"Prosecco and Politics" - A New Series with Professor Michael Driessen

On March 22, 2021, Political Science Professor Michael Driessen hosted an inaugural “Prosecco & Politics” panel. The event is part of a new series of interactive conversations between alumni and professors for “informal but informative” discussions on global issues.

Sponsored by the Office of Alumni Affairs, the idea stemmed from the popularity of “Pizza and Politics,” a monthly lunch-time series dedicated to current JCU students. Following its success, Professor Driessen, who has helped manage the events, decided to give alumni a chance to reunite with professors for an enlightened conversation about pressing, contemporary political events.

Butuzova and Orsitto

Alumni Anna Butuzova and Davide Orsitto

Professor Driessen was joined by JCU alumni Anna Butuzova and Davide Orsitto, and Natalie Arrowsmith, the JCU Alumni Affairs coordinator. The topic of the first episode focused on new research measuring levels of polarization and communitarianism in Europe and the United States.

Alumni Anna Butuzova and Davide Orsitto
Professor Driessen introduced the two alumni. Anna Butuzova (Class of 2015) graduated from JCU with a major in International Affairs and minors in Business Administration, Psychology, and Italian Studies. After JCU, Anna earned a Master’s in Technology, Innovation, and Education at Harvard University. Davide Orsitto (Class of 2016) studied International Affairs, with a minor in Economics and Finance. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Human Rights and Global Politics at Scuola Universitaria Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa.

For this first episode of “Prosecco and Politics,” Davide shared the results of the studies he conducted with his Ph.D. advisor. Focusing on Italy and the U.S., Davide is studying shifts in public demand from individualism to a more equalitarian “revival of the community,” as he called it. For example, Davide described how Italians, in the first part of the 20-year span he analyzed in his research (1990-2010), expressed support for policies coded as closer to freedom than equality and prized individualism over community. In 2018 and 2019, there was a shift in public opinion where the public expressed more support for equality and pursued a stronger sense of solidarity. The U.S. also seems to have followed this trend. From the 1980s to the 1990s, the country could be described as more individualistic, but in recent times it has witnessed a resurgence of its sense of community.

Professor Michael Driessen

Professor Michael Driessen

Professor Driessen added that liberalism tends to produce individualism because of its emphasis on the individual’s rights and freedom, and that this has happened in cycles over the last 100 years in the U.S. Professor Driessen’s contribution asked the alumni to reflect on how the public consensus could shift to forms of cooperation and collective action, and how individualism might be linked to polarization. On this note, Professor Driessen also pointed out the role and paradox of religion within political history. On the one hand, political scientists think that religion can increase communitarianism and positive social interaction over time, but on the other hand, it can also augment polarization by building communities through an exclusive definition of “us versus them.” Anna Butuzova pointed out that supporters of communitarianism often chastize liberalism because of its focus on individual rights rather than the common good, family values, etc.

Covid-19 as an example of individualism vs holism
Davide also highlighted that the pandemic is an example of individualism versus holism. In the U.S., Trump had a stern individualistic approach towards the pandemic, because he wanted “individual freedom to prevail over lockdown measures,” as Davide said. In Italy, the response to the pandemic was different. Former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government was more in line with Joe Biden’s current political agenda. Conte sacrificed individual freedom to contain the virus with lockdowns and restrictions.

Professor Driessen added that the pandemic is creating political isolation. He also said that the anger shown during the U.S. elections can be interpreted in light of such isolation. In past elections, everyday social interactions were thought to mitigate the hardness of people’s political differences and thus soften polarization. The pandemic has eliminated this form of mediation and made the creation of cross-cutting cleavages that much more difficult.

Concluding the discussion, Professor Driessen asked alumni to reflect on how to recreate social interactions in this time of crisis. Natalie Arrowsmith announced the launch of “The Gladiator Network,” an alumni platform created specifically to bring the JCU community together and share content on the forum.