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Interview with Teresa Pullano

[Translate to English:] Ceremony celebrating the signing of the Treaty of Lisboa in 2007, Image: Archiwum Kancelarii Prezydenta RP, Wikimedia Commons

Prof. Dr. Teresa Pullano is an Assistant Professor at the Institute for European Global Studies. Previously, she has worked at Sciences Po Paris, at the Università degli Studi Roma Tre, at Columbia University, New York, and at the Université libre de Bruxelles. In this interview, she introduces her research and teaching emphases.

Welcome to the Institute for European Global Studies, Professor Pullano. What is your research focus and what courses do you teach at Basel University?

My main research focus is on Europe as a space of statehood restructuring. We tend to look at Europe, and to European integration, as a new construction with respect to modern, national states. The research I have conducted so far shows me instead that it is more fruitful to adopt the reverse approach: Europe is the result of transformations taking place at the level of nation states. Let’s take a look at the current Eurozone crisis: many intellectuals think that the euro is the problem, and that it would be better to return to more nationalized forms of economic governance. I think instead that the process of convergence and, at the same time, of divergence of the economies, as well as of the political spaces, of the European countries has been launched by the fact the provisional equilibrium found after the first and the second world war was just provisional, and that today we are facing forces of restructuring that involve the nation states at the continental level. Even if we dissolved the Eurozone, and even if we would step back on political integration, we would still have to face these processes of restructuring of national economies, societies and political arenas at the continental level. I therefore read Europe as a space of redefinition of the main features of modern statehood, such as territory, citizenship and political authority. Law, and in particular the interaction between national and European law, is one of the key techniques through which these changes take place. The new question I am now confronted with is which is the link between Europe as a space of statehood restructuring and the relations between Europe and non-European spaces: I look at genealogies and at present workings of transnational law and at the ways in which they restructure European statehood. The course I teach at the University of Basel cover contemporary citizenship studies, the transformation of statehood in Europe at present, how to interpret the effects of transnational law on our societies, the relationship between European integration and (post)colonial histories and movements and EU free movement and migration law.

Why are you interested in these topics?

I am interested in these topics for two reasons, one more empirical and the other more theoretical. From an empirical point of view, we are still far away from having an accurate description of the transformations of political institutions in Europe: often, we use the paradigm of globalization, but this is too general. We have no accurate description of the mechanisms, the reasons and the dynamics that contribute to the changes in the quality of the national political spaces that we are living at present. This is also why it is so difficult to make sense of the economic and political crisis that is going on in Europe at present. Also, for the specific reasons I explained previously, these changes are not limited to the European Union, but since they involve a much more deeper and long term restructuring of modern statehood, they are also visible in a country like Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU but is equally invested by dynamics of statehood restructuring. Indeed, the EU is one of the actors and of the levels within this process, but Europe is larger than the EU. If, as social scientists, we can provide some elements of evidence and analysis to make the current political situation more easily understandable, I think we have already accomplished something relevant.
The second reason of my interest in these topics is a theoretical one: in my research, I cross three disciplines, which are political science, law and philosophy. I am interested in the ways in which we continuously need to redefine our concepts when confronted with different political and legal landscapes. The tension between the conceptual grammar we inherit and the ways in which it is then deployed in the present political situation opens up a space for investigations in political philosophy. For example, this is what I tried to do with my book on European citizenship: how is political subjectivity redefined within the terrain of statehood transformations in current Europe? Can we deal with participating within a political community as we did fifty years ago? Which are the concepts that emerge from the current European landscape? Investigating the present allows us to see also new theoretical paradigms, and I am fascinated by that.

How does your research approach relate to European Global Studies?

My research approach relates to European Global Studies since, exploring processes of statehood restructuring in Europe, and more particularly looking at the relationship between citizenship and space, I understood that it is not possible to analyse Europe in isolation from the rest of the world. I will give two examples: recent research on EU integration shows that the project of political unification of the continent stemmed from the need to give a collective answer to processes of decolonization in Africa and in Asia. There are thus key historical links that deserve to be considered between the process of European integration and how Europe perceives its space as extending also to Africa. The second question is if and under which forms these links are still active today: are there new forms of post-colonial relations, for example transnational legal relations involving EU law and African international courts, that contribute also to reshaping European statehood? 

What do you like most about being an Assistant Professor in Basel?

First of all, I must say that I am very positively impressed by the students of the University of Basel and of our master program in European Global Studies: they participate actively in the discussions and follow the lectures with interest. Secondly, I appreciate the focus on interdisciplinary and international research. It is very stimulating to have the possibility of working on new research projects and trends. The working environment is very friendly and open, and the city is also very rich in cultural terms.

Thank you for the interview, Professor Pullano.