Young lady with shoulder length long hair, standing next to large plant
Dr Lorenza Antonucci

She reflects on academic differences in other cultures, the interplay between precarity and the current political landscape, and the joys of French patisserie. 

Planning the Visit to Sciences Po

My specialism is in comparative European social policy, and Sciences Po is one of the centres of excellence in this field. When I worked on the GIGWELL proposal, I involved Professor Bruno Palier (at that time director of research at the Centre for European Studies), given his interest on the effects of digitalization in social policy. GIGWELL covers the social policy gaps in the social protection of platform workers in Europe, looking at the case-studies of Italy, Sweden and the UK.

This Visiting was originally planned for March/April 2020 (and I’d already booked my accommodation), but obviously COVID-19 had different plans! This meant that, while in 2020 the Visiting had to be at the stage of conceptual design, I used my Visiting to work on the findings. I also used its material for my lobbying work in Brussels on the current discussions concerning EU directives on platform workers.

As a comparativist, I find it very important—particularly after Brexit—to be exposed to French language, academia, and continental ideas.

Dr Lorenza Antonucci

In 2008, on the Erasmus programme, I studied European Affairs in French at Sciences Po, before moving into social policy. I wanted to integrate these two fields (European affairs and the British tradition of social policy analysis), and Sciences Po does this very well. As a comparativist I find it very important, particularly after Brexit, to be exposed to French language, academia, and continental ideas.

Being a visiting academic at another university means getting a taste of a different way of being in academia. You come to appreciate some aspects of what we have in the UK (a lighter bureaucracy and a more informal approach to academia), but it also leads to thinking about how to improve the system you come from. Sciences Po came second in the world University Rankings in Politics and International Studies (and 21st in social policy), and—given the ambition of UoB to be top 50—there is certainly a lot to learn in terms of the centrality that research takes in this academic environment.

A day in the life at Sciences Po

I juggle a lot of different things back in the UK in addition to GIGWELL, so during my Visiting, I typically started my morning with a meeting with someone from my team (Martin, Josie or colleagues from the PRECEDE team) or an administrative meeting for my College role. Then I went to my shared office—at the new campus Sciences Po built behind the St Thomas d'Aquin Church—to analyse data and write. I sometimes managed to attend events at Sciences Po, or caught up with old friends after work.

Traditional French buildings in light stone on the Sciences Po campus
Sciences Po campus buildings by Dr Lorenza Antonucci

I very much enjoyed the culture of having work lunches at a brasserie to exchange ideas, as well as French patisserie. The pace of life there is very different; it’s slower, and academics take the summer term off to write with minimal administrative duties. We know from neuro-aesthetics literature that being surrounded by beautiful buildings has a positive effect on the brain, and on writing. I could clearly see the effect of that after a walk to Jardins du Luxembourg.

Collaborating with colleagues and friends

I worked with Professor Bruno Palier, who is my mentor at Sciences Po for the GIGWELL project. I wanted to work with Bruno due to his role in setting up the ESPAnet (the network of the European Social Policy Association) and his capacity to bring new concepts to the field (for example, the notion of dualization and social investment). Bruno has given me very useful advice so far and has been encouraging when I shared ideas for my next book on insecurity. We tentatively explored the idea of putting together the papers submitted to the ESPAnet session I’m co-chairing on the digitalization of work and social policy into an edited publication.

Away from the UK, I reflected on Brexit, the cost of living crisis, and their effects elsewhere in Europe.

This is also part of my other research project, PRECEDE, where I explore the connections between precarity and voting for populist parties; France is one of our case studies and their parliamentary elections have recently taken place.

For the UK, leaving the EU has exacerbated the rise in our living costs.

Dr Lorenza Antonucci

Our research shows that the increasing support for the National Front (Le Pen) on the one side (populist right), and La France Insoumise (Melanchon) on the other side (populist left), are both expressions of the increasing insecurity in work and financial terms in France. We have more recent data to confirm these trends. The results of the latest parliamentary elections that took place while I was in Paris also confirm this trend. This is a similar process that we’ve seen in the UK with Brexit, but in the UK, leaving the EU has exacerbated the rise in the cost of living. These patterns are happening across Europe, but the UK is showing a particularly extreme form of that due to internal political choices.


Lorenza is currently at Harvard University as a Visiting Fellow and German Kennedy Memorial Fellow. You can follow her academic journey on Twitter.