University of Washington

"Italy Today: Ancient Glories, Modern Challenges"

A Study Abroad Program in Rome, organized and sponsored by the UW Sociology Department, the Center for West European Studies, and the European Union Center of Excellence at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies

Winter Quarter 2016 (January 4 to March 11)

Italy is a model case for understanding how a rich, and in many ways conservative society faces the many challenges of our global era. Protective of its industry and culture, the twin forces of globalization and Europeanization have tested Italy's willingness and ability to adapt to the fast changing realities of today's interconnected global economy and society. Italy's slow food movement, for instance, provides a fascinating example of the resilience of Italian culture, but also its reluctance to adapt to modern influences. How is Italy's deep-rooted society and sense of history both a bedrock of stability and a bulwark to needed change as the country moves into the 21st century? These themes of historical legacy and contemporary challenges form the framework for this new Sociology-European Studies program in Rome.

Montecitorio (Italian Chamber of Deputies)

The program will focus on contemporary challenges in Italian politics, economics, and society, with the two core courses also providing historical background and perspective on these issues and the nation's development. External observers have often tended to characterize the Italian political and economic systems as being unstable and unreliable. The 'Second Republic' that emerged in 1992 has been marred by loose coalitions and weak governments. While managing to avoid the worse effects of Europe's current economic and financial crisis, Italy is saddled with a huge debt and a workforce that lags in terms of productivity and competitiveness. Despite these challenges, Italy retains considerable strengths and great potential. Notoriously inefficient state-run assisted industries stand in contrast to Italy's dynamic small and medium-size companies, nimble producers of high quality products that have made the "Made in Italy" label famous. The image of La Dolce Vita sells around the world, yet many groups, including the young and immigrants, remain marginalized. Italian society continues to mistrust its government and increasingly worries about the future. All of these themes provide an exceptional opportunity to understand a society and polity wrestling with the challenges of globalization.

Rome offers a plethora of attractions pertinent to the program. The program includes a visit to Palazzo Chigi (formal residence of the Italian Prime Minister, and meeting place of the Council of Ministers), and a visit to Montecitorio (the seat of the Italian Chamber of Deputies). We will also visit Rome’s major museums and other historic attractions, such as the Vatican Museums, the Musei Capitolini, the Ara Pacis, Osita Antica, and catacombs of San Callisto. We will visit Castel Sant' Angelo, located right next to Vatican city, as it offers an illustration of political repression and imprisonment under the Papal state. While a trip to the nearby Piazza Navona showcases the Papal patronage towards the arts. Rome would also afford us the possibility of visiting some government offices and non-profit organizations that could address our students on these pressing problems that contemporary Italy faces. The program also includes overnight excursions to Florence, Naples and Venice.

Class of 2014 on the roof of Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome 

Quotes from participating students:

“The most impressive aspects of the program were the people leading it. I honestly don't think this experience would have been as amazing had it not been for Edgar. He is so personable and I truly felt like I could go to him about anything. I think he taught me a lot about Italy and myself in different ways.”
“The program overall was very impressive! It was very well put together & organized. All the events, field trips, movie nights and lectures went together perfectly and made it easier for me to understand what was going on in Italy. I don't think I could have asked for any better organization!”
“The amount of tours and field trips we are able to experience. Also, our program directors were very knowledgeable and GREAT!”
“The programs was planned so well. We were able to go to every museum and popular places throughout the program. I think it was really worth it for how much we spent. We did so many things in a short amount of time.”
“The activities were planned so that we made connections with each other right away. I made life-long friends through this program.”

Students will live in multiple-occupancy apartments within a 20 minute walk of the UW Rome Center.


Prerequisites/Language Requirements:
UW undergraduate students interested in sociology, European studies, economics, political science, international studies, and history. There will be no specific prerequisites for the courses. Professor Kiser will provide students with all of the necessary background in social science theory and history.


Italy Today Program Costs:

$7,075 program fee + $300 non-refundable UW study abroad fee

Politics and Society in Contemporary Italy - SOC 401 or JSIS 488 (5 credits)

Italy's political system is one of the most interesting in the contemporary world, with a rich history, a complicated and colorful present, and a promising but uncertain future. It has been ruled by city-states, monarchies, fascists, and different forms of democracy. It only became a unified nation in the 1860s, and still bears many of the marks of its fragmented, divided past. Both the Catholic Church and the mafia have played unusually important roles in shaping its politics. Its contemporary political parties include ex-communists, neo-fascists, and separatists who want to divide the country in two. Its current leader, Silvio Berlusconi, is the richest ruler in the developed world, and probably both the most charismatic and the most corrupt, as well. In short, Italy is full of the fascinating transformations, combinations and contradictions that make the study of the relationship between politics and society so interesting.

Italy is facing pressing political challenge such as formulating immigration policies that are in line with the EU, but that also mollify an increasingly xenophobic electorate. There is the threat to national unity coming from the Northern League party, which seeks a federal system, and ultimately a separation between the rich and industrialized north from the poor and mostly agricultural south. And a perennially sclerotic government, gridlocked by partisanship, accusations of corruption, and unstable coalitions.

Economy and Society in Contemporary Italy - SOC 401 or JSIS 488 (5 credits)

The contemporary Italian economy is in many ways a product of its history, emerging after periods of empire, city-states that dominated medieval and renaissance Europe, late state formation that both reflected and reinforced economic fragmentation, and a period of fascism in which the state directly controlled much of the economy. In the post-war era, it has seen rapid economic growth, much of it based on small, flexible enterprises, periods of economic stagnation, and the recent rise of neoliberalism. Italy is thus a fascinating case for exploring the relationships between economy and society.

The Italian economy is facing challenges stemming from globalization and outsourcing, which is seen as a direct threat to the "Made in Italy" brand. There is strong resistance in regards to compliance with EU regulations, which are seen as encroaching on traditional methods of production, especially in the food industry. And the more recent challenge coming from an immigration influx started by the recent developments in North Africa, where newcomers are seen as draining an already strained social infrastructure.

Italian Culture - SOC 401 or JSIS 488 (5 credits)

Italy is justifiably known and loved for its food, wine, art, and architecture. We will explore the historical evolution and contemporary varieties or each of these, both in class lectures, and in trips to museums, walks around the city, and dinners in restaurants. Each week we will watch an Italian film linked to the main themes of the program, and discuss it both as a work of art and as a window into Italian culture. We will listen to Italian music, from opera to pop. We will analyze the role of religion in Italian life, the importance of the family, changing gender roles, and the fascinating regional differences across Italy (which we will see and taste first-hand on weekend trips to southern and northern cities), and the bizarre world of Italian television. Students will also be provided with lists of Italian short stories, novels, and poems, for additional reading. Throughout the course, we will explore the many ways in which Italian culture has shaped and been shaped by Italian politics and economics.

 Class of 2014 in Venice

To apply for this program, click here! Please note that we are doing rolling admissions for this program, therefore you are strongly encouraged to complete your application as soon as possible. Applications due May 15, 2015.

Please note that as part of the application process, students are required to upload a copy of their unofficial UW transcripts to this dropbox.

Winter Quarter 2016 application deadline: May 15, 2015.

Class of 2012 at the National Archives, Rome

Scholarship opportunities:

UW students can apply for the Go! Global scholarship, and the Fritz scholarship.

Please note that all UW students going on a study abroad program must attend the IPE orientation session. For more information please click

 Class of 2014 at the Coliseum   

For program information, please contact:

Center for West European Studies
Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies
University of Washington
120 Thomson Hall, Box 353650
Seattle, WA 98195
Phone: (206) 616-2415

Center for West European Studies
120 Thomson Hall
Box 353650
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195-3650
(206) 543-1675 office
(206) 616-2462 fax