The Centre on Social Movement Studies


ReFuture – The Return of the Future: democracy and political planning in the age of COVID-19 and climate change


Lorenzo Zamponi and Federica Guardigli



ReFuture investigates the comeback of the need for political planning and its role in revitalising democratic governance. After decades in which politics was mainly interpreted as day-to-day administration, an era of impending emergencies requires to build new capacities: thinking about possible futures is key to maintaining democracy’s ability to act and plan vis-à-vis epochal challenges like climate change or the COVID-19 pandemic. The decline in the planning capacity that has characterised Western democracies since the end of the 20th century appears to be replaced by a resurgence of the need for political planning, in many forms, including institutional responses in the form of the Next Generation EU (NGEU) programme and increasing focus of grassroots civil society actors both on proposing alternatives to institutions and the public, and on practicing such alternatives in prefigurative experiences.
ReFuture investigates this “return of the future” in the Italian case, through an interdisciplinary effort which includes intellectual and political history, economics, and social movement studies. Italy was one of most heavily affected countries in the world by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Italian government was among the chief proponents of the NGEU programme within the EU framework, and the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP) launched in 2021 within this framework represents an intersection between the response to the pandemic crisis and the project of an “ecological transition” meant to address the climate emergency. Which forms is the return of the future, and thus the comeback of the most traditional democratic tool to address it (i.e. political planning), taking within the Italian political context? Our project aims to answer this question by focusing on three different spheres: the intellectual and political debate, state policy, and grassroots civil society. First, through the lenses of intellectual and political history, we will investigate the role of political planning in European liberal democracies in the first part of 20th century, its crisis in the neoliberal era, and its current state in the intellectual and political debate. Secondly, through the lenses of general equilibrium model, we will assess the impact of the planning policies put in place through NGEU and the NRRP on the institutions involved in addressing the pandemic and the ecological transition. Thirdly, through the lenses of social movement studies, we will analyse the visions of the future, planning practices, and prefigurative experiences of grassroots civil society actors vis-à-vis the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate emergencies. All in all, the project aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the way in which actors in the Italian society are developing tools to address the future in a context of impending emergencies, and of the potential of such tools for revitalising democracy.

SNS research unit: Lorenzo Zamponi (Princial Investigator), Federica Guardigli

Other research units: Maria Chiara D’Errico (Università di Perugia), Michele Filippini (Università di Bologna)



Italian government (PRIN 2022)




Le basi istituzionali di un panico morale

Attraverso una lunga rassegna di casi concreti, Donatella Della Porta, direttrice di Cosmos, descrive il processo per cui la lotta istituzionale all'antisemitismo in Germania, inizialmente promossa dalla società civile progressista, si è trasformata nella costruzione di un apparato statale e di una struttura di potere ufficiale come strumento di razzializzazione e repressione.


The Far-right and conspiraciy theories from Covid to the European elections

Donatella Della Porta, Cosmos Lab director, has researched on “Regressive movements in time of emergency” using the case of protests against anti contagion measures. In this case as in many others (from the conservative “anti gender”  European farmers) protesters pictured themselves as an abused minority of powerless victims fighting against some hidden and organized power. This frame seems to be a version of those being used by populist (mainly far-right) parties against Europe. We asked Della Porta to explain why and how conspiracy theories and this kind of posturing is keen to fall for the political offer of rightwing parties.


Social movements, Coronavirus and the right to healthcare

The 2020 pandemic has brought renewed focus on public healthcare and many mobilizations both on healthcare systems and vaccine patents. What are the peculiarities of right to healthcare movements? A talk with Cosmos Lab member Stella Christou


Far right movements and the European elections

Intersections and differences among far right politica Europan parties and movments, transatlantic exchanges, the role of mobilizations at the grassroots level. An interview with political scientist Andrea Pirro


An open letter on freedom of expression and protest on Palestine by the European social movement studies community

As social movement scholars we express strong concerns about the growing trend to restrict the right of expression, critique, and protest in several countries in Europe. Signed by research centres, journals and standing groups.


CFP: Feminism as a method - Feminist Epistemologies, Methodologies and Methods in Social Sciences

International Conference 14-15 November 2024 Anastasia Barone, Giada Bonu Rosenkranz and Donatella della Porta (Scuola Normale Superiore)


Journal Article - 2023

Resisting right-wing populism in power: a comparative analysis of the Facebook activities of social movements in Italy and the UK

Niccolò Pennucci
This paper aims to present a comparative study of the civil society reaction to right-wing populism in power through social media, by looking at cases in Italy and the United Kingdom.

Journal Article - 2023

Emotions in Action: the Role of Emotions in Refugee Solidarity Activism

Chiara Milan
This article investigates the different types of emotions that result from participation in refugee solidarity activism, investigating how they change over time and to what extent they explain why individuals remain involved in action in spite of unfavorable circumstances.

Journal Article - 2023

‘Love is over, this is going to be Turkey!’: cathartic resonance between the June 2013 protests in Turkey and Brazil

Batuhan Eren
This study addresses the question of why and how a protest can inspire individuals in distant countries. Taking the June 2013 protests in Turkey and Brazil as cases, it investigates the reasons why the Turkish protests were framed as one of the inspirational benchmarks by some Brazilian protesters.

Journal Article - 2023

Mutual aid and solidarity politics in times of emergency: direct social action and temporality in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic

Lorenzo Zamponi
From the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing measures introduced created a series of social problems and needs that were partially addressed in Italy as well as in other countries by grassroots mutual aid initiatives. While many of these initiatives were strongly rooted in the Italian social movement and civil society landscape and the choice to engage in mutual aid activities was the result of long years of reflection and planning, the article shows how strongly the temporality of emergency affected the nature of these initiatives, their development and their outcomes, in particular with regard to the extraordinary number of people who volunteered and their relationship with politicisation processes.

Monograph - 2023

Populism and (Pop) Music

Manuela Caiani, Enrico Padoan
The book provides a detailed account of the links between production of popular culture to the rise of populism and contributes to studies on populism and popular culture in Italy, using a comparative approach and a cultural sociology perspective

Monograph - 2022

Labour conflicts in the digital age

Donatella della Porta, Riccardo Emilio Chesta, Lorenzo Cini
From Deliveroo to Amazon, digital platforms have drastically transformed the way we work. But how are these transformations being received and challenged by workers? This book provides a radical interpretation of the changing nature of worker movements in the digital age, developing an invaluable approach that combines social movement studies and industrial relations. Using case studies taken from Europe and North America, it offers a comparative perspective on the mobilizing trajectories of different platform workers and their distinct organizational forms and action repertoires.

Monograph - 2022

Resisting the Backlash: Street Protest in Italy

Donatella della Porta, Niccolò Bertuzzi, Daniela Chironi, Chiara Milan, Martín Portos & Lorenzo Zamponi
Drawing interview material, together with extensive data from the authors’ original social movement database, this book examines the development of social movements in resistance to perceived political "regression" and a growing right-wing backlash.

Journal Article - 2021

Learning from Democratic Practices: New Perspectives in Institutional Design

Andrea Felicetti
Drawing from literature on democratic practices in social movements and democratic innovations, the article illustrates three ways to advance institutional design in the wake of the systemic turn.

Monograph - 2021

Migrant Protest. Interactive Dynamics in Precarious Mobilizations

Elias Steinhilper
This book explores the interactions and spaces shaping the emergence, trajectory, and fragmentation of migrant protest in unfavorable contexts of marginalization.

Journal Article - 2021

Populism between voting and non-electoral participation

Andrea Pirro & Martín Portos
The article focuses on a neglected aspect of populist mobilisation, i.e. non-electoral participation (NEP), and elaborates on the extent to which populist party voters engage politically outside the polling station. While challenging common understandings of populism as inherently distrustful and apathetic, and protest as an exclusive practice of the left, the study critically places NEP at the heart of populism in general, and populist right politics in particular.