I am delighted to announce that I have been promoted to Professor of Political Communication at Loughborough University.
The forward-looking and time-pressured nature of academic life often means that we do not reflect much on our achievements—be they publications, grants, students making us proud, media coverage, contributions to societal change, or any other component of our mission as scholars. We just move on to the next goal and the next deadline, or at least that is how it has always worked for me. This time, however, feels different, and I want to share some reflections on how and why I think I got here.
When I was a kid, I wore thick glasses and I loved to read. I was lucky I could read pretty much all I wanted because my parents owned a newspaper shop. It was a small, dusty kiosk, too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter. I spent a lot of time there because both my parents worked round the clock to keep the shop open and fully stocked fourteen hours a day, six days a week, two Sundays a month. For most of my long summer holidays I played in the muddy patch behind the store, going back inside the kiosk to get a drink of water, ask my parents money for an ice cream, and snatch a comic book. As I grew older, I started helping my parents in the shop, and as kids do, I began dreaming of becoming a journalist to write in those newspapers people cared enough about to buy them every day. Inevitably, I shared my aspiration with anyone who would listen, and a regular customer started mocking me: “You are going to fill the papers with lies, and your parents are going to sell them!” (The post-truth crisis has deep historical roots in Italy.)
That small newspaper kiosk is where my fascination for media began. As time went by, our family business moved to a spacious store in a futuristic shopping mall and I moved from comics and sports magazines to newspapers and books. I also became more interested in television news than cartoons. There was a lot going on at the time, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Christian Democratic party-State in Italy, and I began to talk about it all with my parents. This is when my passion for politics was born, compounding my interest in media and communication.
If I have decided to dedicate my professional life to understanding political communication, it is because of those years I spent surrounded by all sorts of (print) media, and because of those long discussions about politics on my family home sofa. I owe all of this to my parents, and I am grateful to them for that. I am also grateful to them for showing, not just telling me, that working hard, persevering in the face of difficulties, and treating others with care and respect are keys to a happy, fulfilling life. Cara mamma, caro papà, grazie di cuore. Vi voglio bene.
A lot happened in the following two decades. I dropped my thick glasses for contact lenses that were as expensive as they were uncomfortable. I kept loving books, and I was fortunate enough to have as many as I wanted. I even published some of my own. I switched back to glasses. I spent time as a visiting student in the United States. I became a tenured academic in Italy. As the first person in my extended family to even go to University, I felt proud of the hard work I had done to get there and fortunate for the support of my parents, but I knew there was something else to it. One day, one of my favorite writers helped me realize what it was.
In the spring of 2013, I was sitting in the stands of the Academic Senate of the University of Bologna, of which I was then a member, attending the ceremony for the award of an honorary degree to the French novelist Daniel Pennac. In his lectio magistralis, Pennac argued that professors can act either as gardiens du temple, policing particular disciplinary, methodological, and stylistic boundaries, or as passeurs, striving to awaken consciousness and instill a sense of wonder for what is beautiful, novel, and important—regardless of where it comes from and irrespective of what canons it espouses or violates. Here is a video excerpt of Pennac’s speech, titled “A Lesson of Ignorance”, which he delivered in Italian. Here is the text of his speech in French. And here is a short essay Pennac wrote on the subject in French.
Pennac’s words resonated with me in a very special way, and they have stayed with me ever since. I realized that I was sitting on those stands because someone, one day, had listened to my ideas rather than telling me what to do, and then had helped me achieve what I envisioned rather than shrugging me off. And then someone else had done the same. And then another. And then many more. Finally, I knew, and I still know.
If I have been able to do the job of my dreams, and to do it well enough to be called a Professor, I owe it to the many generous passeur colleagues whom I had the good fortune to meet in my life—as an undergraduate and doctoral student in Italy, as an exchange student and a visiting scholar in the United States, as an early-career researcher in Italy, as a migrant academic in the United Kingdom, and as a member of various scholarly communities around the world. Thank you for your inspiration, your support and, in many cases, your friendship. You know who you are.