Interview on il Manifesto on the new militarized political economy of Turin & ITA universities

Today, in an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto, I tried to sum up the last three years of personal and collective thinking / political organising around the relationship between the university and the military sector, also in relation to the colonial war of Israel in Palestine.

The interview, in Italian, is available here:

An automatic translation is available below.

‘Leonardo is becoming for Turin and the Politecnico what Fiat was’
Interview with Michele Lancione, professor of political-economic geography

“Leonardo is becoming for Turin what Fiat once was”. Michele Lancione, full professor of Political-Economic Geography at the Polytechnic University of Turin, published last September with the publishing house Eris Universit√† e militarizzazione. The dual use of freedom of research, well ahead of the current events of these days. “When I wrote it I wanted to open a discussion in the academic sphere, then there was an acceleration of the debate due to the disaster of the Palestinian situation that led to a strong awareness among students”.

In the preface, you wrote that he wanted to offer them a tool to ‘fight for the liberation of academic knowledge from military colonies’.

I did not imagine it would become normal to see police inside universities and students truncheoned for two placards. The perspective has been turned upside down: the university is used to have a critical spirit and protest, instead Minister Bernini gives reason to those who have sold it out. This has happened because for too long research has been intertwined with the military and the services connected to it, but this risks making the university lose its purpose of knowledge. Leonardo works to make a profit and should not pose ethical questions. The students’ protests stem from all this.

By militarisation, you do not only mean research.

No, I also mean that process, which began in the West after 11 September 2001, in which what is not pertaining to the defence sector, primarily public places, is turned into military.

The book asks whether the public university can do technological research without addressing the issue of dual use.

The transfer of knowledge or technology from the civil to the military or vice versa is a difficult issue to control. This impossibility of control is used as an excuse by those who are interested in bringing the university and the war industry together; we are told that we only collaborate with military partners such as Leonardo for civil research, but this is a hypocritical position. I will give an example: if a company makes a profit from armaments, it will be very easy to acquire technology that sends rockets to Mars, even to drop them on Gaza. But we must emphasise that if basic research is defunded, universities are almost obliged to look for money that way.

This, it seems to be understood, applies in particular to the Politecnico where you teach.

Since the automotive sector no longer guarantees jobs and research, Turin has decided to focus on the military aerospace sector. The first player is Leonardo. The Politecnico, which historically trained executives, managers and engineers for Fiat, saw a great opportunity in this new sector. In doing so, it granted Leonardo our knowledge and technologies, gave it an advantage over its competitors at the expense of the Italian university and offered it cultural legitimacy, a techno washing.

What role does Leonardo’s Med-Or foundation, on whose board of directors sit twelve rectors of Italian universities, play in all this?

It is an emblematic example of the militarisation of the university. Bernini, perhaps in good faith, boasts of this collaboration and is wrong. The think tank chaired by Minniti serves Leonardo to position itself in the strategic market of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. It is natural that there should be an interest in the ongoing, or future, conflicts in these areas. Many chancellors are now beginning to wonder whether their mandate is to advise Italy’s leading arms manufacturer and whether this prevents sensible geopolitical analysis.

It is not only happening in Italy.

Across Europe there are very specific funding programmes that exist at various scales, such as Horizon. In Italy, the Pnrm (Piano Nazionale della Ricerca Militare – National Military Research Plan) was launched in 2022, which involves the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Education and Universities and has as its objective ‘the increase of the Defence knowledge base in high-tech sectors’. It actually serves to inject state resources and public researchers into the military industrial sector. But if the money is there, why not put it into basic research instead of throwing it to the military?

You are among the signatories of the letter that several professors sent to the rector of PoliTo.

We asked you to take a position on the beating of students inside the university, we are waiting for a clear answer.

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