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Governing Europe's spaces: European Union re-imagined

Governing Europe's spaces: European Union re-imagined

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Governing Europe's spaces: European Union re-imagined

387 pages
5 hours
Jul 20, 2015


What do we imagine when we imagine Europe and the European Union? To what extent is our understanding of the EU – of its development, its policies and its working processes – shaped by unacknowledged assumptions about what Europe really is?

The book constructs a case for re-imagining Europe – not as an entity in Brussels or a series of fixed relations - but as a simultaneously real and imagined space of action which exists to the extent that Europeans and others act in and on it. This Europe is constantly being made in particular spaces, through specific actor struggles, whose interconnections are often ill-defined. We ask how do those concerned with building Europe, with extending and elaborating the EU, think of where they are and what they are doing?

The book captures Europeans in the process of making Europe: of performing, interpreting, modelling, referencing, consulting, measuring and de-politicising Europe.
Jul 20, 2015

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Governing Europe's spaces - Manchester University Press


Introduction: Governing Europe’s spaces: European Union re-imagined

Caitríona Carter, Richard Freeman and Martin Lawn

Introduction: re-imagining Europe and its Union

What do we imagine when we imagine Europe and the European Union (EU)? To what extent is our understanding of the EU – of its development, its policies and its working processes – shaped by unacknowledged assumptions about what Europe really is?

The image we have of Europe can be sustained in many ways. Take for example two quintessential images often evoked in general commentaries on both Europe and the EU – the organic Europe and the mechanical Europe.¹ The organic image of Europe/EU has it as a living thing – a growing together of countries with common roots. Tended by conscientious gardeners, its shape is a result of where it was first planted and how it was first pruned. Over time it has grown sturdier and ever more complex, its roots reaching wider and deeper into other parts of the garden to the extent that in some places they risk undermining what were once strong walls. Meanwhile, it has become difficult to do anything else in the garden without taking either shade, trunk or root system into account. Ecologically, tree and garden have become indistinguishable.

But, perhaps we do not imagine Europe as organic. Perhaps we see it more as mechanical. This image of the EU has it as a made or manufactured thing, a ship-like construction of strangely engineered units bolted together. The whole is an array of tanks, cylinders, pipes, switches, buttons, levers and doors, some of which swing wildly with the motion of the ship while others have rusted over. It has a powerful engine room and is steered, somewhat uncertainly, by a rarely seen group assembled on the bridge. Passengers, of course, have no access to the bridge. Orders shouted over an ancient tannoy are heard by some but not others. Sometimes, it seems, Europe is carried forward by little more than its own momentum.²

Each of these general images of Europe and the EU is compelling in different respects, partly because of the varied ways in which they can be interpreted and understood, thus shaping our imagined understanding of what Europe and the EU really are. But, perhaps one’s vision of Europe/EU comes not from general commentaries, but rather from social science and more precisely from EU studies. Of course, social science has certain responsibilities when it comes to generating images of Europe, which require to be less metaphorical and instead grounded in a cumulative knowledge about its various workings. Indeed, EU studies literature is rich with such competing visions of both Europe and the EU. For example, early images of European integration as a snowballing elite-driven process towards a ‘supranational Europe’ (neo-functionalism – Lindberg, 1963; Haas, 1958), were soon challenged by alternative images of an intergovernmental Europe, constructed ‘in Brussels’ under the rational control of national governments (liberal intergovernmentalism – Moravcsik, 1993). Yet these too were questioned by the evocation of an image of Europe as multilevelled, not intergovernmental. This Europe was represented as being at the centre of a multi-level system of governance, at times creating opportunities and at times creating problems for national and regional governments (multi-level governance – Marks et al., 1996). Or take, for example, the literature on Europeanisation (Börzel and Risse, 2007; Graziano and Vink, 2007), which has proposed yet another image of Europe/EU, this time not one which is contained in Brussels, but rather one which is found also ‘at home’, incrementally embedded within national organisational and policy practice. Finally, renewed pictures of Europe and the EU have been offered to us by scholars working within the field of critical social theory. Here we find, for example, images of Europe as monotopia (Richardson, 2006), or as a set of multiplying spaces or borderlands (Delanty, 2006; Rumford, 2006) or as inessential, discontinuous and contingent (Walters and Haahr, 2005).

It appears, therefore, that there are many ways of imagining Europe. Yet, as can be seen from the above, both within general commentaries and EU studies, dominant visions have tended towards imagining Europe as an object – an entity of one sort or another, but an object nonetheless.³ Moreover, clashes over which image is ‘correct’ have for the most part been both fought along theoretical lines and kept alive in theoretical debates (and this is also how we have presented them above).

The argument which we want to make in this book and in this Introduction is that these continued theoretical debates, although important, are nonetheless camouflaging a more fundamental divide about how we can and should imagine Europe. And this is an ontological divide about ‘what’s out there to know about [this Europe and its Union]?’ (Hay, 2006: 85). Indeed, we go further to argue that it is only through identifying an ontological divide about Europe that scholarship is enabled – if it so desires – to move away from imagining Europe as an object of almost material reality and think of Europe differently.

But what do we mean by an ontological divide when we think of Europe? We contend that underlying each and every image of Europe are core assumptions about ‘what exists to be known’ (Hay, 2006: 83) about Europe and the EU. In the next section, we expand upon this by presupposing that there are two categories of being about the reality of Europe which debates over theory within EU studies have tended to obscure. Following arguments advanced by Kauppi, we assume further that these two categories of being or ‘underlying construction presuppositions of the EU as an object of knowledge’ (2010: 19) hold competing premises about the reality of Europe. The first groups together a collective of assumptions which Kauppi terms ‘exclusive’. These are assumptions about the construction of Europe which tend towards an individualist and naturalist ontology, with a focus on the autonomy of the individual. The second brings together a more process-orientated, collectivist and interpretivist set of ontological assumptions termed ‘inclusive’ or ‘reflexive’ (Kauppi, 2010), with a focus on the socialisation of individuals. We illustrate both in the next section.

The changing of the starting point for analysing Europe from a theoretical one to an ontological one would, we suggest, radically shift the debate over core lines of division within social science accounts of European integration. This is because for a long time EU studies debates have been dominated by discussions over whether the EU is supranational or intergovernmental or multi-level with the primary divide frequently assumed to be a theoretical one. Starting with ontology first potentially changes the terms of the debate and gives rise to a different set of questions. Rather than asking if Europe is supranational or intergovernmental, we ask is Europe/EU’s reality considered natural or co-produced? Rather than asking whether the European Commission is really an integrative and independent entrepreneur (e.g. Hooghe, 2012; Thomson, 2008), we ask whether Europe’s creation is the outcome of the actions of rational actors pursuing materially given interests, or does it result from the public action of groups of actors whose interests are socially constructed? Rather than asking which Member States dominate in the Council of Ministers (e.g. Hosli et al., 2011; Mattila and Lane, 2001), we ask whether categories of territory (global, EU, nation state, region) are settled or whether we should problematise the notion of territory in any account of European integration.

We develop these points further in the next section. Setting out the respective terms of each ontological tendency, we suggest that there has been a preponderance in both general commentaries and EU studies to assume Europe from within exclusive ontological assumptions and that this has led to its being imagined as an object and reified as an entity. Positioning the work of this book by contrast within an inclusive ontology, we suggest further that the holding of inclusive assumptions enables us to think about Europe differently. Here we conceptualise Europe/EU not as an object, but as a simultaneously real and imagined space of action which exists only to the extent that Europeans and others act in and on it. This Europe is conceptualised as constantly being made in particular spaces, through specific actor struggles, whose interconnections are often ill-defined. We ask how do those concerned with building Europe, with extending and elaborating the EU, think of where they are and what they are doing?

In the third section, we turn to our concepts and how we can go about acquiring knowledge about this Europe/EU. We argue that the contingent nature of the interactions anticipated by an inclusive/reflexive ontology demands a systematic approach to demonstrate both where and how actors interpret, reference and articulate Europe and give it meaning. To develop one here, we not only use but seek to refine the concept of ‘space’ (Rumford, 2006). Problematising space is fundamental to our ontological positioning. For example, the spatial turn within social sciences more generally is predicated upon the understanding that spaces are neither natural nor pre-given: e.g. Europe is seen as many possible spaces (Delanty, 2006; Lawn, 2006). This stands by contrast with those operating from within an exclusive ontological framework, for whom the spatial (and territorial) categories of Europe and the EU are already assumed and defined – supranational; intergovernmental; multi-level. From an inclusive ontological perspective, this is not the case. Rather, the spaces of EU government are not assumed, but are to be identified through empirical research of the kind which follows in this book. In this section, we elaborate upon our treatment of space. More precisely, we problematise its real and imagined properties and its action, limits and power.

In the final section, we then go on to introduce the chapters in this book. In each case, contributors identify and explore different ways of approaching an examination of the spaces of Europe. Some of these spaces are familiar places revisited, e.g. the European Parliament (Chapter 1), the European Commission (Chapter 2). Some show practices of reconciliation, e.g., fishers’ and scientists’ knowledge over European fish stocks with European Commission interests (Chapter 3); or national identity projects with European-wide policy agendas (Chapter 4). Others are newly revealed e.g. the working practices of European consultants (Chapter 5); the European education policy space (Chapter 6); the self-regulatory practices of collective private actors in European markets (Chapter 7). Each chapter describes specific people in specific places and discusses what they do there. Studying and revealing the micro-processes of the work of governing Europe/EU in this way thus stems from our ontology of the EU. We demonstrate through empirical evidence how deeply institutionalised the EU can be in the daily work of different actors and in different places, yet also how radically unfinished and essentially contested.

To be clear, the book does not aim to show the depth of Europe and the EU in terms of territorial or policy scope, but rather its depth in terms of the range of spaces and actors who articulate Europe and give it meaning on a daily basis. In proceeding thus, our overall ambition is to question current dominant assumptions about what Europe is, can or might be, and to extend its range of study.

Approaching Europe and the EU: stating one’s ontology

Why ontology?

In this book, we wish to present and substantiate a particular way of thinking about Europe and the EU. In order to bring this about, we start with ontology. In beginning in this way, we are aware that critical reflections on ontological assumptions are almost entirely absent from political science debates on the EU. So why have one here?

There are two main reasons why we start with ontology. First, in developing new research agendas one cannot avoid ‘doing ontology’ (Wendt, 1999): ‘any interpretation of the facts entails committing oneself, whether one likes it or not, to ontological/ontic assumptions’ (Hay, 2009: 896). Even in the absence of an ontological discussion, one is still ‘doing ontology’ and for this reason we do not start out in this book by arguing merely in favour of doing ontology, but rather for stating one’s ontology. As Hall argues, acknowledging our ontology means acknowledging the fundamental assumptions we hold about the world and especially its causal relationships: ‘an ontology consists of premises about the deep causal structures of the world from which analysis begins and without which theories about the social world would not make sense’ (2003: 374).

Only by stating our fundamental assumptions can we hope to make clear ontological statements on ‘what’s out there to know about [Europe and the EU]’ and then proceed epistemologically and methodologically to ask ‘what can we hope to know about it?’ and ‘how can we go about acquiring that knowledge?’ (Hay, 2006: 85). Stating our ontology enables us therefore to be clear on our research focus and lines of enquiry and identify our collective distinctiveness. Moreover, when starting with ontology first, theory and discipline come second. This is important for the image of Europe to be presented in this book because its contributors come from a range of disciplines and sub-disciplines – sociology, political science, science and technology studies, anthropology, educational sociology. Through presenting their work we hope to demonstrate that thinking in terms of an ‘ontological distinctiveness’ allows us to find common ground, even when operating from within different (sub-) disciplines and theories.

But stating one’s ontology is not just important for making sense of one’s own work. Critically, the second reason we start with ontology is to argue that debates over theory within EU studies have tended to obscure the extent to which conventional wisdom on Europe and the EU is premised upon one set of ontological assumptions at the expense of another.⁴ In his article on the political ontology of European integration, Kauppi’s ultimate purpose in analysing EU studies ontologically is not simply one of categorisation (2010). Rather, he argues that EU studies scholarship has tended to operate from within the exclusive framework and that what are required are new research projects premised instead on an inclusive ontology: ‘in diffused ways, EU studies are still ruled by ontological individualism, substantialism and naturalism’ (Kauppi, 2010: 33).⁵ This has produced a body of work premised upon a set of assumptions about Europe and the EU which are individualist and naturalist in their ontology, with a focus on the autonomy of the individual. More precisely, these related ontological understandings of Europe are that ‘[its] reality is natural’; ‘[its] institutions are viewed as somehow detached from individuals’; ‘[its] political action is guided by rational individuals’; ‘there is a production and maintenance of dualisms, e.g. rational/irrational, national/supranational’ (all from Kauppi, 2010).

That EU studies is abundant with work premised upon naturalist, individualist and rationalist assumptions about the world is also a view held by scholars whose own work falls within this category (Pollack, 2007; Hix, 2005).⁶ For example, Hix’s account of the scope of EU studies has it as consisting of work dominated by Liberal Intergovernmentalism, Rational Choice or Governance – the first two approaches falling within the exclusive ontological framework, and the third author-dependent (Hix, 2005). More fundamentally, taking on exclusive assumptions about Europe can also be seen to transcend classical European integration theories, even if this is not how these theories are normally categorised. To begin with, Andrew Moravcsik’s (1993) Liberal Intergovernmentalism was clearly developed from within an exclusive ontology and this was the expressed foundation of his theory. Yet one can argue that neo-functionalism too – the first political theory of European integration developed by Ernst Haas and Leon Lindberg (1958; 1963) which Moravcsik explicitly set out to critique – was also premised upon exclusive assumptions. This is because critical economic and political interests of elites understood to be building Europe were analysed as materially given, as distinct from socially constructed (Pollack, 2007: 36). Ontological readings of subsequent approaches developed to study Europe also reveal that work whose appearance was to challenge the rationalist approach also remained bewitched by functionalist assumptions. For example, the multi-level governance approach, developed by Marks et al. (1996) as a powerful critique of Liberal Intergovernmentalism, nonetheless analysed actor motivation for choosing European solutions to identified problems in terms of rational cost-benefit calculations (Carter and Smith, 2008; Keating, 2001). Other approaches developed for studying Europe, for example, the literature on Europeanisation and the early social constructivist work by Christiansen, Jørgensen, and Wiener (2001) also cannot be entirely categorised as ontologically alternative. Initially these approaches set out to challenge the mainstream and offer us new descriptions of Europe. Yet both approaches have proved capable of accommodating work premised on exclusive as well as inclusive ontological assumptions (Bulmer, 2007 on Europeanisation), questioning whether they can be considered ‘approaches that share much at all’ (Smith, 2001: 190 on Christiansen et al., 2001).

Finally, when one considers EU studies’ textbooks from an ontological perspective, although frequently not explicit on their assumptions, the majority of them could be classified as grounded in an exclusive ontology concerning their assumptions about Europe and the making of the EU. Kauppi (2010) in fact cites a well-known textbook by Bomberg, Peterson and Stubb (2008) as exemplary of political analysis of the EU premised upon un-stated exclusive ontological assumptions, and we might list others, e.g. Lelieveldt and Princen, 2011; Ginsberg, 2007; Thomson et al., 2006.

In short, there is a dominance of work within EU studies which adopts either exclusive ontological assumptions about Europe/EU’s reality or a rather confusing mixture of both exclusive and inclusive assumptions – even if for the most part these assumptions are implied rather than clearly stated. Over time, this collective work has stabilised into producing a powerful set of images about what’s out there to know about the EU. These are, for example, images of a single or universal rationality of Europe/EU which is understood to be natural – even if scholars then debate whether that reality is supranational or intergovernmental or multi-level etc.⁷ These are images of EU institutions as referring to EU public organisations – the Council of Ministers, the European Commission, the European Parliament – rather than as meaning ‘more or less sedimented systems of discourse … partially fixed systems of rules, norms, resources, practices and subjectivities that are linked together in particular ways’ (Howarth, 2009: 312). These are representations of EU institutions sodefined being used instrumentally by actors to realise their materially given interests analysed from within functionalist accounts of EU policy-making.⁸ These are images of the EU as a set of rules to be adapted to, rather than a set of ideas which can be mobilised by actors in their daily policy-making. These are images of a Europe whose effects on national organisations and policy practice can be controlled by gatekeepers. These are images of Europe as an object with intrinsic properties and where dominant categories of analysis are ‘the EU’ versus ‘the national’ or ‘the regional’ (Smith, 2009). Overall, and to paraphrase Bevir talking about the state, this is a reified Europe/EU used to explain outcomes or causes ‘operat[ing] independently of the actors’ beliefs’ (Bevir, 2011: 189).

In a situation where these are the dominant images of Europe/EU, stating one’s case ontologically therefore becomes an essential and unavoidable exercise not only for making sense of one’s own work but critically when seeking to replace these images of Europe with alternative ones.

Which ontology?

Being explicit and stating our ontology matters, therefore. So what is our ontology within this book? Which ontological assumptions do we hold about Europe and the EU?

Termed ‘inclusive’ or ‘reflexive’, the alternative ontological tendencies which underpin the contributions in this book are process-orientated, collectivist and interpretivist, with a focus on the socialisation of individuals. Represented as a set of ‘powerful counter-presuppositions to the exclusive framework’ (Kauppi, 2010: 28) these are: ‘reality is not natural, but co-produced by people as groups’; ‘institutions are not detached from actors but their interactions are critical’; ‘political action is guided by individuals whose interests are socially constructed’; there is an ‘emphasis on the ties between the macro and micro, institutions and power and actions of individuals and groups in more or less structured social spheres’ (all from Kauppi, 2010: 28–31).

This means that first, we do not assume a single or universal rationality of Europe and the EU. Rather, we assume that individuals and groups hold varying subjective and inter-subjective representations and social constructions of Europe’s and the EU’s realities. For example, we cannot assume rationales for choosing European solutions and setting EU-wide instruments from imagined cost-benefit analysis. This is because from a constructivist or interpretivist perspective, there is no presumed single or universal way through which actors are assumed to understand the problems which they face on a daily basis. Rather, the emphasis is placed on studying how actors interpret the dilemmas they are confronted with in their daily work, how and why they choose ‘European’ solutions to those dilemmas and how they then seek to persuade others of their view of the world – and how, in this process, Europe and the EU are constantly produced and co-produced.

Second, drawing on scholarship seeking to refine our understandings of processes of institutionalisation (Jullien and Smith, 2014; Fligstein, 2008), an inclusive/reflexive ontology does not conflate an organisation such as the European Commission with an institution. Rather, it conceives of an institution as a rule, or an expectation, or a norm – and the institutionalisation of Europe and the EU as a growing interdependency on an EU-wide scale of institutions and actors, more or less stabilised through interactions, practices and political work (Fligstein, 2008). Institutions are not therefore ‘[just] things’, but are ‘socially embedded processes’ and ‘what people do’ (Cleaver and Franks, 2005: 3). Drawing on work by scholars such as Parsons (2003), prominence is given to ideas – conceptualised as social representations – as sources of power. Social representations are understood to be mobilised by actors who work within specific environments seeking either to change their environment or justify its continuity. This means that whereas in some cases new European spaces of action are ad hoc or unstable, for others routinised behaviour and established hierarchies of actors create continuities of action and stabilised interactions between groups. Capturing these interactions is therefore critical to this approach whereby actors not only seek to stabilise any compromises reached but to legitimise them (Smith, 2009). Interpreting symbols, discourses and the power dynamics of political communication therefore forms part of our research enquiry (Krzyz˙anowski and Oberhuber, 2007).

Third, in terms of strategies of action – or agency – we assume an interaction of the ideational and organisational, or the symbolic and the physical. For example, we position ourselves with others (in this case operating from within constructivist institutionalist approaches) to argue against the notion of materially given interests and see interests instead as social constructions (Rowell and Mangenot, 2010). This does not mean that interests are independent of power relations; on the contrary, social constructions are constituted by, and constitutive of, power relations. Accordingly, Europe is conceived as socially constructed and institutionalised through discursive practices and myriad forms of political communication in which power dynamics are ongoing (Muntigl et al., 2000). Neither do we assume individuals necessarily to act irrationally.⁹ Rather actors’ social representations and constructions of their reality and their perceptions of their interests condition their choices in developing strategies of engagement. Our third line of enquiry is consequently to identify processes by which actor interests are framed, aligned with others, and possibly re-cast, and in so doing, to reveal actors’ collective strategic action. This places an emphasis on the social and political mechanisms through which interests are shaped, for example, by challenging reductionist applications of processes of socialisation (Shore, 2009) or by analysing the production and maintenance of tacit knowledge which sustains political action (Wodak, 2011).

Fourth, moving away from national/supranational dichotomies, or binary distinctions, allows for a problematisation of space to be realised. This is an argument recently advanced by Parsons, namely that one of the distinctive features of a sociological school is its problematisation of the spatial context. Rather than talking in terms of supranational or intergovernmental Europe we must ask instead ‘how people in the European Union perceive their evolving practical spaces of action’ (Parsons, 2010: 149: see also Smith, 2009; Rumford, 2002). Problematising the concept of space is therefore critical to this approach and enables us to connect the macro and micro levels of analysis (Guiraudon, 2009).

Of course, we are not suggesting that the holding of this ontological positioning is new in studies of Europe and the EU. On the contrary, it is consistent with a growing scholarship advancing a political sociology of Europe and the EU (Rowell and Mangenot, 2010). This is a rich scholarship which has been developed and applied by scholars to Europe/EU for some time now (Jullien and Smith, 2014; Wodak et al., 2013; Saurugger and Mérand, 2010; Smith, 2010 [2004]; Zimmerman and Favell, 2009; Vauchez, 2008; Krzyz˙anowski and Oberhuber, 2007; Guiraudon, 2003; Rumford, 2002; Georgakakis, 2002; Muntigl et al., 2000; Shore, 2000). Although varied, scholars therein share these basic ontological assumptions, even if this is not always explicitly stated in this way. Our ultimate aim in this book is consequently to build upon and add to this scholarship by developing and refining how the holding of these inclusive ontological assumptions enables us to re-imagine Europe – what it was, is and can be.

Conceptualising Europe’s multiple spaces and their government

Having stated our ontology, in this section we go on to state our approach which uses and refines the concept of space (Delanty, 2006; Rumford, 2006; Ferguson and Jones, 2002). Of course, space is another essential image which tries not to be an image at all. Even in taking our first step, therefore, we find this space is already occupied by those who think of Europe as an arena. Drawing on an old cultural resource, they conceive of Europe as something like a classical amphitheatre or forum with a defined set of actors and a distinctive architecture. It is a space for sport, talk and sometimes battle.

More recently, however, scholars in sociology, geography and anthropology have begun to develop a different sense of this space. This is one which is essentially ill-defined, necessarily underdetermined. Conceptualising Europe as a space and not as a thing, we understand that it exists only to the extent that Europeans and others act in and on it. We are interested, therefore, in the multiple ways that Europe is done, achieved, conducted, enacted, carried out and imagined. Europe comes together as European actors come together, collaborate and make sense of their worlds. In this way, we ask first, ‘How should we think of this space

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