N° 25, 2008/2 – Sociological Approaches to European Integration. Critical Perspectives

PE25Sociological Approaches to European Integration. Critical Perspectives

edited by Sabine Saurugger, 2008/2 (n°25)


Sabine Saurugger – A Sociology of European Integration?

The aim of this paper is to study the heterogeneity of sociological approaches, concentrating on the European integration process. The objective is to situate these sociological approaches in relation to the epistemological backgrounds of other conceptual frameworks. This is done in three steps. While the first part of the paper concentrates on the definition of sociological approaches to European integration, the second looks more closely at the central puzzles that are shared by the majority of researchers working in the sociological tradition. A third and final part presents in greater detail critical approaches to European integration. 


Frédéric Merand – Should (American) Institutionalists Read (French) Sociologists?

Focusing on studies of the European Union, this paper deals with (dis)agreements between the new institutionalism and Bourdieu-inspired political sociology. The aim is to suggest concrete ways to integrate the sociological tradition into the neo-institutionalist literature. To do so, it first shows how the importance given by neo-institutionalists to rules and norms gives way to a broader theory of fields in French sociology. It then proposes to add conflict and domination (which are dominant in political sociology) to the institutionalist toolbox of mechanisms of institutional change, including unanticipated consequences, entrepreneurship, social innovation, and isomorphism. Finally it argues that it would be sound for neo-institutionalists to go beyond the abstract dichotomy between the logic of consequences and the logic of appropriateness by adopting a more generic conception of practice tested by fieldwork.


Didier Georgakakis – Historical and Political Sociology and the European Union: An Overview and Some Comments

This paper presents an overview of the hundreds of papers relating to the historical and political sociology of the EU published in France during the past two years, particularly around the sociology of knowledge and of the trajectories and positions of the social agents and groups that make up the European political space. It then suggests perspectives on their contribution to the international debate, notably by analyzing the EU’s political and institutional central space.


Niilo Kauppi, Mikael Rask Madsen – Institutions and Actors: Rationality, Reflexivity, and the Study of the EU

Sociological research on the European Union provides a much needed alternative to mainstream EU-studies dominated by economics, law, IR and political science. However, until now this sociological alternative has mostly involved the adaptation of sociological terminology such as “social construction” or “identity” and the introduction of new objects of research, such as the social conventions regulating national security or the discursive constructions of Europe. Sociological theory also provides the tools for a more fundamental re-evaluation of some of the ontological and epistemological presuppositions of EU research and a corresponding reconstruction of the object of study of European studies. In this article, we will suggest a sociological framework by exploring key notions such as rationality and reflexivity. It is our claim that these are the tools necessary for explaining what remains one of the biggest issues of European studies, namely the interplay of European institutions and actors both within the Brussels game and across national frontiers. These epistemological and ontological presuppositions prevent a great deal of research based on the same presuppositions and the dualisms they produce (individualinstitution, socialization-calculation, supranational-national, etc.) from developing a more complex, “thick” description, of EU integration.


Julien Weisbein – Contrapuntal Europe: New Research Topics and Valuable Old Sociological Theories in the Study of EU Questions. New Empirical Objects and Good Old Sociological Theories in the Study of EU Questions

This paper adapts to European studies the contrapuntal logic of musicology, i.e., the relationship between two or more voices or melodies that are independent in contour and rhythm and interdependent in harmony. The several melodies simultaneously played thus intertwine and together form a richer whole. A contrapuntal Europe may thus bring together two original objects in the field of European studies: Elsewhere Europe, and Otherwise Europe. In the first section of this paper, it is argued that European integration affects social groups not only from above, i.e., through top-down norms and patterns but also from below. For scholars, new research topics can thus be found elsewhere through indirect reflections on EU institutionalization. However, the study of such new topics requires no new paradigms. Instead, notions widely used by scholars in understanding what is taking place in EU integration can be enlighten thanks to traditional sociological tools. The second section of the paper discusses a notion specific to EU issues, namely Europeanization, through an old concept drawn from Norbert Elias’s work in order to demonstrate that the latter can considerably enrich the former. 


Bernard Jullien, Andy Smith – The European Union and the Regulation of Industries: Toward a Political Sociology of the Economy

Informed by an ontology, an epistemology and concepts forged with the support of a sociology that is essentially French, this article sets out to analyse the regulation of industries in Europe by adopting a perspective that combines institutionalist theories developed in industrial economics and public policy analysis. It then shows how transforming this approach into interdisciplinary empirical research questions provides a means of systematically studying the European government of industries. Finally, by encompassing a wide cross-section of European industrial organizations and policies, this research strategy generates hypotheses on the dynamics of this government and, in particular, of the role competition policy plays within it.


Sophie Jacquot, Cornelia Woll – A Sociological Perspective on Strategic Action in European Integration

Many have noted that European integration theory has moved beyond the theoretical divide between inter-governmentalists and neo-functionalists that marked the 1990s. While some authors simply abandoned theoretical frameworks to concentrate on empirical puzzles, others adopted positions stemming from international relations theory or comparative political science. The most important paradigmatic divide in European Union studies now seems to be between rationalists and constructivists, or rational choice institutionalists and more sociological perspectives on the study of European integration that focus on the role of ideas and representation in the evolution of institutional settings. This paper surveys recent studies that have adopted the latter perspective while at the same time concentrating on the strategic decision making of intentional actors at the center of rational choice approaches. By studying the contributions of such a middle-ground perspective to the study of Europeanization in particular, we argue against a dichotomy between rational and constructivist approaches and highlight the centrality of fluid coalition patterns and power relationships in the study of the European Union. 


Sabine Saurugger – Is There a Need for a Sociology of International Relations in European Studies?

While an increasing number of scholars use approaches employed to study domestic politics in analyzing the European Union’s political system, the intergovernmental aspect of the integration process is becoming less and less relevant. However, in areas where governments hold exclusive or even shared competences, it is important not to compare their attitudes to those of individual citizens since states are compound systems. To reintroduce the questions and problems linked to state sovereignty and inter- as well as trans-governmental relations, this paper analyzes the theoretical relevance of sociological approaches to international relations that conceptualize power, sovereignty, and international norms as social constructs.


French follies ?

This article provides a critical analysis of the contribution made by French political sociologists to the study of the European Union.. While expressing scepticism about the quest for specific national or disciplinary contributions, the author remains positive about potential uses for the utilization of the impressive body of knowledge that has been accumulated by researchers – including French researchers – on the European Union. This involves, not least, the potential to develop concepts that can be used to structure that knowledge and that can act as a basis for fruitful comparison across cases both within Europe and without. The various papers in this special issue suggest a number of important avenues to be explored in this regard.




Marie-Anne Guérin – Cultural Heritage: Implementing the EU Legitimizing Strategy ‒ The Case of the Interreg Program. The Example of the Interreg Programs

Today, the EU is involved in the area of heritage, particularly through the Interreg Program. How can we interpret the EU’s investment in the cultural field, which is intrinsically linked to the nation-building process? Cross-border heritage production can be analyzed as a way for the EU to forge a European cultural identity based on a mosaic pattern, given its inability to create a substantial geo-strategic narrative to legitimize its political authority. The EU should favor shared regionalized identities and thus encourage mutual understanding.


Areas of Research


Virginie Saliou – Ruling the Seas: The Emergence and Institutionalization of a European Maritime Policy


Critical Readings