Science, Technology and International Relations (STERI): A truly multidisciplinary approach to the study of global affairs
As part of the Strategic Plan of the University of Trento, the School of International Studies (SIS) has launched a new initiative aimed at expanding its multidisciplinary approach to the study of international affairs so as to include natural and hard sciences. The ultimate goal of this initiative is to promote dialogue and systematic collaboration between SIS social sciences faculty with colleagues from natural and hard sciences departments in order to understand the complex relationship between technology, science, and global affairs. This authentically-multidisciplinary collaboration will be carried out through a series of activities, particularly by way of training and teaching, scientific dissemination, and research.
The nexus between science/technology and society
The STERI project originates from the cognizance that in the complex and globalized contemporary world, the increasingly close relationship between scientific-technological and social knowledge requires greater and deeper integration between academic fields that can no longer remain distinct and impermeable to mutual cooperation. The pervasive use of technologies in today’s societies requires increasing attention toward such issues as scientific knowledge, technology production and control, and research and development. At the same time, political-social, cultural, and economic dynamics have a profound impact on the development of knowledge and scientific progress as well as its technological applications.
The nexus between science and society is particularly stringent in the context of international affairs, here considered from multiple dimensions, including social, political, legal, economic and security. It is difficult to imagine any international or global issue that is not deeply permeated and connected to some scientific and technological aspect, be it in the form of a material artifact, a technological system or infrastructure, or a scientific practice. Technology is increasingly playing a fundamental role as a powerful force in the transformation of global society and of the relationships between its main players, be they state or private/non-state actors (NSAs). At the same time, technology is not an autonomous element of change, but rather social, political, institutional, economic, and organizational factors interact with those of a technological nature in the transformation of the international system.
Integrating knowledge and promoting dialogue
In this context, SIS aspires to become the University of Trento’s hub – or focal point – for the promotion of dialogue and collaboration between social and natural scientists who share an interest in the study and understanding of those important and crucial issues in which the link between science, technology, and the international dimension of political, social. and economic phenomena is more stringent.
The Departments of natural sciences currently involved in SIS’s STERI project include: Physics, Computer Science, and Engineering. Some external partners contribute to the initiative, including the Center for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Bruno Kessler Foundation (FBK), International Politics Laboratori (IPLab), Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), PUGWASH Conferences on Science and World Affairs, International School on Disarmament and Research on Conflicts (ISODARCO).
The STERI project carries out a series of activities in the field of training and teaching, and dissemination and research.
Paolo Foradori, Stefano Schiavo
Teaching and training
Innovative and multidisciplinary course on “Science, Technology and Global Affairs” (Master-level)
Since the 2018/19 academic year, an innovative course on “Science, Technology and Global Affairs” is active within the Master of European and International Studies (MEIS) at SIS. The course explores the ever-closer nexus between technological innovation and global affairs with its enormous opportunities for human progress as well as serious challenges for world peace, stability, and prosperity. The course looks at technology as a source of power and discusses how technological change deeply affects international relations. Particular attention is devoted to the evolution of military technologies and their impact on power distribution in the international system.
In a truly multidisciplinary fashion, that combines scientific and technical aspects with those related to the security, political, and economic dimensions, the course addresses the main issues surrounding four key sectors where the interaction between technological innovation and global affairs is particularly intense and relevant in the current international scenario: nuclear non-proliferation, climate change, cyber-security, and space.
The course, suitable both for students of international studies and for students with backgrounds in science, was taught in 2018/19 by SIS Prof. Paolo Foradori, in collaboration with scientists from the Departments of Physics (Ignazio Lazzizzera and Giuseppina Orlandini), Civil and Environmental Engineering (Dino Zardi) and Mathematics (Massimiliano Sala) of the University of Trento. In the a.y. 2019/2020, the course will be led by Dr. Georgios Glouftsios and will involve again many scholars in hard and natural sciences.
ISODARCO Winter School on Non-Proliferation and Disarmament
The SIS participated in the organization and financially contributed to the 57th ISODARCO Winter School on “The Past and Future of Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament” that took place in a residential form in Andalo (TN) on January 6-13, 2019. The School addressed the danger of the erosion of the current arms control and non-proliferation regime in the face of new security threats, the deterioration of relations between nuclear powers, and above all, extraordinary technological and scientific advances and innovation.
Approximately 100 participants, including 10 students from SIS, from more than 15 different countries, attended the Winter School, which was directed by Steven Miller (Belfer Center, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA) and Francesca Giovannini (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Cambridge, MA, USA). The teaching staff consisted of some of the most authoritative scholars and practitioners in the field of arms control.
The full program and teaching staff is available at: http://www.isodarco.it/courses/andalo19/andalo19.html
Scientific dissemination and public conferences
Annual Conferences of the Italian Standing Group on International Relations (SGRI)
The SIS, through the STERI project, co-organises and co-sponsores, in partnership with IP Lab, FBK and the University of Bologna, the 2018, 2019, and 2020 annual Conference of the Italian Standing Group on International Relations (SGRI). SGRI is a two-day session that brings together scholars, researchers, and PhD students from Italian and European academia, to discuss issues related to global politics, European studies, foreign policy, regional dynamics, and theory.
These three editions focus on the nexus between technological innovation and global affairs. The 2018 Conference addressed relevant topics under the title: “The Brave New World of IR? Technological Changes, Geopolitical Shifts and the Challenge to Mainstream Approaches” (Bologna, October 12-13, 2018). The event program is available at: https://iplab.fbk.eu/sites/cerpic.fbk.eu/files/programma_sgri.pdf
The 2019 Conference on “Global Politics in the Era of Disruptive Technologies” will be held in Trento from June 13-15 and will discuss the impact of technology on international politics. If the pervasive use of technology requires a better understanding of global political dynamics, geopolitical transformations render the task of understanding the interactions between political and social change and technological progress ever more pressing for International Relations. 12 of the 18 panels address issues strictly related to the nexus between science/technology and international relations, including cybersecurity, weapons of mass destruction, artificial intellingence, space and satellites, bioinformatics, climate change, border security and technology, digitalisation, and warfare. Paolo Foradori and Georgios Glouftsios of SIS are members of the Organizing Committee. The following SIS members will speak at the conference: Antonino Alì, Anna Casaglia, Paolo Foradori, Georgios Glouftsios, and Stefano Schiavo.
The event program is available at: https://iplab.fbk.eu/sgri
1. Technological Politics and European Security
Situated at the intersections of Critical Security Studies (CSS) and Science and Technology Studies (STS), this Work Package explores the complex interrelatedness and feedback loops between, on the one hand, techno-scientific innovations and, on the other hand, transnational security dynamics, especially in Europe. Leading scholar: Georgios Glouftsios
Research Task 1: The Digitisation of Border Security, Law Enforcement, and Migration Management in the EU.
This RT interrogates the security, policy, legal and technoscientific considerations translated into the design specifications of IT systems and biometric databases that are deployed for border security, law enforcement and migration management purposes in the European Union (EU). It also investigates how such systems mediate the work of security professionals (e.g. border guards, police) who seek to identify suspicious individuals travelling to the EU and proactively address the risks that they may embody.
Research Task 2: Security, Circulation and Machinic Vision
This RT focuses on technological artefacts and infrastructures that are used to render border zones visible and controllable. It does so, by exploring the maritime surveillance services provided by the EU's Copernicus Space Programme, as well as the European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR). The goal is to reveal the ways that technologically mediated vision shapes the management of trans-boundary circulations, including both circulations related to threatening phenomena, such as organised crime, smuggling and trafficking, as well as irregular migration.
2. Combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction
This research analyses the threat of weapons of mass destruction, understood as the whole of chemical, biological, nuclear and cyber weapons. The project focuses on the acceleration of scientific-technological developments as direct threat to, but also as an important opportunity for, the international non-proliferation and arms control regime that seeks to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction and disruption. Leading scholar: Paolo Foradori
3. Climate change and food security
A further line of research looks at the relationship between climate change and food security at a global level. The broad research question is whether international trade in agricultural and food products can help mitigate the adverse effects of climate change. Researchers at SIS study how trade affects the availability of key macronutrients in low-income countries, looking at the amount of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids embedded in export and import flows. Moreover, they investigate the diffusion of shocks along global trade networks, thus addressing the potential vulnerability of a global food system. Leading scholar: Stefano Schiavo.
Journal Articles and Book Chapters
- Traverso, Silvio; Schiavo, Stefano, "Fair trade or trade fair? International food trade and cross-border macronutrient flows" in WORLD DEVELOPMENT, v. 132, (2020). - DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2020.104976.
- Glouftsios, G. 2020. "Governing Border Security Infrastructures: Maintaining Large-Scale Information Systems." (Forthcoming in) Security Dialogue.
- Glouftsios, G. and Scheel, S. 2020. "An Inquiry into the Digitisation of Border and Migration Management: Performativity, Contestation and Heterogeneous Engineering". Third World Quarterly. doi: 10.1080/01436597.2020.1807929.
- Glouftsios, G. 2019. "Designing Digital Borders: The Visa Information System (VIS)". In Hoijtink, M. and Leese, M. (eds) Technology and Agency in International Relations. London and New York: Routledge.
- Glouftsios, G. 2018. "Governing Circulation through Technology within EU Border Security Practice-Networks." Mobilities 13(2): 185-199.
Other (Scientific Blogs, Media)
- Glouftsios, G. 2020. "In Heterotopic Times; (Im)mobility, Social-Distancing, and Surveillance." Centre on Migration Policy & Society, University of Oxford. Available online at: https://www.compas.ox.ac.uk/2020/in-heterotopic-times-immobility-social-...
- Glouftsios, G. 2020. “Covid-19, Come Seguire’ gli Spostamenti del Virus: La Digitalizzazione del Contact Tracing (Parte I). il Dolomiti – Orizzonti Internazionali. Available online at: https://www.ildolomiti.it/blog/orizzonti-internazionali/covid-19-come-se...
- Glouftsios, G. 2020. “Ecco Perché le App non Fermeranno la Diffusione del Covid: La Digitalizzazione del Contact Tracing (Parte II). il Dolomiti – Orizzonti Internazionali. Available online at: https://www.ildolomiti.it/blog/orizzonti-internazionali/ecco-perche-le-a...
Events Organised and Coordinated
- “Entanglements of Security and Technology". European International Studies Association Annual Convention (EISA), Sofia, Bulgaria, 11-14 September 2019. Conference panel session co-organised by Georgios Glouftsios (Unversity of Trento) and Matthias Leese (ETH Zurich).
- "Global Politics in the Era of Disruptive Technologies. New Scenarios in an Old World?". Annual Conference of the Italian Standing Group on International Relations. University of Trento, Italy, 13-15 June 2019. Conference co-organised by Paolo Foradori (University of Trento), Georgios Glouftsios (University of Trento), Emanuele Castelli, (University of Parma), Francesco N. Moro (University of Bologna), Silvia Tomaselli (University of Trento), and Moira Osti (Fondazione Bruno Kessler).
Selected Conference Presentations
- Glouftsios, G and Loukinas, P. 2020. “Satellites and Drones at EU Borders: Technology, Kinopolitics and the Governmentalisation of Vision”. Paper presented (online) at the European Workshops on International Studies (EWIS) annual meeting. 2 July 2020.
- Glouftsios, G. 2019. “Governing Security Machines”. Paper presented at the annual convention of the European International Studies Association (EISA). 11-14 September 2019, Sofia.
- Glouftsios, G. and Scheel, S. 2019. "An Inquiry into the Digitisation of Border and Migration Management: Heterogeneous Engineering, Performativity, and Contestation". Paper presented at Annual Conference of the Italian Standing Group on International Relations, University of Trento, School of International Studies, 13-15 June 2019.
- Bellanova, R. and Glouftsios, G. 2019. "Controlling Infrastructures: An Inquiry into the Socio-Technical Design of Security Databases". Paper presented at "Data Matters: Digital Technologies and the Politics of Bordering" workshop. ETH Zurich, Centre for Security Studies, 23-24 May 2019.