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GSSI Social Sciences Research

Director of Social Sciences: Prof. Alessandra Faggian

GSSI Social Sciences is engaged with a variety of research themes based on cross-disciplinary collaboration and policy-oriented perspectives. The research group is currently developing the following research tracks:

  • Regional resilience in peripheral areas: a transdisciplinary perspective
  • Contemporary migrations in European cities and regions
  • The illegal, the illicit and the informal in urban development and governance
  • Knowledge mobilisation for learning regions
  • The development of inner areas in Italy

Regional resilience in peripheral areas 

Coordinator: Giulia Urso (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Scientific reflection on local and regional development has recently broadened to encompass what increasingly appeared to be a missing puzzle tile within the analytical framework: the issue of resilience of territorial systems in responding to a diverse array of external shocks. Seeking to understand the factors affecting the ability of a place to react to a more or less unexpected change inevitably begs questions about what influences the endogenous development of a region and, thus, the formulation of policy and governance structures that can enable and facilitate change.

From an evolutionary perspective, resilience is conceptualized not just as the ability of a region to accommodate shocks, but extends it to its long-term capacity to reconfigure its socio-economic structure. One of the most intriguing questions is then why some places manage to renew themselves, whereas others remain locked in decline.

This approach is particularly relevant when dealing with peripheral areas, that experience in most cases either a functional, cognitive or political lock-in. 

This research project aims at focusing on inner areas hit by natural hazards. Such places have faced prolonged challenges involving long-term processes, punctuated by shocks that have accelerated and/or inflected their development trajectories. Both types of disturbances found in literature are at stake at the same time: “slow burns” - or “slow moving challenges” (e.g. marginalization, deindustrialization, depopulation), that tend to be corrosive of regional adaptability capacity, and exogenous “shocks” due to a natural disaster. The search for new paths to resilience of these regions is an intriguing research topic, from a transdisciplinary and also a policy-oriented perspective. 

The ultimate objective of the project is building knowledge in a broad range of fields of study providing insights on the diversity and variety of this multifaceted process, by addressing questions of what kind of resilience these areas can cultivate and by investigating the role played by institutions in it.

Contemporary migrations in European cities and regions

Coordinators: Francesco Chiodelli (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) and Maria Giulia Pezzi (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Migration has long been a structural element of urban and regional development of many European countries; however, during the last years, the phenomenon increased its magnitude and took on different, new features. Therefore, the study of contemporary migratory fluxes and patterns in Europe poses the problem of considering new issues and perspectives from a number of points of view, both in relations to the adopted theoretical frameworks and analytic tools, as well as in relation to policies. The research line “Contemporary migrations in European cities and regions” aims at investigating these multifaceted phenomena in diverse geographical contexts. Pivotal to the study of contemporary migration patterns and trajectories in Europe is the adoption of a trans-disciplinary perspective, relying on both quantitative and qualitative methods, on the contributions from fields such as planning, geography, anthropology, sociology, policy studies, regional science and economics. Research carried out at Gran Sasso Science Institute focuses on, but is not limited to, the following topics: the impact of migration on local economies in the Italian peripheral areas; patterns of movement and settlement of refugees, their impact on hosting areas and integration policies; migrants’ segregation in metropolitan areas; national and local policies dealing with the increasing ethnic and religious diversity linked to migration flows; consequences of growing religious diversity on the urban environment, and the complex problems of spatial regulation that it engenders.

The illegal, the illicit and the informal in urban development and governance

Coordinator: Francesco Chiodelli (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

It has long been recognised that a range of illicit, illegal and informal actors and acts have been – and continue to be – part of the processes and institutions of urban governance and development across a diverse, international terrain.  The roles that these “grey” and “dark” acts and activities have played in urban development and governance are extremely diverse, but, in many cases, they are crucial. Despite this, research on these issues has been unsystematic and quite selective. In fact, those contributions that have emerged have tended to be very restricted in their disciplinary range and to focus mainly on specific aspects of these phenomena. For instance, urban informality in cities of the so-called Global South has been largely investigated; on the contrary, despite their long-standing existence and their quantitative relevance, illicit, illegal and informal activities in the “Global North” are still poorly explored. Consider also the fact that the inquiries that pivot specifically on the problems of corruption and organized crime in the domain of urban planning are a handful.

The research line “The illegal, the illicit and the informal in urban development and governance” reasons on these phenomena with a triple focus on their features, causes and policy responses, seeking to open up a multidisciplinary perspective which critically interrogates both empirical and theoretical material. 

The research investigate these issues with reference to a variety of different geographical contexts, including, but not limited to, places traditionally considered to be associated with extensive illicit/illegal/informal activities such as some areas in the Mediterranean basin and in so-called Global South. The ultimate aim is to build up an overall, comparative theoretical perspective, grounded in empirical evidence, which would be able to grasp differences, similarities and development trajectories of these phenomena across the globe.

Knowledge mobilisation for learning regions

Coordinator: Cecilia Pasquinelli (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

One of the core competencies of the GSSI Social Sciences research group is the role of knowledge in fostering local and regional development, with special attention for peripheral regions. Knowledge production, absorption and utilisation are central to value creation in local and regional economies. However, most of the dynamics of these processes are yet to be fully understood, especially outside of global knowledge hubs. In smaller cities and non-urban contexts, knowledge can play a vital role in releasing and exploiting local untapped potential, contributing to local wellbeing and leading to paths of economic prosperity. 

Within the general theme of knowledge in peripheral regions, our group is developing a research agenda which comprises topics such as smart specialization and policy agendas on regional innovation; knowledge flows including migration of highly-skilled individuals; knowledge flows, institutions and governance in low-tech systems; local entrepreneurship and innovation.


The development of inner areas in Italy

This is a biennial research project stemming from an agreement between GSSI and the Technical Committee “Inner Areas”.
Within the framework of the “National Reform Plan” – and against the background of the 2014-2020 Cohesion Policy – the Italian Government has launched the “National Strategy for Inner Areas” in 2012.
According to the definition adopted, “Inner Areas” cover a vast part of the Italian territory hosting a population of more than 13.540 millions. Around one quarter of Italy’s population lives in these areas, divided among more than four thousand municipalities, which cover sixty per cent of the entire national territory. This territory possesses a “territorial capital” of exceptional value and diversity but which is largely unused as a consequence of the long-term demographic decline that began in the 1950s when Italy started its industrial take-off. The Strategy adopted by Italy – now in its experimental phase – has the overall objective of promoting local development by activating unused territorial capital through carefully selected development projects. Improving the quality and quantity of the key welfare services (education, health, transport) in the inner areas is a central pillar of that strategy. By means of an initial screening of the national territory, 20 areas have been selected to enter the pilot phase of the strategy, which will end in 2020; and many of them are already drawing up the preliminary drafts of their local strategy, which include an analysis of the resources already available in each area and the possible actions which could be successfully applied to foster a long-period development.
Discussing the Italian strategy for inner areas provides an intriguing starting point for broader reflection on European inner (or peripheral) areas and their development trajectories, which addresses some crucial issues in the regional studies debate.
In recent decades Europe’s peripheral areas have had to address the challenge of re-inventing themselves and to undertake the task of finding their place in a more globalized and interconnected world. A number of new opportunities have been furnished by increased mobility and the greater importance acquired by information and communication technologies, which have resulted in different perceptions of how development policies are interpreted and designed.
The development strategies of peripheral areas in Europe often address social, political and cultural priorities, i.e. reversing the depopulation and marginalisation of these areas, by relying mainly on two key economic policy assets: improving essential services and triggering local development processes. These areas, in fact, have distinctive features. Firstly, they are fragile areas from a socio-demographic point of view because of population ageing. Secondly, they are unstable from an environmental (physical, eco-systemic) point of view as a consequence of insufficient maintenance of their semi-natural capital (human landscapes). Lastly, and more importantly, these are areas in which a significant part of the territorial capital is underexploited or unused. These three characteristics have a crucial social, economic and environmental importance at both a national and local level. Relying on relevant case studies which can help shed light on development policies in peripheral areas, the research project focuses on the following topics from a policy-oriented, trans-disciplinary perspective:
- the urban/rural dichotomy and urban/rural interactions;
- future development trajectories of remote mountainous, rural areas;
- theoretical and practical approaches to the concept of peripherality;
- the polycentric urban region and polycentric development policies;
- the endogenous dynamics of local systems and the effects of policies on them;
- welfare, social policies and access to essential services;
- mobility and accessibility in peripheral areas;
- culture, tourism and destination marketing in marginal territorial contexts;
- the language of policy-making.