loan pricing, affordable credit and financial / social inclusion?
What is the relative contribution of different microfinance products such as credit, savings and insurance on financial and social inclusion?
What differentiates business-related micro-credits from personal micro-credits in terms of impact on financial and social inclusion?
How does the degree of financial and social exclusion at regional/national level vary across countriues? How is it related to the development stage of the respective financial markets in general and microfinance markets in particular?

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