Research & Studies

The Crisis of European Construction and the need for a European Civil Society


The Role of Academia Reconsidered

In this new epoch of rapid social change, globalization, integration and disintegration, the two terrains and mindsets (academic theory and policymaking) should not be separated from each other on the basis of Weberian rigour. The social sciences should deliver useful ideas, praxis-oriented approaches and methodologies for decision makers and those who implement policy. This is true in the case of civil society research as well. If a concept proves to be so pertinent and resistant to all kinds of attempts to denigrate, marginalize and out right burial, it deserves the attention of both theoretical and practical minds.

After discovering and rediscovering its historic roots, interpreting and reinterpreting its emergence in different times, cultural contexts and geopolitical settings, social scientists have to be able to build bridges between their historical-theoretical terrains and the practical problems, challenges and complexities of our present and rapidly changing world. Rapid change and the new social demands that change provokes are not going to leave the conventional bastions of knowledge–production intact. Even if we are aware that universities and academic centers are among the most conservative of institutions, they should contribute to the accumulation of new types of knowledge.

But change is not restricted to just academic structures and scopes and methodologies of research. Academics, research institutes and universities need to reconsider their roles and raison d’etre in an increasingly globalized, transnational and networking world. Politicians, the decision-making and implementing bureaucracies, representatives of the sphere of public governance also need to listen more carefully to the changing expectations and demands of societies, larger or smaller constituencies and their organizations, movements and networks. They also need to be able to formulate clearer messages and more accountable promises. In order to do so, they themselves must reach a deeper understanding of the changing realities and concepts they use to describe them.

Concepts used for slogans can be helpful in the short run to create illusions or can positively influence public mood temporarily but they usually backfire if substance is lacking and misperceptions are revealed.

Today in Europe civil society is preeminent among the most frequently used and misused concepts in political and public debates. It can create confusion and frustration not only among philosophers and social scientists but even more among social activists and authorities, not only at the domestic and local levels, but at the transnational, European and global levels as well.

The present crisis of the EU, related to the failure of the process of constitutionalization, is a good example. From the mid 1990s on, there was a growing concern within the leading institutions of the EU about the future of the integration and enlargement processes. Faced by a mounting pressure from globalization and from Eastern enlargement, leading politicians, experts and think tanks looked for new concepts and solutions to replace or enrich the old methods of integration.

Read more on the Institute for Social and European Studies website.