A new book on strategic narratives, peace movements, and Italy.

We are glad to announce that the new book of “our” Fabrizio Coticchia is finally out.

Here you’ll find more info (in Italian) on: “Al di là dell’Arcobaleno. I movimenti pacifisti italiani tra ideologie e contro-narrazioni strategiche”, with A. Catanzaro (Milano: Vita e Pensiero, 2018).

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“Narratives and counter-narratives: security issues and peace movements in Italy”

The programme of the 2016 SISP (Italian Political Science Association) annual convention has been published. The conference will be held in Milan (15-17 September 2016).

Here you’ll find all panels and papers.

Our Fabrizio Coticchia (University of Genoa) and Andrea Catanzaro (University of Genoa) will present a paper on strategic narratives, security issues and peace movements.

Here more details on the panel “Social Movements and Practices of Resistance in Times of Crisis”.

Here below the abstract of the paper:

Existing studies on strategic narratives have persuasively illustrated the features that make a plot compelling to shape public attitudes regarding military operations. A growing body of the literature has started to pay attention to the concept of “narrative dominance”, stressing the role played by counter-narratives in hindering a wider acceptance of a specific message. However, a limited consideration has been devoted to security issues other than military missions, while the key- features and the effectiveness of counter-narratives have seldom been assessed in a systematic way, especially for non-institutional actors such as “peace movements”. The paper aims at filling this gap, focusing on Italy. How and to what extent have counter-narratives successfully contested the official strategic narratives? What ideologies underlie them? To answer these questions, the research investigates the main contents, the theoretical backgrounds and the effectiveness of counter-narratives developed by national “peace movements” to contrast the “plot” designed by Italian governments to gain the support of public opinion towards selected post-2001 security issues: defense acquisitions, political reforms and missions abroad. The manuscript, which is based on interviews, discourse and content analysis, adopts a multidisciplinary approach, combining IR, political thought, communication and social movement studies.


See you soon in Milan.

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Book Talk: Strategic Narratives, Public Opinion and War

Today, 30 June 2015 at 3.30 pm, the NATO HQ (Luns Auditorium, Brussels) will host the presentation of the book: “Strategic Narratives, Public Opinion and War. Winning domestic support for the Afghan War“, edited by Beatrice de Graaf, George Dimitriu and Jens Ringsmose. The editors and three authors will illustrate the volume (unfortunately we have not been able to attend).

Here a description of the event.

The Former NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who wrote the preface, will introduce the event. 

Admiral James Stavridis, Supreme Allied Commander at NATO 2009-13 and Dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, has defined the volume as a must-read to understand 21st century conflict“. 

As stated in a previous post, the manuscript aims at providing a  comprehensive analysis on strategic narratives, adopting a comparative perspective to examine the case of the military operation in Afghanistan. The case of Italy has been investigated by Venus in Arms‘s Fabrizio Coticchia and Carolina De Simone, in the chapter: “The winter of our consent? Framing Italy’s ‘peace mission’ in Afghanistan”.

Here will find more details on the book.

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“Exploring Peace”: ISA’s 57th Annual Convention

ISA (International Studies Association) has just announced the call for proposals for the 2016 Annual Convention (Atlanta, March 16th-19th).

Here you’ll find all the info for submitting a proposal (panel, paper, roundtable). The submission deadline is June 1st 2015.

Here below the theme of the convention:

Exploring Peace“. Traditional international studies have put a premium on war, militarized conflict, and other violence as primary phenomena for investigation. In contrast, “peace” is often defined as the absence of militarized and violent conflict, an afterthought or residual category without a distinct theoretical explanation. Yet, such a characterization lumps many disparate kinds of events and relationships together. Economic sanctions are sometimes placed in the same “non-war” category as cultural exchanges. Additionally, some studies characterize the relationship between North and South Korea as peaceful because there has been no war for over 60 years, thereby equivalent to many relationships in the European Union. The focus on mitigating conflict and violence has led scholars to downplay or ignore other values such as human rights, justice, and equity that are part of many conceptions of peace. In addition, such a concentration leads away from interactions that increasingly characterize international affairs, including trade cooperation, integration, and peace building. For the 2016 convention, papers should focus on all aspects of peace along conceptual, theoretical, and empirical lines. Peace should also be explored within the different subject matters, orientations, and methodologies that constitute the many regions, sections, and caucuses of the ISA. Proposals that cut across or integrate these different constituencies are especially welcome. The following concerns are representative of those that might be addressed:

  • What are the key conceptual elements of peace? How might this differ from the simple distinction between “negative” and “positive” peace put forward by Galtung?
  • What are the key research questions that can and should be studied when the focus is placed on peace rather than war and other violent conflict?
  • How do existing theories and theoretical frameworks fit with understanding peace? What modifications might be appropriate?
  • What are the specific factors or conditions associated with peace? How are they different from those that are correlated with war and other violent conflict?
  • Peace for whom?: How does studying peace differ according to the stakeholders involved? How does peace for one set of stakeholders affect peace for others? Can stakeholder differences be reconciled?
  • What is the relationship between interstate peace and domestic peace?
  • Short- versus Long-term Peace: How are short- and long-term peace processes different? How do they influence one another?
  • Conflict Resolution: How does conflict management influence conflict resolution? What international and domestic institutions facilitate peace? What processes promote reconciliation and justice in post-conflict contexts?
  • Existing Resources. Are existing data and information sources adequate to study peace? What needs to be changed?
  • How could new scholarship on peace inform policy?

You’ll find additional info here.

Also Venus in Arms will sent some paper proposals. So…fingers crossed!

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The War That Wasn’t There? Italy’s “Peace Mission” in Afghanistan, Strategic Narratives and Public Opinion



By Fabrizio Coticchia

The military operation in Afghanistan is the most important mission undertaken by the Italian armed forces since the end of WWII. The public opinion supported the intervention until mid-2009. Then, the percentage of approval for the mission dropped considerably. In a paper that “Foreign Policy Analysis” has just released in early view (here gated) I’ve examined different perspectives in order to understand the drop of consensus that occurred in the Italian case.

The aim of the paper (co-authored with Carolina de Simone) is to investigate the features and evolution of the main strategic narratives adopted by political leaders to interpret the Italian military involvement in Afghanistan between 2011 and 2011. The research stems from the perspective suggested by Ringsmose and Børgesen on the key role of strategic narratives in the understanding of the variations in public opinion support towards military operations. The questions this study seeks to answer are: how have politicians crafted strategic narratives on the Afghan mission? How have these storylines influenced public opinion during the conflict?

The level of support towards the operation in Afghanistan collapsed after the mid of 2009. A first supposition related to this drop deals with the correlation between mounting casualties and the fall of public approval. The issue of casualty intolerance has been repeatedly used in the literature to explain the loss of popularity of military operations. Other possible interpretations are related to the traditional approaches in public opinion literature that focus on the impact of the “fatigue” towards a protracted conflict, the scarce policy success of the mission or the dramatic changes of aims and conditions of the intervention. Then the paper compares the above-mentioned views with the “strategic narrative assumption”. According to such perspective, the type of (ineffective) narrative adopted by the Italian governmental actors plays a prominent role in understanding of the decline of support in 2009. Has the disproportionate gap between the storyline, based on the traditional values of peace and multilateralism, and the war-torn reality on the ground, affected the level of public approval? Or have the ways through which narratives were built in 2009 played a more important role?

The preliminary findings of this study confirm the relevance of strategic narratives to interpret the attitudes of public opinion. No significant correspondence between casualties and support emerge, while the results reveal that the ineffective and inconsistent way in which a well-established and shared strategic narrative (centred on peace and multilateralism) has been modified is the key variable for understanding the collapse of public approval. The strategic narrative crafted by governmental actors after 2008, which aimed at explaining the change of approach on the ground, has proven unsuccessful. This failure can be weighed against the main features of a “strong narrative”, such as those identified by Ringsmose and Børgesen: the strategic narrative of the Italian government showed lack of clarity, incoherence, inconsistency, and inability to prepare the public for dramatic events.

The paper, which relies extensively on empirical data such as polls and interviews, illustrates that cultural variables were crucial in order to understand Italian military operations abroad. A shared strategic culture based on the frames of multilateralism and peace remains embedded in Italian public opinion. Without a coherent and appropriate (alternative) strategic narrative, the attempt to shift from traditional conceptual references, even when the context of the intervention requires adopting new frameworks, is doomed to fail. This is exactly what happened in the case of ISAF.

Here below the abstract:

Factors as culture, values, and symbols are crucial to understand the evolution of the Italian foreign and defense policy. However, scholars’ attention to such variables in the study of Italian defense policies still leaves many gaps. Since the end of the Cold War, Italian troops have been constantly engaged in military operations abroad spreading a “peacekeeper image” of Italy in the international arena. The goal of this work is to investigate the features and the evolution of the main strategic narratives adopted by political leaders to interpret the Italian military involvement in Afghanistan. How have politicians crafted strategic narratives on the Afghan mission? How have these story lines influenced public opinion during the conflict? Has the disproportionate gap between the storyline, based on the traditional values of peace and multilateralism, and the war-torn reality on the ground, affected the level of public approval? Or have the ways in which narratives were built in 2009 played a more significant role? In order to answer these questions, this paper relies on polls, content analysis of parliamentary debates, and public discourse analysis (2001–2011).

If you are interested in strategic narratives look also at here, here, here, and (in Italian) here.


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