Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Tag: Ph.D

The Regional Battleground

About a year has passed since my Ph.D. defence and here comes the first publication out of the dissertation: The Regional Battleground: Partisanship as a Key Driver of the Subnational Contestation of Citizenship has been published on Ethnopolitics as part of a project on Where Borders Migrate: The Rescaling of Territory and Citizenship in Europe. The other contributions to this project were written by Jean-Thomas Arrighi, Dejan Stjepanovic, Stephen Tierney, Rainer Bauböck, Julija Sardelic, Maja Spanu, Gezim Krasniqi, and Michael Keating.

The article is the result of four years of research at the European University Institute and an extra spell of one year at the nccr – on the move. It challenges the idea that territorial rescaling invariably leads to a race to the bottom in the provision of rights for vulnerable subjects. I already presented some ideas that are in it during the three-minute speech you can watch below.


The article is available online through this link. If you do not belong to an academic institution, you can use this special link that gives access to fifty copies for free.

Who cares?

On June 29 I presented my Ph.D. thesis in 180 seconds as part of our nccr – on the move event entitled The Migratory Realities of Switzerland in 180 Seconds.

You can also watch the other presentations following this link on our nccr – on the move website.

Firenze a giugno

11 April

Important announcement: on 11 April 2018 I became a doctor in Political and Social Sciences (tutto vero). Erik and Monika took some pictures upon the occasion and then we all headed to the phenomenal Blu Bar in Fiesole to celebrate.

Lorenzo Piccoli - thesis.png


2018: resolutions

Go ski touring in Switzerland. Finish the Ph.D. in style. Improve my French. Memorise twelve poems: one per month. Cook. Read one, big classic of Russian literature. Reunite Dani, Jonas and Tosan. Collect whiskey and photography books. Go sailing. Avoid developing an addiction for the pipe. Continue fencing and playing tennis. Race with the bike. Drink alcohol with Anna, visit Tirana. Hike with my parents, with Giallu, with Nicco. Travel outside Europe, meet Thomas. Spend some days with the Canadians, possibly in Istanbul. Get married. Nervous laugh: I was kidding on that last one.


Having finally submitted my Ph.D. dissertation, it is time I write the acknowledgments. When looking for inspirations in other manuscripts and books, I found several good ideas. In the end, I narrowed down my selection to four.

First, Nelson Demille’s Wild Fire, which starts like this. There is a new trend among authors to thank every famous people for inspiration, non-existent assistance, and/or some casual reference to the author’s work. Authors do this to pump themselves up. So, on the off chance that this is helpful, I wish to thank the following people: the Emperor of Japan and the Queen of England for promoting literacy; William S. Cohen, former secretary of defense, for dropping me a note saying he liked my books, as did his boss, Bill Clinton; Bruce Willis, who called me one day and said, “Hey, you’re a good writer”; Albert Einstein, who inspired me to write about nuclear weapons; General George Armstrong Custer, whose brashness at the Little Bighorn taught me a lesson on judgement; Mikhail Gorbachev, whose courageous actions indirectly led to my books being translated into Russian; Don DeLillo and Joan Didion, whose books are always before and after mine on bookshelves, and whose names always appear before and after mine in almanacs and many lists of American writers—thanks for being there, guys; Julius Caesar, for showing the world that illiterate barbarians can be beaten; Paris Hilton, whose family hotel chain carries my books in their gift shops; and last but not least, Albert II, King of the Belgians, who once waved to me in Brussels as the Royal Procession moved from the Palace to the Parliament Building, screwing up traffic for half an hour, thereby forcing me to kill time by thinking of a great plot to dethrone the King of the Belgians. There are many more people I could thank, but time, space, and modesty compel me to stop here.”

Second, mathematician Par Wilfrid Hodges begins his work on Model Theory explaining that if the book is not a success, I dedicate it to the burglars in Boulder, Colorado, who broke into our house and stole a television, two typewriters, my wife Helen’s engagement ring and several pieces of cheese, somewhere about a third of the way through Chapter 8.

Third, Brendan Pietsch, now assistant professor of religious studies at Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan, started his thesis with the following: “I blame all of you. Writing this book has been an exercise in sustained suffering. The casual reader may, perhaps, exempt herself from excessive guilt, but for those of you who have played the larger role in prolonging my agonies with your encouragement and support, well…you know who you are, and you owe me.” 

Fourth, in one of his latest books evolutionary biologist Leigh Van Valen  acknowledged “the National Science Foundation for regularly rejecting my (honest) grant applications for work on real organisms, thus forcing me into theoretical work.

Make your pick.

2016: resolutions

Take up cooking again. Talk to strangers, make new friends. Keep reading books; and maybe read some poems too. Distill and trade. Spend time with Camilla and Isabella. Volunteer, much. Start and finish a Gran Fondo. Teach one more university seminar. Write three chapters for my Ph.D. dissertation. Become part of something – NGOs? cycling clubs? freemasonry? Hike with Manuel, Mindo, and Giallu. Learn something new – something practical, possibly. Try to read and practice the spiritual exercises of Ignatius. Drink whiskey with Martin and Niels. Travel outside Europe. Meet the Canadians: Iris, Joe, Jasper. Write Thomas. Avoid weddings – except Nele’s. Be present. Make a plan for life. Visit Aosta.


My PhD dissertation is growing increasingly cervellotic and I find it very hard to explain people what I am actually working on. Which brings me to a great truth by the eternal Bill Watterson.

calvin - complicated

17/2 edit: I am re-reading a nicely written paper by Jan Erk to lift my morale up. If you are also a Ph.D. student, you might want to have a look.

The growing tendency towards academic specialisation together with increasingly insistent expectations of competent research designs and clear empirical evidence are the motors of scientific growth. But the downside of high academic expectations is that Ph.D. candidates tend to avoid big and difficult questions and instead seek safety in narrow and focused empirical puzzles. Supervisors themselves encourage such research questions that – admittedly – form an important part of graduate training. One should know the debates in the literature and have something new to add to these debates, but what matters at the end of the day is whether you can reasonably demonstrate that your idea is supported by empirical evidence. This naturally requires a narrow and focused empirical puzzle, and most doctoral theses follow this pattern. This should not prevent one from exploring big questions however. As the old Latin dictum goes: ‘sailing on the high seas, however risky, is necessary’ (navigare necesse est). If people with Ph.D.s in political science cannot deal with big and difficult political questions who can?

2015: resolutions

Go ski touring. Keep playing tennis. Start beating Fabio, Giallu, and Martijn at tennis. Write three good chapters for the Ph.D. dissertation. Publish one paper I can be proud of. Teach in high schools. Enjoy Florence with Thomoose. Buy a typewriter and use it to write letters. Spend time with Camilla in London. Bring the Ladybirds to the Coppa Pavone. Keep reading The Economist. Read all of the seven 1000-page classics of the literature books I bough last month -just kidding. But seriously: read at least three of them. Take the Dolomiti del Brenta Tour with Manuel, Mindo, Dani, Giallu and sleep under a sky full of stairs. Visit Prague, Beirut, and Jerusalem. Work and volunteer in Israel. Volunteer abroad with Legambiente, anyway. Run half a marathon in less than 1h45′. Spend my fifth new year’s eve with the Canadians. Keep writing. Also on the blog.

Solitary endeavors

When I first decided to start a PhD many graduate students warned me of the sadness of a life of lonely research. Doctoral students are often thought to be left alone in a somehow depressing menage a trois with their thesis and their supervisor. This is certainly the image you get if you ever read PhD comics. The doctorate, many people think, is a very lonely activity.

This was never my case. In fact the kind of environment I found in Fiesole is nothing like that. As our Head of Department told us upon our arrival last year, research is a very social endeavor. True that: academic ideas are rarely the result of one’s own thinking; what really inspires them, what helps your thinking to evolve and to become more coherent is the result of interaction and engagement with other people’s thought. So you can understand why Mariana sent me this quote from Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition:

“(…) under the sky of ideas the philosopher not only finds the true essence of everything that is, but also himself, in the dialogue between “me and myself” (…). To be in solitude means to be with one’s self, and thinking, though it may be the most solitary of all activities, is never altogether without a partner and without company.”​

This is what I like about being here. Working in the same rooms with my fellows, going out for lunch with them, spending hours talking about our ideas and projects in front of a coffee: being here is generally about being in good company. And yes, I suppose it is this kind of interaction that makes my research a joyful activity. This, and the mutual agreement never to talk about our research and our own work when we go out in the evening. Because every now and then we really don’t mind too much beclouding our sky of ideas with the earthly pleasures of the flesh.