CORDIS - EU research results

Networks and Narratives: The Transnational Community of European Studies 1957-2004

Final Report Summary - ESNETNARR (Networks and Narratives: The Transnational Community of European Studies 1957-2004)

This interdisciplinary project combined the perspectives of politics and contemporary history, but also drew on sociology of knowledge. The researcher examined the community of scholars who study European integration – most commonly known as European Studies (ES). He focused on these scholars’ transnational networks and narratives about European integration, asking whether the former helped to shape the latter.

ES is important to European integration for at least two reasons. First, the particularly transnational organisation and universalist ideology of scholarly elites make them pioneers of transnational integration. In this counterpart to official political integration, informal European networks emerge among individuals and institutions. Transnationality in ES organisation and narratives therefore constitutes an indicator of European social and cultural integration among elites. Second, ES is a key informal ‘European institution’. Its role as an important intellectual infrastructure of the EU resembles that of late nineteenth century social scientific disciplines such as history, political science and sociology vis-à-vis nationalism and the new modern state apparatuses. ES scholarship sometimes influences formal politics, including through the training of practitioners, but more importantly, its thousands of cadres and students constitute an important section of the elite which understands and identifies with European integration.

The role of elites and especially those that work in areas of culture, education and communication has become increasingly important since the early 1990s, as intense politicisation of the EU has progressively superseded earlier understandings of it as a technical body. Overlapping and increasingly pan-European networks of elites have emerged in the political, economic and scholarly fields to construct and defend what have until recently been the dominant elite narratives (accounts, ways of understanding and discussing) of European integration. In the current extended crisis of integration, counter-elites are challenging these narratives in order to mobilise national publics against the EU. This has made it urgently necessary to understand how transnational elite networks (structures of relationships) are organised, and how they produce and use integration narratives to buttress their views and agendas.

To investigate ES networks and narratives, the researcher focused in particular on the most prominent scholars, as defined by the key metric of how often they were cited. He combined this bibliometry, the quantitative analysis of bibliographic citation, with the historical technique of prosopography, or quantitatively analysing biographical data across a group, and the discourse analysis of scholarly literature, which identified normative political subtexts.

The project examined two ‘canons’ of 70 and 73 highly cited ES journal articles. Canons of authoritative texts, repeatedly read and cited by students, teachers and researchers, are a key institution in any academic community. The project focused on two important aspects of the narratives of ES. The first is normativity. Narratives affect politics most strongly when they actively take a positive or negative view of a political object like the EU. The researcher investigated one very specific and limited practice of normativity, the expression in canonical articles that European integration or its institutions or policies are bad or good, flourishing or declining. He studied the use of normative and objective language in ES to reconstruct the implicit rules governing this writing practice, and how, why and for whom they have changed. To quantitatively analyse normativity, the researcher scored texts on scales of their overall degree of normativity and their positive or negative disposition towards integration, its institutions or policies.

The research found that most canonical political science articles in ES contained normative expressions. It also confirmed the observation of other scholars that a key normative narrative in ES literature represented European integration as inexorably intensifying and progressing towards a supranational form. However these common practices of normative writing appear to clash with the nineteenth-century scientific doctrine of positivism, which despite decades of criticism by sociologists of knowledge as a social construct, maintains a powerful sway over the social sciences. Positivism represents political science as a separate sphere from politics, uncovering objective facts about it. Good, ‘rigorous’ scholarship therefore requires an objectivist gaze free from personality, avoiding any presence of the author, their emotions or viewpoint.

The second focus of the project was the transnational networks of ES scholars. As universalism is central to the positivist concept of objective facts, modern scholars have usually assumed that their project is an international one and that particularlising characteristics of researchers, such as their nationality, are essentially irrelevant to their science. The researcher’s previous research on the transnational community of race scientists in the nineteenth and early twentieth century found however that this was not the case. Particular research practices diffused through established networks, which often followed cultural and geographical lines. Far from maintaining a strict objective separation from the normative political implications of their work, race science publications systematically revealed the strong political positions of their authors.

Similarly, the biographies of ES scholars significantly shaped their work. Disciplinary historians of ES, who are almost all practitioners, for example frequently note a transatlantic divide in the field. American scholars are reputedly more positivistic, more dedicated to drawing parsimonious theoretical conclusions (as opposed to the European predilection for culturally-contextualised thick description), more quantitative in their methods, more interested in grand intergovernmental bargains than the day-to-day politics of governing Europe and more inclined to attribute political choices to rational decisions rather than cultural socialisation. Because ES has generally been an inter or multi-disciplinary project, whose component disciplines approach European integration in very different ways, the varying fortumes of disciplines from country to country matter greatly. Political sociology has played a disproportionate role in French ES for example, while political science has been particularly central in English-speaking countries. Time and generational differences also shape scholarly culture. The release of archival documents under the 30-year rule profoundly shaped the perspectives of historians of European integration. From the 1980s on meanwhile, ES political scientists increasingly insisted on contributing to the ‘mainstream’ of general political science theory-building, at the expense of interdisciplinary collaboration within ES. After the millennium however, many turned to new post-positivist approaches, involving the close analysis of meaning in linguistic expression and the recognition of non-rational political motivations. All this affected the normativity of academic writing.

To examine the impact of different groups within ES on its narratives, the researcher addressed the case study of enlargement and especially its relationship with civilisational discourses. Since the start of the last century in particular, scholars have periodically attempted to connect political behaviour with large-scale cultural divisions, based largely on religious traditions. A famous example from the 1990s is Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations thesis. This has repeatedly been used to connect EU enlargement with Western civilisation, questioning the potential of countries with a largely Orthodox or Moslem tradition to participate successfully in European integration.

The project’s analysis of the networks of ES scholars relied on two main evidence sources. After satisfying the necessary ethics requirements, the researcher carried out 21 semi-structured 60-minute interviews with leading scholars in the field, from throughout Europe and America, at conferences in Lausanne, Boston, Paris and Bilbao, on trips to Madrid, Keele and Oxford and over the phone. He compiled bibliographical databases to select which scholars to target for interviews and e-mail questionnaires. The interviews collected information about institutional, disciplinary and epistemological/theoretical affiliation, spatial location (including migration and publication), research area (power relations, interdisciplinarity, major cliques and cleavages), network connections (colleagues, collaborations, influences), and change over time in these factors, including (inter)disciplinary engagement and the role of ES institutions. The researcher’s second evidence source on the networks of ES was an analysis of co-authorship as an index of collaboration between leading scholars. The Anglophone bias of Google Scholar, which he had used to examine normativity, made it unsuitable for examining transnational networking within ES. Instead therefore, the researcher examined ES textbooks in order to identify the nuclei of several different national networks. He sourced these texts during interview missions to Madrid, Paris and Bruges. To choose the most suitable textbooks, the researcher prepared and distributed to sixteen scholars a short research questionnaire which also collected data on the respondent’s CV, publications and teaching.

This project provides important insights into the formation and presentation of the elite narratives that sustain and challenge European integration. It also however makes an innovative contribution to the history and current understanding of ES as a field and especially to the way that scholars think about their own practices of writing.