1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role in the Department of Law and Criminology?
I am Italian – born in the beautiful city of Naples. I completed my bachelor degree at the University of Padua before moving to the UK for my MSc/PhD. My academic background is in Social Psychology, and I have lectured at other universities in the UK and at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
I joined Royal Holloway very recently, in August 2021. Currently, I am a Senior Lecturer in Criminology & Psychology in the Department of Law & Criminology. There, I primarily teach statistics and research methods and serve as the lead for the postgraduate programmes.
2. You were recently awarded funding from the European Research Council for your project 'Investigating the Legimitization of Criminal Governance: Group Comparisons and Within-Individual Dynamics' – many congratulations! Can you tell us what this funding will mean to you and your research?
ERC grants are, in many ways, transformative opportunities. They are awarded to high-risk/high-gain projects that have the potential to reframe a field of study. I have always believed we need more research that crosses different fields and knowledge areas, both methodologically and theoretically. My own work has always sat uncomfortably within the boundaries of a single discipline. The ERC grant will enable me to substantiate this vision. I will be able to form a new interdisciplinary research team and explore with new lenses the dynamics of legitimization of criminal governance in three different societies, two in Europe and one in Asia.
Together with my team, we will be applying cutting-edge socio-psychological and cross-cultural methods to understand how criminal groups become embedded within communities and capable of exerting power and influence over individuals. We will investigate the dynamics of (de)legitimization of illegal authorities and the societal and psychological factors that may increase (or reduce) communities' opposition against such authorities. Finally, we will examine the developmental factors shaping adolescents' attitudes and behaviour towards criminal and legal authorities.
Ultimately, I hope this grant will represent the first step towards a better and deeper theoretical understanding of how authority and power function in society, considering circumstances, communities and groups that are not typically the subject of socio-psychological research. We will generate unique new datasets and knowledge that may be used to empower communities, guide policy interventions and shape educative and social interventions.
3. What are your main research interests?
I have a broad range of research interests, but the unifying theme of my work is the dynamics of power and resistance in society. I have studied how criminal groups limit opposition in communities. I started conducting work in this area by exploring the psychological bases of the concept of "omertà", an Italian word indicating a very little studied cultural code that reduces communities' opposition against mafias in Italy. The ERC grant will allow me to build on this new topic and extend it using new methods, frameworks and in new geographies.
With my collaborators, I have also been working on the socio-psychological factors leading to political violence and radicalization across different cultural contexts. We have investigated, for instance, the role of values in predicting individuals' radical intentions in countries such as South Korea, Italy, the UK and the US.
Finally, I have been working on the "social psychology of banditry", the idea that disruptive and criminal social actors may be seen as "heroes" and have their actions justified when they attack systems and institutions perceived as unfair. This research is rooted in the work of social historian Eric Hobsbawm. He coined the term "social banditry" to explain how groups of criminals in agrarian societies could become folk heroes by embodying peasants' desire for revenge against the powerful and the rich. I have been applying this framework at the socio-psychological level studying public perception of and support for criminal hackers.
4. What inspires you in your work, and outside of work?
I have had great teachers, mentors and colleagues throughout my academic career. They have always been a great source of inspiration in my work. And in work, as perhaps in life, I am inspired by the idea that it is possible to solve complex social problems using intellect and scientific reasoning.
5. Last month (March) we celebrated Women’s History Month. Are there any particular women from history which inspire you in your work, or in your life more generally?
Women like Rosa Parks, Marie Curie and Jane Goodall, to mention a few, are tremendously inspirational figures who have all made history in different ways and for various reasons. And, of course, history is being driven by women right now in all sorts of fields. I am thinking to Philosopher Midgley and Classicist Beard, whose work has been crucial in my intellectual growth.
6. How do you like to spend your time outside of work?
In the pre-pandemic world, I travelled as often as I could. I have visited unique places, and I hope to go back to some version of that in the future. I like to learn languages – still holding on to the idea of improving my Chinese. And, I am an avid reader: world history, mostly, but also (geo)politics and international relations - currently, I am attempting to finish Ezra Vogel's book on the links between China and Japan throughout history. I could sometimes have been spotted with the odd Le Guin's or Herbert's book in my hands.