“It has felt like a new adventure after 30 years at Harvard and Oxford, two universities which were wonderful intellectual places but that have existed for a very long time without you. In contrast, in the STG everyone of us is party to an experiment that is unfolding.”
Professor Kalypso Nicolaïdis holds a special place at the heart of the School of Transnational Governance. She is a long-standing member of the faculty having joined the STG as adjunct professor in the founding year of 2017. In 2020, she became part of the first batch of Chairs and has inspired the school's academic work ever since.
Professor Nicolaïdis holds the Chair in International Affairs at the STG. Before coming to Florence, she taught at renowned universities on both sides of the Atlantic, and collaborated with European institutions, including the European Commission and the European Council, international organisations such as the OECD and the national governments of the Netherlands, Greece, and the United Kingdom. Combined with her multicultural background, these experiences have made her a true global citizen: “Indeed I am a French Greek and British citizen which is why I often joke that I am freakish.”
Teaching and learning with a twist
Defining herself as a critical and feminist international relations theorist, Nicolaïdis combines analysis with a normative horizon, and in both her teaching and research she asks about the keys to transformation, emancipation and freedom for individuals and groups. “I have taught in many places to students from all over the world since the early 1990s. This background has certainly inspired the common thread of my research which touches many disciplines and themes but always comes back to the question of how we live with our differences in a world of vastly asymmetric power.”
Original and inclusive teaching methods, as well as a special relationship with the STG master's students, characterise Kalypso Nicolaïdis’ approach: “I don’t believe that the role of a professor is to provide them with information or even analysis,” she says. “We are here to accompany them in their journey of self-sovereignty and critical understanding. Which is why for me the classroom is a space for conversation, a Socratic method adapted to the 21st-century where the conversation is not simply one-on-one or a guide helping a disciple find his own answers, but rather a much more collective enterprise where we engage in various ways of learning together, from debates to negotiation simulations, to the use of learning software like MIRO, and exercises sometimes dreamt up by the students themselves to elicit each other’s opinions.”
With this purpose in mind, Professor Nicolaïdis integrates many artistic elements into her work with the students. For the past three years, she has been running performance-based projects as part of the EUI's State of the Union conference (SOU). The first piece, ‘Time to Retreat?’, a tragicomedy on European crises and non-European sanctuaries addressed the SOU theme of ‘Europe in a Changing World’ by questioning whether the EU lives up to the high moral standards it espouses and asking what the rest of the world have to say about all this. In 2022, Professor Nicolaïdis delivered the conference keynote speech on 'Is Europe fit for the next generation?', building on two months of debates and discussions with EUI researchers and STG master's students.
At the latest edition in May 2023, her team presented a play featuring Machiavelli and a citizens' assembly entitled 'Waiting for the Citizens.' The Salone dei Cinquecento of Florence's Palazzo Vecchio, where citizens' representatives gathered over several centuries to make decisions, could not be a more fitting stage for this event: “Art is the expression of our imagination to both mirror and transform the world. It is often the best way to give meaning to life and connect our inner selves with circles beyond. This is true in particular for the performance art and theatre,” Nicolaïdis explains. “If politics is to attract the young generations again and if we are to overcome or highly polarised politics, we need the arts for tomorrow that can bring people together in communion and joyful togetherness.”
Her creativity and commitment make her a valued professor and mentor among the student community, an affection that is shared on both sides: “For me the greatest reward of this experimental mindset has been my interactions with our wonderful students. They are individually risktakers in choosing to come to a new school like ours, and I have huely enjoyed witnessing the ways in which students in each of our first three cohorts have challenged and inspired each in their own different ways. (…) As I always say to them, I learn as much from them as they learn from me.”
In addition to teaching in the STG Master in Transnational Governance, Professor Nicolaïdis also lectures in the school's executive education programme. The course 'Responsible Negotiations across Nations', which she runs in collaboration with Professor Alain Lempereur, has become one of the school's most successful executive trainings. Nicolaïdis combines role-plays, case studies and best practices to strengthen the participants' skills in transnational contexts. In this way, training participants learn to become more aware of their negotiation style and develop strategies to act more responsibly.
Kalypso Nicolaïdis is also a driving force behind the EUI’s work on democracy, as the founder of the STG’s programme on transnational democracy and co-convenor of the pan-EUI research interdisciplinary cluster on democracy in the 21st century. Part of her activities are dedicated to the EUI-STG Democracy Forum, which brings together members from academia, EU institutions, national political parties and civil society organisations to discuss the potential for democratic renewal in Europe and beyond. The forum was key in the roll-out of the Future of Europe Conference’s citizens' assembly held at the EUI in December 2021.
The moving factor behind these endeavours is the vision of a 'magic triangle' between traditional representative democracy, direct democracy and deliberative participatory democracy in the form of citizens' assemblies. Sustaining synergies between these three logics through transnational connections between citizens is at the heart of what Nicolaidis refers to as Europe’s “demoi-cracy.” Against this backdrop, Nicolaïdis and her team also collaborate with other STG research projects in the field of artificial intelligence and technology for peace to identify innovative paths to further citizens’ participation.
These efforts were recently rewarded by the Berggruen Institute, which granted funding to the STG Transnational Democracy Programme to develop a strategy for a permanent citizens' assembly and participatory ecosystem in the European Union. This development has enabled the programme to embark on what Professor Nicolaïdis and her team identify as a ‘transnational democratic odyssey’: “We have been promoting and fleshing out the idea for the last three years, but in this new phase instead of simply proposing to write papers and articles about how such an assembly process should and could happen we offer to design a ‘proof of concept’, which means that we are inviting others to join us in a process which includes organising a prototype assembly ourselves which will meet in the spring of 2024 culminating in a meeting in Athens in September 2024. In doing this we stress that this is a long-term journey that will last much beyond the Athens moment, hence the metaphore of the Odyssey.”
The official launch will take place in Athens in September 2023, when the team will start a public campaign and expand the network to include a wider range of collaborators who will help shape the future “proof of concept", led by project manager Jamie MacKay. Looking ahead, Nicolaïdis says: “I must admit that a core motivation in this journey is the joy I feel from getting to know and appreciate the people I work with – and who become friends – I am more lucky than ever with an amazing team here in Florence, throughout Europe and increasingly beyond Europe.”
We are sure that this journey will take them very far!
Learn more about the STG Transnational Democracy Programme work towards a permanent EU-wide citizens’ assembly.