Tuesday, October 26, 2010


One may learn about Italy by studying the words in Italian which don't quite correspond to their English alternatives. Sistemare is an example, which I may discuss on another occasion. If I ever grasp the meaning of word intendere I will write about it. Today's word however is strumentalizzare.
What it means is to make someone or something a tool to be used for another purpose.

I don't know an English word that means exactly this.

The word is used quite frequently in such phrases as "I see that I have been strumentalizzato", or "this matter should not be strumentalizzata".

I see constant use of the concept. For example, the following is quite common. Group A is complaining about a problem without understanding the cause. Group B, who secretly were responsible for the problem, use the distress of Group A to further disadvantage Group A. It is not even necessary that Group B hide their actions; it is sufficient to lie about them.

Any Italian reading this will immediately recognize examples, but actually the matter comes to mind in thinking about posts to this blog.  I am concerned that in making criticisms I may be misquoted or misread.

For example, some time ago I made the assertion in this blog that we were creating too many mathematicians. I would not like my comments to be strumentalizzati against mathematics.

I was not criticizing mathematics or mathematicians in general, just making a comment about the prospects for employment doing research in mathematics. Many students do PhD degrees with that in mind. Supervisors are happy to have graduate students. The reality is that the most common paid employment of mathematicians is in teaching. It is what I have been paid to do all my life. Even university mathematics departments justify their existence by their service teaching role.

The problem is that in Italy at the moment there are very few positions for teaching mathematics in the schools. Many students who do PhD's do not want to teach in the schools. There are also very few positions in the universities. There may be particular Italian aspects of this problem but judging from Peter Woit's blog the situation in the United States in the universities is similar.

The odd thing about the Science faculty in Como is that it was created without a service teaching role. It is difficult to justify the employment of 80 staff with a new enrolment of more or less 80 students. The faculty must be justified as a research institute which principally exists for the staff, not for the students.

I guess this whole post might be construed as a criticism of Italy. It is not.



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