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Why Italy?

Throughout the centuries, Italy has nurtured the creation of new forms of art, social life and institutional arrangements. In this sense, Italy provides an ideal laboratory to research complex theoretical issues in both the humanities and the social sciences. If one considers recent developments in politics and how these are intertwined with issues concerning governance, society, the media and the state of democracies in contemporary societies, only a few countries in the world offer a degree of complexity similar to Italy. Analogously, Italy has always been a frontier country, which posits interesting issues concerning immigration (being at the centre of the Mediterranean), changes in family structures and the institutional ruling of society (with the presence of the Catholic Church as both promoter and inhibitor of social changes), creativity in art and design but also in business and science.

Today, the struggles Italy faces in dealing with constant changes to its social, political, cultural and economic fabric are paradigmatic of the difficulties all post-industrial and postmodern societies have finding new forms of order and civic co-existence. Italy thus represents an interesting locus because it can be used as a model for the study of a range of problematic issues that the social sciences and the humanities are currently trying to address on a world scale.

Why Oxford?

The issues described above are clearly interdisciplinary in nature and require attention and expertise from different academic areas and sectors of society. Two reasons make Oxford an ideal place for such a venture. Firstly, it is a collegiate university, where interdisciplinarity is the norm rather than the exception. The complex issues that have been outlined in brief above require an interdisciplinary approach and close collaboration amongst academics working in different disciplines. This is greatly facilitated in a university such as Oxford, where the colleges represent places where academics from various disciplines naturally meet and debate as colleagues. Furthermore, there are about sixty scholars across the University who already have Italy and Italian matters as active research interests. Oxford already hosts various regional studies Centres (as part of School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, for example, which takes in Japan, China, Brazil & Latin America, South Asia, Russia & East Europe, and the European Studies consortium, both of which ISO is part of) of international repute, which can constitute a model for ISO, and with which ISO can establish direct and indirect relationships for comparative studies.

Secondly, given its worldwide reputation, Oxford is able to occupy a central role in a network of relations which range from academia to other organizations, professions and institutions in the world outside. It is clear that the complex issues which characterize Italy and contemporary societies should be studied in collaboration with active, influential members of society such as politicians, businessmen and women, artists, journalists, and the like. Oxford has always been at the centre of these networks and there are only a few academic institutions which manage to attract competences from as many realms of society as Oxford has historically been able to do.