Since its beginnings, the Political and Economic Self-Constitution seminar dealt with very relevant topics for modern society. Starting in Ukraine and moving across Europe, the numerous editions of the Seminar are a testimony of how the attention to differences, the willingness to be present in the territory, the openness to different cultures and points of view are the key factor for starting and carrying on a discussion on topics that are extremely sensitive.
Actually, today, Politics and Economics might be the most sensitive topics to be discussed, those on which our future is shaped. And the identity related with them is essential as well, because the decisions are taken not by a very narrow elite, with its own – generally transnational – identity, but with the participation of large masses, which are influenced by many different factors that rarely had a great weight in shaping history.
Many things have changed in these years, since the first edition of the seminar, and the polarization in political opinions became more and more a visible reality. Without discussing anybody’s agreement or disagreement with certain opinions, movements or politicians that found great success in recent years, the centrifugal connotation of politics, identities, actions have been a key aspect of the recent evolution of public life, at least in the so-called western countries.
Polarization is the first step toward conflict, division obstacles contact which (being mostly psychologists we love to mention Allport’s theories) reduces prejudice, different ideas become the relevant traits for self-definition and for identifying the “others”. The race toward the extremes ran by leaders eager to convince voters more and more lost, frightened, confused, is a potentially dangerous game: history showed us many occasions in which it began, and – in a way or another – it never ended up well unless it stopped somewhat in the beginning.
And so, in a turbulent time, we find each other once again discussing psychology, sociology, anthropology, politics and economics. We do it in Padova, one of the cradles of modern science and thinking. Padova is the city of one of the most ancient universities in the world, where Galileus thought and Copernicus studied, where the scientific method was perfected and where Elena Cornaro Piscopia received her degree, the first in history for a woman, where medicine made great progresses and where the first faculty of psychology in Italy was founded. And yet, a location with such an history doesn’t feel like a protected crib, a place in which every discussion is easy and has an immediate impact outside, a place where the turmoil is left outside: it feels more like a memento of what used to be and today is at stake.
We find each other discussing, for the first time, the role of media. They have always been a powerful tool for influencing thoughts and identity, and they have been always recognized as such. But their role was mostly associated with the possibility of elites to influence the masses, of creating shared thinking and identity. Now it is much more complex: the sources of information are virtually endless, the feeling of protagonism of every player – no matter how small – tends to unprecedented heights, the subtlety of influence mechanisms and actions makes them almost impossible to spot.
We are in a period of revolution, in which it is difficult to know who to trust, in which national identities go beyond nations and in which migrations are a strongly perceived. A period in which the dark parts of our reality can be constantly showed on people’s phones making them feel like they are preponderant, in which ethnical fractionalization impacts economies, in which ideology is related with violence. Media have a huge impact and we are not afraid of talking about it, maybe settling on some more “comfortable” topics. In this scenario, there is still a light.
The very fact that we can talk and we want to talk about these topics – they are all contents of the seminar – is what can make us hope for a better world. Furthermore, along with all the aforementioned issues, we discuss creativity, how to help gifted children, curiosity, health, well-being. Media, complexity, interconnections are not necessarily evil or scary, they can be an opportunity. There is more room for improvement and development today that in any time of human history and we must play a part in connecting people and creating a shared culture and identity oriented toward a better life for everyone.
Our duty as scientists and professionals is keeping live the flame of discussing and studying. And we must learn from the past: we have to bring the discussion in and out of the academy, talk to stakeholders and people. One more thing we have to learn from the past is to listen: too many times in history the cultured elites tended to devalue common people’s thought as less valuable than theirs. Today every perception counts, every emotion counts, every idea counts. Everybody’s perceptions, emotions and ideas enter the media and contribute to influence others, they become part of a new culture, and the contributions we can give to a better culture will be lost if they are not shared by many people. The future passes through the media, it’s our future. We must be ready to play our part, and we are.
Introduction to VII international seminar: “Political and economic self-constitution: Media, citizenship activity and political polarization”which took place in CISES s.r.l. & PSIOP on June 10th, 2019 in Padua, Italy.