Search Results for: narrative

A new book on strategic narratives, peace movements, and Italy.

We are glad to announce that the new book of “our” Fabrizio Coticchia is finally out.

Here you’ll find more info (in Italian) on: “Al di là dell’Arcobaleno. I movimenti pacifisti italiani tra ideologie e contro-narrazioni strategiche”, with A. Catanzaro (Milano: Vita e Pensiero, 2018).

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“Narratives and counter-narratives: security issues and peace movements in Italy”

The programme of the 2016 SISP (Italian Political Science Association) annual convention has been published. The conference will be held in Milan (15-17 September 2016).

Here you’ll find all panels and papers.

Our Fabrizio Coticchia (University of Genoa) and Andrea Catanzaro (University of Genoa) will present a paper on strategic narratives, security issues and peace movements.

Here more details on the panel “Social Movements and Practices of Resistance in Times of Crisis”.

Here below the abstract of the paper:

Existing studies on strategic narratives have persuasively illustrated the features that make a plot compelling to shape public attitudes regarding military operations. A growing body of the literature has started to pay attention to the concept of “narrative dominance”, stressing the role played by counter-narratives in hindering a wider acceptance of a specific message. However, a limited consideration has been devoted to security issues other than military missions, while the key- features and the effectiveness of counter-narratives have seldom been assessed in a systematic way, especially for non-institutional actors such as “peace movements”. The paper aims at filling this gap, focusing on Italy. How and to what extent have counter-narratives successfully contested the official strategic narratives? What ideologies underlie them? To answer these questions, the research investigates the main contents, the theoretical backgrounds and the effectiveness of counter-narratives developed by national “peace movements” to contrast the “plot” designed by Italian governments to gain the support of public opinion towards selected post-2001 security issues: defense acquisitions, political reforms and missions abroad. The manuscript, which is based on interviews, discourse and content analysis, adopts a multidisciplinary approach, combining IR, political thought, communication and social movement studies.


See you soon in Milan.

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Book Talk: Strategic Narratives, Public Opinion and War

Today, 30 June 2015 at 3.30 pm, the NATO HQ (Luns Auditorium, Brussels) will host the presentation of the book: “Strategic Narratives, Public Opinion and War. Winning domestic support for the Afghan War“, edited by Beatrice de Graaf, George Dimitriu and Jens Ringsmose. The editors and three authors will illustrate the volume (unfortunately we have not been able to attend).

Here a description of the event.

The Former NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who wrote the preface, will introduce the event. 

Admiral James Stavridis, Supreme Allied Commander at NATO 2009-13 and Dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, has defined the volume as a must-read to understand 21st century conflict“. 

As stated in a previous post, the manuscript aims at providing a  comprehensive analysis on strategic narratives, adopting a comparative perspective to examine the case of the military operation in Afghanistan. The case of Italy has been investigated by Venus in Arms‘s Fabrizio Coticchia and Carolina De Simone, in the chapter: “The winter of our consent? Framing Italy’s ‘peace mission’ in Afghanistan”.

Here will find more details on the book.

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Effective strategic narratives? Italian public opinion and military operations in Iraq, Libya, and Lebanon

Oddly enough, in the new Italian White Paper there are no references to the concept of strategic narratives. On the contrary, many official documents and statements by decision makers have recently emphasized the role played by strategic narratives to enhance the perceived legitimacy of military operations.

Venus in Arms has already addressed the concept of “strategic narratives”, defined by Freedman as: “compelling storylines which can explain events convincingly and from which inferences can be drawn”

Today, we are pleased to present the new paper by Fabrizio Coticchia: “Effective strategic narratives? Italian public opinion and military operations in Iraq, Libya, and Lebanon” (here, gated). The paper has been published in the first issue of the new Italian Political Science Review/Rivista Italiana di Scienza PoliticaIPSR/RISP (now published by Cambridge University Press) provides three fully English-language issues per year. Here additional info on the Journal.

Here below the abstract of the paper:

Public attitudes are greatly shaped by the cohesiveness of the strategic narratives crafted by policy-makers in framing the national involvement in war. The literature has recently devoted growing attention toward the features that define successful strategic narratives, such as a consistent set of objectives, convincing cause–effect chains, as well as credible promises of success. This paper provides an original framework for ‘effective strategic narratives’ for the case of Italy. The military operations undertaken by Italian armed forces in Iraq, Lebanon, and Libya represent the cases through which the framework is assessed. Drawing on content and discourse analysis of political debates and data provided by public opinion surveys, this paper explores the nature of the strategic narratives and their effectiveness.

The author has already addressed the issue of narratives, public opinion and Italian military operations, locking at the case of Afghanistan (here)

The current paper presents two main implications.

First, strategic narratives should not be realistic, but rather compelling. A certain ambiguity of the storyline could be sometimes inevitable due to the gap between long-established values (such as peace or humanitarianism, which are very difficult to modify) and a risky military environment, where those beliefs may appears as extraneous. In these cases, an integrated communication strategy, aimed at preparing the public opinion and avoiding counter-productive rosy pictures, could be crucial to avoid a collapse of approval towards the intervention.

Second, as already tested by literature, casualty aversion per se does not determine the fall of public support. However, mounting insecurity on the ground requires greater flexibility of the narrative to adapt and transform. In this case, a negative narrative dominance (i.e., a more persuasive counter-narrative) could play a fundamental role in hindering the plot’s effectiveness.

ViA will provide additional posts in the near future regarding strategic narratives and other security issues (e.g., the F35). Stay tuned.


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“Strategic Narratives, Public Opinion, and War”

Venus in arms has already addressed the interesting topic of narratives and counter-narratives in previous posts (here on Afghanistan, here on the F-35).

Today we recommend a brand new book on narratives, just published for Routledge “Strategic Narratives, Public Opinion and War. Winning domestic support for the Afghan War” edited by Beatrice de Graaf, George Dimitriu and Jens Ringsmose.

The manuscript aims at providing a detailed and comprehensive analysis on strategic narratives, adopting a comparative perspective to examine the case of the military operation in Afghanistan. The preface is by the former Secretary General of NATO Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Several scholars have contributed to the book. Here you’ll find all the contents of and the authors (among many others: Lawrence Freedman, David Betz, Alister Miskimmon, Ben O’Loughlin, Laura Roselle, Tim Groeling and Matthew A. Baum)

Also the case of Italy has been analyzed, thanks to Venus in Arms‘s Fabrizio Coticchia and his chapter (with Carolina De Simone): “The winter of our consent? Framing Italy’s ‘peace mission’ in Afghanistan”. 

As illustrated in the website of the book:

This volume explores the way governments endeavoured to build and maintain public support for the war in Afghanistan, combining new insights on the effects of strategic narratives with an exhaustive series of case studies.  In contemporary wars, with public opinion impacting heavily on outcomes, strategic narratives provide a grid for interpreting the why, what and how of the conflict. This book asks how public support for the deployment of military troops to Afghanistan was garnered, sustained or lost in thirteen contributing nations. Public attitudes in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe towards the use of military force were greatly shaped by the cohesiveness and content of the strategic narratives employed by national policy-makers. Assessing the ability of countries to craft a successful strategic narrative, the book addresses the following key areas: 1) how governments employ strategic narratives to gain public support; 2) how strategic narratives develop during the course of the conflict; 3) how these narratives are disseminated, framed and perceived through various media outlets; 4) how domestic audiences respond to strategic narratives; 5) how this interplay is conditioned by both events on the ground, in Afghanistan, and by structural elements of the domestic political systems. This book will be of much interest to students of international intervention, foreign policy, political communication, international security, strategic studies and IR in general.

Finally, here below some reviews of the manuscript:

‘This volume is a must-read to understand 21st century conflict. In today’s supercharged world of social networks, instantaneous communications, and suddenly constructed narratives, national leaders must bring their publics along. The long, difficult, and still unfinished NATO campaign in Afghanistan offers many lessons — both good and bad – for how to approach to aspect of creating security in a highly complex world.’ — Admiral James Stavridis, Supreme Allied Commander at NATO 2009-13 and Dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, USA

‘How states explain their participation in conflict is not a passive reflection of a policy position, but actively shapes the scope of the conflict itself, and frames how actions are understood by the enemy, one’s own side, and other audiences. So strategic narrative matters. This admirable book, focused primarily on strategic narrative and domestic audiences, serves as a guide for policymakers and students of contemporary conflict.’ —Emile Simpson, Harvard University, USA

‘How do Western governments persuade their publics of the necessity for fighting “wars of choice”? This fascinating volume explores the importance and effectiveness of different national strategic narratives for the war in Afghanistan and, in so doing, explains why some Western states were more successful than others in sustaining public support for this long and costly war.’ — Theo Farrell, King’s College London, UK

Some events will be organized soon (also in Italy) to present the book. So, stay tuned.

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Italian public opinion and counter-narratives

As already described in a previous post, Venus in Arms will be at the next ASMI Conference (London, 21-22 November 2014). The Annual Conference of The Association for the Study of Modern Italy (ASMI) will be organized at the Italian Cultural Institute in London.

Here you’ll find the final programme of the event.

The title of the conference is: The Italian Crisis: Twenty years onIndeed, in 1994, the Association for the Student of Modern Italy organised a conference around the theme of the ‘Italian crisis’. As reported in the official website of the conference: “Silvio Berlusconi had just been elected as Prime Minister and the country was in dire economic straits. The political system was in tatters after the tangentopoli scandals. The crisis was analysed from a political, cultural, historical and social viewpoints in a conference which was extremely well attended and led to fascinating discussions after every paper. This year the call for papers was looking for original work on the history, culture, economics and politics of the last twenty years in Italy, as well as papers which take a comparative and transnational approach to the Italian crisis“.

Venus in Arms will present the paper: “An alternative view: Counter-narratives, Italian public opinion and security issues”. This is the abstract:

Recent studies have persuasively illustrated how the strategic narratives crafted by policy-makers shape public attitudes regarding military operations. Strategic narratives are conceived as crucial tools in order to convince the public in case of international conflicts. Consistent and compelling narratives enhance the perceived legitimacy of military operations. However, exogenous elements such as the presence of alternative counter-narratives play a considerable role in hindering a wider acceptance of the message. The goal of the paper is to investigate the main contents and the effectiveness of counter-narratives developed by political parties,“pacifist groups” and associations in order to contrast the “plot” designed by Italian governments to gain the support of public opinion towards relevant security issues (operation in Libya, F35, weapons sent to Iraq). What have been the key-elements of the counter-narratives? Why have some counter-narratives been more effective than others? Drawing on discourse analysis and interviews, the paper aims to answer these questions, examining how and to what extent the counter-narratives have successfully contested the official strategic narratives.

We promise a detailed account of the conference. See you there.

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The War That Wasn’t There? Italy’s “Peace Mission” in Afghanistan, Strategic Narratives and Public Opinion



By Fabrizio Coticchia

The military operation in Afghanistan is the most important mission undertaken by the Italian armed forces since the end of WWII. The public opinion supported the intervention until mid-2009. Then, the percentage of approval for the mission dropped considerably. In a paper that “Foreign Policy Analysis” has just released in early view (here gated) I’ve examined different perspectives in order to understand the drop of consensus that occurred in the Italian case.

The aim of the paper (co-authored with Carolina de Simone) is to investigate the features and evolution of the main strategic narratives adopted by political leaders to interpret the Italian military involvement in Afghanistan between 2011 and 2011. The research stems from the perspective suggested by Ringsmose and Børgesen on the key role of strategic narratives in the understanding of the variations in public opinion support towards military operations. The questions this study seeks to answer are: how have politicians crafted strategic narratives on the Afghan mission? How have these storylines influenced public opinion during the conflict?

The level of support towards the operation in Afghanistan collapsed after the mid of 2009. A first supposition related to this drop deals with the correlation between mounting casualties and the fall of public approval. The issue of casualty intolerance has been repeatedly used in the literature to explain the loss of popularity of military operations. Other possible interpretations are related to the traditional approaches in public opinion literature that focus on the impact of the “fatigue” towards a protracted conflict, the scarce policy success of the mission or the dramatic changes of aims and conditions of the intervention. Then the paper compares the above-mentioned views with the “strategic narrative assumption”. According to such perspective, the type of (ineffective) narrative adopted by the Italian governmental actors plays a prominent role in understanding of the decline of support in 2009. Has the disproportionate gap between the storyline, based on the traditional values of peace and multilateralism, and the war-torn reality on the ground, affected the level of public approval? Or have the ways through which narratives were built in 2009 played a more important role?

The preliminary findings of this study confirm the relevance of strategic narratives to interpret the attitudes of public opinion. No significant correspondence between casualties and support emerge, while the results reveal that the ineffective and inconsistent way in which a well-established and shared strategic narrative (centred on peace and multilateralism) has been modified is the key variable for understanding the collapse of public approval. The strategic narrative crafted by governmental actors after 2008, which aimed at explaining the change of approach on the ground, has proven unsuccessful. This failure can be weighed against the main features of a “strong narrative”, such as those identified by Ringsmose and Børgesen: the strategic narrative of the Italian government showed lack of clarity, incoherence, inconsistency, and inability to prepare the public for dramatic events.

The paper, which relies extensively on empirical data such as polls and interviews, illustrates that cultural variables were crucial in order to understand Italian military operations abroad. A shared strategic culture based on the frames of multilateralism and peace remains embedded in Italian public opinion. Without a coherent and appropriate (alternative) strategic narrative, the attempt to shift from traditional conceptual references, even when the context of the intervention requires adopting new frameworks, is doomed to fail. This is exactly what happened in the case of ISAF.

Here below the abstract:

Factors as culture, values, and symbols are crucial to understand the evolution of the Italian foreign and defense policy. However, scholars’ attention to such variables in the study of Italian defense policies still leaves many gaps. Since the end of the Cold War, Italian troops have been constantly engaged in military operations abroad spreading a “peacekeeper image” of Italy in the international arena. The goal of this work is to investigate the features and the evolution of the main strategic narratives adopted by political leaders to interpret the Italian military involvement in Afghanistan. How have politicians crafted strategic narratives on the Afghan mission? How have these story lines influenced public opinion during the conflict? Has the disproportionate gap between the storyline, based on the traditional values of peace and multilateralism, and the war-torn reality on the ground, affected the level of public approval? Or have the ways in which narratives were built in 2009 played a more significant role? In order to answer these questions, this paper relies on polls, content analysis of parliamentary debates, and public discourse analysis (2001–2011).

If you are interested in strategic narratives look also at here, here, here, and (in Italian) here.


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Call for papers – Between Rights and Fear: Evaluating the Migration-Terrorism Nexus in Europe

Guest Post by Elisa Piras*


The University of Bologna Team of GLOBUS, coordinated by Sonia Lucarelli, organises a workshop to explore the (actual and perceived) links between migration and terrorism from different perspectives and disciplinary approaches. The workshop will take place at the University Centre of Bertinoro, on June 4-6, 2018.

GLOBUS – Reconsidering European Contributions to Global Justice (2016-2020) is a multidisciplinary, transnational research project coordinated by the ARENA Centre for European Studies at the University of Oslo and funded by an Horizon 2020 Action. The University of Bologna Team is one of the eight research partners involved in the project; its research activities focus on migration.

About the workshop

In the past few years, the EU has seen significant arrivals of migrants and refugees that have challenged the EU’s internal cohesion and have been instrumentally used by populist and nationalist movements to raise public concerns. At the same time, terrorist attacks have multiplied in Europe, some perpetrated by migrants of first or second generation claiming allegiance to Islamic fundamentalist groups.

The workshop has four main aims:

  1. Evaluate the relations between terrorism and migration at the global level, exploring the ethical implications
  2. Study the social construction through narratives and practices of the link between migration and terrorism in European societies.
  3. Study the link between terrorism and migration in the EU’s foreign policy and in the global governance of migration
  4. Study the tension between different justice claims through case-studies We welcome proposals for papers relevant to any of the above aims.

Expenses: Participants from Universities who are not GLOBUS partner institutions will have their expenses fully covered.

Proposals: Please send a proposal with name, affiliation, title and abstract of the paper to and by 15 December 2017. A selection will follow. Please acknowledge that only a limited number of papers will be accepted due to space constraints in the workshop programme.

Deadline: The accepted participants should send the full paper to the organizers by May 15, 2018.

Further information

Please visit the page


* Research Fellow in Political Philosophy at Sant’Anna School for Advanced Studies

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Il caso F35. Una prospettiva diversa.

I temi della Difesa sono spesso relegati agli angoli dalla discussione pubblica in Italia. Gli approfondimenti sono tendenzialmente scarsi e il livello complessivo di attenzione di media e opinione pubblica è generalmente limitato. Eventi drammatici, spesso in contesti di crisi, contribuiscono ad incrementare un interesse collettivo che permane però volatile, destinato ad affievolirsi in fretta.

Un tema che ha suscitato invece una considerevole (e costante) attenzione è stato quello della controversa acquisizione del caccia JSF F-35. Le ragioni di tale “ribalta” sono state molteplici: i costi del mezzo in uno scenario di crisi, il dibattito politico, le campagne dei movimenti pacifisti.

Sul tema, segnaliamo con piacere un recente articolo del nostro Fabrizio Coticchia, dal titolo: “A Controversial Warplane Narratives, Counternarratives, and the Italian Debate on the F-35“.

Il paper è uscito in early view nella rivista “Alternatives“. Qui il link al pezzo (gated)

L’articolo (ne avevamo parlato di una sua versione precedente qui) esamina, da una prospettiva interdisciplinare, il contenuto delle narrazioni e della contro-narrazioni adottate da partiti e movimenti pacifisti. I suoi risultati (basati su interviste, analisi del discorso e analisi del contenuto) evidenziano l’evoluzione dei plot al centro del dibattito e la capacità delle contro-narrazioni (grazie alla capacità della campagna e ad un contesto partitico mutato) di introdurre i propri frame nella discussione.

L’articolo è parte di un progetto di ricerca più ampio, che si concretizzerà in una monografia, scritta da Fabrizio Coticchia e Andrea Catanzaro, dal titolo: “Al di là dell’Arcobaleno: narrazioni strategiche, politica di difesa e movimenti pacifisti in Italia’”, Vita e Pensiero (di prossima pubblicazione).

In calce l’abstract del paper

The literature on strategic narratives has started to pay growing attention to the concept of “narrative dominance,” stressing the role played by counternarratives in hindering a wider acceptance of a specific message. However, limited consideration has been devoted to counternarratives, which have seldom been assessed in a systematic way. The aim of this article is to fill these gaps by examining the underrated case of Italy. The article investigates the main content of narratives and counternarratives developed by parties and peace movements regarding the decision to acquire the F-35. The article, which is based on primary and secondary sources, adopts a multidisciplinary approach, combining security studies and social movement studies.

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Venus in Arms at ISA Baltimore…Papers and Panels

Also this year Venus in Arms will be at the ISA Annual Convention, which will be held in Baltimore (22-25 February 2017). Almost 6000 attendees are estimated!

Here you can find all the info about the conference

Here you can browse the programme

Our Fabrizio Coticchia and Francesco Moro will present two papers. Here below some details on their (very promising) panels:

Military Learning
Thursday, February 23, 10:30 AM – 12:15 PM

The papers on this panel examine not only lessons learned, but the processes by which military organizations learn and update tactics and appraise their effectiveness. Some focus on internal pathways and others consider how lessons are learned by bystanders watching foreign wars.

Chair and Discussant: Terry Terriff (University of Calgary)


  • The Sources of Military Learning: Organisational Learning and Military Change during the Iraq War and ISAF – Tom Dyson (Royal Holloway, University of London)
  • Through military lenses. Security perceptions and learning in the case of Italian armed forces
    – Lorenzo Cicchi (EUI – European University Institute), Fabrizio Coticchia (University of Genoa),  and Francesco N Moro (University of Bologna)
  • The Influence of Foreign Wars on Domestic Military Policy: The Case of the Yom Kippur War’s Influence on the American Military – Jonathan E. Czarnecki (Naval War College Monterey), Robert Tomlinson (U.S. Naval War College)
  • Explaining Military Tactics: Organizational Routines and the British Army in Multinational Missions – Cornelius Friesendorf (Goethe University Frankfurt and Peace Research Institute Frankfurt)
  • Forgetting the Past?: Vietnam, the Cold War, and US Army Doctrine from Active Defense to AirLand Battle – Peter Campbell (Baylor University)

Narrative encounters with foreign and security policy
Thursday, February 23, 1:45 PM – 3:30 PM

It has been suggested that we in International Studies have witnessed something of a ‘narrative turn’ in recent years; this ‘turn’ has manifest in several ways. First, scholars have begun to elicit narrative accounts of the life experiences of their research participants, to understand how people in various institutions narrate their own subjectivity. Second, analysts have turned to narrative materials – fiction books, journals, blogs – as rich sources of information about global politics. Third, researchers have begun to treat global policies and documentary materials (such as presidential statements, reports, and resolutions) as forms of narrative, and investigated these sources for the presence of meta-narratives, the better to understand how we make sense of such materials through our story-telling capabilities. This panel contributes to debates about narrative in all three of these ways, and in so doing represents a methodological, theoretical, and empirical contribution to this emerging field of study.
Chair: Michael Alan Lewis (George Mason University)
Discussant: Laura Mills (University of St Andrews)


  • Feeling Unsafe ~ Exploring the Impact of Nuclear Evacuation – Ronni Alexander (Kobe University)
  • Narratives of border crossing among Syrian refugees arriving into Germany – Isis Nusair (Denison University)
  • A different story: strategic narratives, security issues and peace movements in Italy – Andrea Catanzaro (University of Genova) and Fabrizio Coticchia (University of Genoa )
  • (In)security, violence and masculinity –ontological narratives of the Black Sea Region in the 21st century – Ivan Cristina Mihaela (The National Intelligence Academy Mihai Viteazul)


See you soon in Baltimore

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