Benvenuto, Dr. Fred Paxton!

M.A. in Political Science, European Union Policy Studies

This semester, the JMU European Union Policy Studies (EUPS) graduate program welcomed a new staff member, Dr. Fred Paxton. Current EUPS student Francesca Ragonese sat down with him for a conversation to learn more about his journey to Italy, completion of his PhD, and his experiences living and teaching abroad. 

Dr. Paxton, originally from a small town in Northern England, received his B.A. in History at King’s College, London. He then worked for five years as a Project Manager at Future Leaders, a nonprofit aimed at addressing educational disadvantages by transforming outstanding teachers into effective, inspirational school leaders. Dr. Paxton then went back to school to earn his Masters in Urban Studies through the 4 Cities Erasmus Mundus Programme which enabled him to study in Brussels, Copenhagen, Vienna, and Madrid, and earned his Ph.D at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence. Upon reflecting on his academic career Dr. Paxton said, “the thread throughout all of this, from history to urban studies to my Ph.D, is that I have always been interested in politics.” 

At the time he was working towards his Master’s, in 2016, there was increasing concern about a so-called  ‘populist zeitgeist’ in global politics, with associated perceived threats to liberal democracy. This prompted him to dive deeper into the subject. Drawing on his other research interests, and identifying a gap in the literature, he sought to better understand this phenomenon at the urban level. His interest in populist parties’ activities in local government continued to develop, to the extent that he decided to pursue a Ph.D. thesis on the topic.  The revised version of this work is now under contract with Cambridge University Press with the title: Restrained Radicals: Populist Radical Right Parties in Local Government, and is anticipated to be published next year. The book highlights “the story of how radical parties operate when they rise to power in local government - when they take control of a city - and the implications for liberal democracy”. On the subject of liberal democracy - a core concern of his - he views the European Union (EU) as a “fascinating experiment”. Dr. Paxton is inspired by the EU’s pursuit to overcome national boundaries and contention to solve threatening and complex problems as a unified community. 

Initially drawn to Florence because of his doctoral fellowship through the EUI, he eventually “fell in love with Italy, and wanted to stay.” He has been a postdoctoral researcher  at the University of Milan since 2021 and began teaching at JMU in fall 2022. Within the EUPS program Dr. Paxton teaches a course focused on the Institutions of the EU - giving students a deep understanding of what they are, how they work, and the ways they interact. He enjoys being able to teach American students to engage with their perception of the EU. Reflecting on his experiences teaching in Italy he noted being struck by  “a lot of political engagement, particularly amongst students” at Italian universities. This has been again evident in recent weeks, in response to the new government elected in Italy.

Dr. Paxton’s advice to students studying abroad is to “be open to taking in new experiences… watch, listen, and absorb the culture around you.” He acknowledges how “things can be really different”, which can be daunting but “it pays to explore those differences”. He encourages his students to study, learn, and grow academically - and culturally, in a broader sense - during this unique experience. 

We look forward to the positive influence Dr. Paxton will have on the JMU community and can’t wait to celebrate the publication of his research!

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Published: Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Last Updated: Thursday, January 4, 2024

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