Imaging Europe: Beaucratic Narratives and Ideological Dreams

The Frisby Memorial Lectures, University of Glasgow, September 19, 2017

The European Union is not Europe. Europe is a two thousand year old civilizational landscape housing a multitude of different but related societies. The European Union is a political construct dating from the 1950s that has in its short lifetime undergone continuous deep transformation. Like earlier political constructs in Europe, it seeks legitimacy by encouraging stories about itself that connect it to Europe as a continent and its supposed historical purpose, cultural identity, and moral unity. European cultural and historical narratives deployed to legitimate the European Union as a political project are the latest in a long line of earlier stories of Europe, each linked to the political and economic objectives and power relations of the day. Like other ideologies, they are dropped and replaced depending on what political opportunities allow or require; they tell us more about Europe’s politics than about Europe. Identification with Europe as a civilization does not require identification with the European Union as a political construction. Depending on the changing condition of the latter it may in fact be incompatible with it.


Between Charity and Justice: Remarks on the Social Construction of Immigration Policy in Rich Democracies

Danish Centre for Welfare Studies, Working Paper 2017-5, September 2017

As a sociologist working on political economy, one of the most difficult questions I encounter is how social norms, the location of actors in the class structure and the collective construction of reality, present and future, hang together. How are facts construed to fit, justify and make appear possible moral or economic practices, or economic practices defended as moral ones, and how do socially constructed factual accounts of the world reflect, preserve and produce political identities and cleavages and the prevailing interpretations of structurally based social interests? This is the classical theme of Ideologiekritik and, later, Wissenssoziologie – the interrogation of collective “ideas”, legitimacy-enhancing “narratives” and the conceptual “frames” of the common sense of the time as to the hidden impact on them of material interests growing out of the social locations of actors and the specific cognitive and moral perspectives they impose on them. (…)

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Macron, el hombre, 10 de mayo del 2017

La elección de Emmanuel Macron es otro síntoma más de la crisis del sistema de Estados democrático-capitalista, similar a acontecimientos como Trump, el Brexit o el declive de la Eurozona. En Francia, al igual que en cualquier otro lugar, el sistema de partidos de posguerra, dominado por el centro izquierda y el centro derecha, se ha roto en añicos. Esto ha hecho posible el auge de un artista del buen rollo, un hombre de confianza de los altos mandatarios de la sociedad francesa –que simboliza juventud, optimismo y la promesa de un futuro brillante y hermoso–, un hombre procedente de la banca de inversión, que viene directamente catapultado desde los departamentos de relaciones públicas del sector financiero. (Continue)

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Playing Catch Up

Review of three recent books on Germany

London Review of Books, Vol. 39, No. 9, May 2017, pp. 26-28

How could Germany of all countries have become a paragon, politically stable and economically successful, of democratic capitalism in the 1970s – ‘Modell Deutschland’ – and later, in the 2000s, Europe’s uncontested economic and political superpower? Any explanation must have recourse to a Braudelian longue durée, in which destruction can be progress – utter devastation turned into a lasting blessing – because capitalist progress is destruction, of a more or less creative sort. In 1945 unconditional surrender forced Germany, or what was left of its western part, into what Perry Anderson has called a ‘second round of capitalist transformation’ of the sort no other European country has ever had to undergo. Germany’s bout was a violent – sharp and short – push forward into social and economic ‘modernity’, driving it for ever from the halfway house of Weimar, in a painful dismantling of structures of political domination and social solidarity, feudal fetters which had held back the country’s capitalist progress and which, in locally different manifestations, continue to block capitalist rationalisation in many other European countries. (Continue on