Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1998


Delanty, G. (1998) 'Social Theory and European Transformation: Is there a European Society?'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 3, no. 1, <>

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Received: 12/2/98      Accepted: 30/3/98      Published: 31/3/98


The concept 'society' in social theory has generally presupposed notions of cultural cohesion and social integration associated with national societies and the framework of modernity. This older idea of the social emerged out of the experience with institution-building associated with the rise of the nation-state and the transition from 'tradition' to 'modernity'. The question whether European integration can articulate a conception of the social independent of national society is a major challenge for social theory. This paper explores changing conceptions of the social in recent social theory and applies some of these ideas to European integration. It is argued that we need to rethink our notion of society: instead of a 'transition' the kind of social change we are experiencing today is that of social 'transformation', a concept which suggests less the 'end of the social' than an emerging 'network' society based on knowledge. Thus instead of trying to reproduce on the supranational level a model that has reached its limits on the national level, European integration needs to give expression to the emerging power of knowledge. Rejecting the notion of the demos and the ethnos as inappropriate to European integration, the case is made for a discursive understanding of democracy and knowedge.

Citizenship; Culture; Democracy; Identity; Knowledge; Europe

Introduction: Durkheim in Contemporary Perspective

Towards the end of his classic work, The Division of Labour in Society,Emile Durkheim (1960: pp. 405 - 6) reflected on the possibility of a European society emerging out of the diversity of national societies. It is forgotten nowadays that one of his conclusions was that:

... among European peoples there is a tendency to form, by spontaneous movement a European society which has, at present, some idea of itself and the beginning of organization. If the formation of a single human society is forever impossible, a fact which has not been proved, at least the formation of continually larger societies brings us vaguely near the goal. (Durkheim, 1960: pp. 405 - 6)

It was Durkheim's thesis that the ever increasing division of labour in society was bringing into being a more differentiated and complex society which was characterized by what he called organic solidarity as opposed to the mechanical forms of solidarity which prevailed in earlier times. Illustrating the concept of organic solidarity with respect to Europe, he argued

... today ... the different nations of Europe are much less independent of one another, because, in certain respects, they are all part of the same society, still incoherent, it is true, but becoming more and more self-conscious. What we call the equilibrium of Europe is a beginning of the organization of this society. (Durkheim, 1960: p. 121).

The fundamental question underlying his work concerned the question of what holds a society together, or how is social integration possible. In his view social integration in modern industrial society was leading towards the formation of a society which was in its social and economic structures characterized by the division of labour, that is, a functionally differentiated society. Under such conditions, he believed, social integration required a particular kind of cultural cohesion that would be in harmony with social structures. The older forms of cultural cohesion - such as the idea of community - were losing their hold because they were based on a too direct (or 'mechanical', as he claimed) relationship between the individual and society. His question, then, related to the connection between social integration and cultural cohesion under the conditions of societal differentiation. More fundamentally, his question was: how is social order possible? The answer that Durkheim found was two-fold.

Firstly, a differentiated society could only be based on cultural forms of solidarity that were differentiated, that is based on generalized values. In his view this could only be realized in the evolution of co- operative relations between groups, in particular occupational groups, and through education. Such a value system would not be based on the values of a particular group in society but shared civic values.

The second perspective Durkheim proposed was that the actual historical experience of his time was not illustrative of this new organic form of solidarity, for civic morality was everywhere in crisis. Of course Durkheim was largely responding to the particular situation in France, which had suffered humiliating defeat by the Prussians, and anti-semitism, arising out of the Drefyus Affair, which was threatening to polarize French society. It was no coincidence that Durkheim chose the theme of suicide for his great empirical treatise, Suicide (1975). The phenomenon of suicide epitomized the anomie which Durkheim thought was creeping into European society in its transitional stage between traditional society and the truly modern stage, the latter which he associated with the European. Anomie results when there is a break-down in solidarity, when a discord emerges between culture and society, and as a result individuals no longer feel integrated into the society. Suicide, in particular the phenomenon of 'anomic suicide', was symptomatic of the lack of coherence between cultural cohesion and social integration.

It may be remarked that in his later work, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, (1915) Durkheim moved to a more advanced position seeing cultural cohesion in terms of the formation of cultural 'representations' which expressed the 'collective conscience'. These representations were the objectified self- images, or representations, of society. In the present context what is of great interest is whether Europe can articulate such a representation of itself: what is the collective conscience of European society? As early as The Division of Labour in Society Durkheim had considered this question. What happens, he wondered, when two collective consciences confront each other. 'For one people to be penetrated by another', he argued, 'it must cease to hold to an exclusive patriotism, and learn another which is more comprehensive'. Durkheim goes on to argue:

... this relation of facts can be directly observed in most striking fashion in the international division of labour history offers us. It can truly be said that it has never been produced except in Europe and in our time. But it was at the end of the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the nineteenth century that a common conscience of European societies began to be formed. (Durkheim, 1960: p. 281).

What was the situation in his own time? Durkheim like many of the fin-de-siècle thinkers was deeply pessimistic that a genuinely European collective conscience would emerge and overcome the aggressive nationalism that was bringing Europe closer to war. Though he opposed the negatively defined conservative view of the move from the cohesive world of community to the individualistic world of society - as is evidenced in his critique of Tönnies' (1957) Community and Society - he was ambivalent on the merits of society (Durkheim, 1972: pp. 146 - 7). Against Tönnies he did not think modern society, because of its differentiated structures, could recover the traditional idea of community as a fusion of culture and society; yet, 'the social' was something deeply ambiguous. It could provide the individual with more autonomy but it could also undermine it in the formation of anomie.

In conclusion, then, Durkheim was one of the first thinkers to reflect on the idea of a European society as an emergent reality. While many intellectuals from the Enlightenment onwards wrote about the possibility of a European polity and from the late nineteenth century the theme of European culture became increasingly popular among intellectuals (Delanty, 1995a; 1995b), few actually thought about the question of 'the social' itself as a reality sui generis, to use Durkheim's much loved term. The specificity of a European society for Durkheim lay in two dimensions. In terms of its social structures it was characterized by the growing differentiation in institutions and by increasing size in space and demography, the theme of The Division of Labour in Society. However, what is more central, and it was to become Durkheim's central interest, is the question of the articulation of cultural representations which could give expression to solidarity in a differentiated society. While Durkheim never wrote systematically on European society and never applied his late work in the sociology of knowledge to contemporary developments, his sociology pointed to the view that social integration required a co-operative framework for social groups and one in which education would play an ever greater role in generating cultural cohesion around the formation of generalized values. His central concepts are of great importance in theorizing European social integration. The idea of how a society represents itself and creates a cognitive space which constitutes, what he called, the 'meeting ground' between two collective consciences is an issue of central importance in understanding European integration in terms of the problematic of the relationship between social integration and cultural cohesion. A century later we have still not moved beyond Durkheim's fear that the degenerating forces of anomie are creeping into the vacuum created by the divergence of the social and the cultural.

In this paper I shall attempt to develop some analytical perspectives on Durkheim's problem. My question is how can European integration articulate a cultural model which would give expression to the reality of the social. What is the social and the cultural with respect to European integration? Can it be based on values? My thesis essentially is that the debate on the social and cultural element in European integration - that is, questions pertaining to citizenship, identity, democracy, inclusion - have been hopelessly confused by borrowing the conceptual vocabulary of the nation-state. I shall demonstrate the absurdity of trying to conceive of a meaningful social dimension in European integration in so far as this is seen as an attempt to reproduce on the supranational level a model that has been specific to the nation-state. My aim is not to dismiss the project of European integration or to confine it to intergovernmental co-operation but to explore how it is tendentially expressing commonalities in European society. It is at this point, too, that the limits of a Durkheimian analysis become apparent since Durkheim believed that the formation of a European society was simply a reproduction of the nation-state, albeit on a larger scale, and that societal differentiation leads to convergence.

I begin by identifying four dimensions of group membership - the demos, the ethnos, the social and the cosmopolitan - which I am provisionally calling community. I then outline three views (the realist paradigm of co-operation, the federalist paradigm of unification, and the prevailing functionalist paradigm of regulation) on European integration and argue that none of these really provide a model of integration as a process involving community. I then assess the extent to which European integration can be conceived in terms of a demos, an ethnos and the social, and to argue that these concepts cannot be applied in a meaningful way to European integration. I then argue we need we need a new concept of group membership or community to theorize 'the social' in European integration. I conclude by pointing to a possible alternative model of social integration based on the idea of the knowledge society.

Four Dimensions of Community

In discussions of citizenship and group membership it is conventional to distinguish between the demos and the ethnos.[1] The former referring to membership of the political community and the latter membership of the cultural community. Membership of the political community is generally taken to be a matter of citizenship and is therefore to be defined in terms of a relation to the state. Membership of the ethnos, on the other hand, is normally a matter of a pre-political bond to a cultural community. Of course both can frequently cut across each other but in general the historical experience has been that citizenship as nationality, i.e. membership of a state, has not been fully coeval with membership of a cultural community.

The theme of political community has been closely identified with liberal-pluralist discourse, which stresses rights, the classic ones being 'Life, Liberty and Property'. However, the neo-republican tradition from Aristotle through Rousseau to Arendt emphasizes participation. These two traditions represent the two faces of citizenship, as formal and as substantive. Formal citizenship being a question of a status bestowed by the state on its members (and entailing reciprocal duties of citizens to the state in return for their rights). This reciprocity has historically been known as the social contract, as in the tradition from Hobbes and Locke to Mill. The concept of liberty that it is based on is called 'negative liberty', the freedom that comes from the absence of constraint. This is a tradition that is generally associated with limited government but in modern times has been extended into the domain of social rights, as described by T. H. Marshall in his famous work Citizenship and Social Class (1992). Substantive citizenship, on the other hand, is a matter not of formal rights but of participation in decision making. This is an active citizenship, as opposed to the passive citizenship in rights discourse. In this tradition the political community is seen in less individualistic terms and the concept of citizenship that it articulates is not one of a formal relationship between the autonomous individual and the tendentially oppressive state. There is a strong emphasis on the reality of community as a cohesive entity.

Cultural community as an expression of the ethnos as opposed to the demos is reflected in much of nationalist discourse and in conservative ideology. The individual or collectivity is seen as being defined by the cultural community and not by the political community, which is supposed to be derivative. Today, this position is of often associated with communitarianism, which sees the demos as an expression of the ethnos: politics is the expression of the ethical life of its citizens who constitute a cultural community. However, it must be noted that most versions of communitarianism, save for the conservative variation, should in fact be termed liberal communitarianism since they claim to have reconciled community and individualism (Delanty, 1997a). In the present context what is more important is to note is that the ethnos is being associated with national communities. This takes two forms. In neo-nationalist discourse the nation is defined in cultural terms, rather than in political terms. A second context is the tendency to re- invent the nation as an ethnos when what is at stake is resistance to globalization or transnational developments, such as European integration. In sociology Anthony Smith (1995) is an example of such a defender of the nation as an ethnos.

The third distinction I wish to make relates to the very notion of society. What is society? This is a question that is becoming once again relevant as a result of the denial of the social in contemporary social and political theory (Wagner, 1998) and in the context of globalization and European integration. In classical sociology the concept of society was generally taken for granted, rarely becoming explicitly reflected upon, with the exception of Durkheim and Simmel (Frisby and Sayer, 1986). In general society was associated with national societies, albeit for Weber the focus ultimately was a comparative sociology of civilizations and for Marx the stress was more on society as a system of social relations defined by class. Societies were equated with the institutional order and, on the whole, were seen in mainstream sociology as 'thing-like' entities (eg. Durkheim's formulation in his Rules of Sociological Method (1938), the social was a reality in itself and could be observed as a set of 'facts'). This positivistic conception of the social entailed a view of it being relatively visible. In the classical tradition (with its functionalist and modernization bias) the problem of society was generally seen in terms of the question of social order (Wrong, 1994). Order was seen as the natural condition, with change as an deviation from the norm. Moreover, the conventional notion of society was one that rested on the belief that society was based on one central integrating principle, namely the nation-state. Society was also a nation (a cultural community) and centred in a state (the political community). In the era of the territorial nation-state - which is coming to an end as a self-contained sovereign entity - this fusion of the cultural community and the political community, ethnos and demos, was the condition of the possibility of the social. Social integration and cultural cohesion were made possible by the discourse of the nation and by the ability of the state to protect the social. The visibility of the social was made possible by new media of communication that had arisen since the discovery of printing. The icons of the nation, in particular maps, flags, coinage, the nation could be made visible for its citizens (Anderson, 1984; Gellner, 1983). With the emergence of mass society in the early twentieth century and the extension of school education to the masses, the nation became firmly identified with the social. Underlying the idea of society is the notion of consensus. Cultural cohesion is supposed to rest on some kind of consensus, or at least, according to Marxists, a dominant ideology, if not a false consciounsess. The idea and reality of society emerged out of the transition from 'tradition' to 'modernity': society refers to the rationalized, individualized and intellectualized world of industrialism, urbanism and capitalism and is a contrast to the world of community and tradition. Moreover, it is built on the separation of place (the immediate habitat) from space (which is rendered abstract): in society individuals live in spaces which are not places.

The fourth dimension to community I wish to mention relates to the transnational. Historically the nation-state was of course a relatively recent development (Hobsbawm, 1991). Empires, confederations, and city states were far more common than the self-contained nation-state (MacNeil, 1986). In the period of classical sociology, the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, there were three transnational ideas: the idea of civilization, the idea of a federal polity, and the idea of world community. The first was largely an expression of the unity Europeans felt in the context of non-western world: Europe was a unity when what was at stake was the identity of the white race (and in earlier times when the security of Christendom was threatened). It was no coincidence that precisely when these ideas of racial superiority were at their height (in the period immediately prior the First World War) that the first designs for a European federal, or confederal, polity emerged. The second expression of the transnational idea emerged with the belief that Europe was under threat from the United States and, more importantly, the Russian empire, which was equated with Asia. After the October Revolution that fear increased and the aspiration for political unity rose. It has been a fact of European history that designs for unity all ways arose as a response to an outside threat - at least until 1918.[2] However, even in the twentieth century save for the federal designs of a few marginal intellectuals, there was never any doubt that unity was to be minimal and merely political co-operation in order to prevent war and secure economic prosperity. With the emergence of the EEC that dream was realized in an essentially economic organization. The third expression of transnational community was the idea of world community. This goes back to the French Revolution and Kant's notion of the cosmopolitan government. The most enduring tradition of world community is the declaration of universal human rights. World community has also been inspired by the need for peace and in opposition to violence. Thus, the EEC was originally justified in order to overcome the heritage of fascism and to help to consolidate peace - in particular between France and Germany - through economic and political co-operation. The political motivation to contain the USSR was of course also part of this. With the transformation of the EEC into the EC and eventually into the EU the question of integration as opposed to inter-govermental co-operation became increasingly to the fore. The question however remains what kind of model of integration lies behind the new project. Does it have a social dimension?

Having outlined four central dimensions of group membership or community - the political, the cultural, the social and the transnational - I wish to examine how these have served to constitute a deeper kind of European integration than is suggested by purely inter-governmental co- operation. However, before I do so, in the next section I outline three views on European integration, arguing that these views are now largely redundant and have not been replaced by a new framework. The result is a fundamental unclarity in both intellectual and political debate about the social dimension to European integration.

Three Views on European Integration

Since the 1980s European economic and political co-operation on the supra-national began to take the form of integration.[3] Until the 1980s there were essentially three views on Europe as a polity. The dominant view shared by most of the member states was the realist view which saw the project of European integration as enhancing the sovereignty of the nation-state, not undermining it. As I have argued this was connected to the adjustment to the circumstances surrounding the end of the Second World War: the need to solve the German problem, to ensure lasting peace between Germany and France, and the need to contain the USSR. European integration as a political project was part of the military and political system created by the Cold War. Economic co- operation was seen as central to that task. As the memory of the war faded and as the structures of the Cold War became normalized, economic imperatives, fuelled by the post-War boom, increasingly came to the fore and the political dimension for a time remained in the background. In general then the first, and dominant, position was the project of rescuing the nation-state, to use Milward's (1992) term. The key idea underlying this older realist philosophy was co- operation. According to this view only states are real and therefore supranational politics cannot be anything other than the relations between states.

A second view of European integration was the federal vision of unification. This was expressed in the ideas of Denis de Rougement (1966) who believed that Europe was a cultural and political unity, and a unity that was the expression of its ancient history. His conviction was that this deeper sense of unity will prevail over the national project in the creation of a federal Europe. This vision of Europe is essentially the reproduction on the European level of the late nineteenth-century project of the nation- state building. There is no doubt that this vision has been very much confined to marginal intellectuals, albeit ones who were influential. However, there is no evidence to suggest that these programmatic conceptions of the unity of Europe were reflected in any concrete policies. Yet, I believe - as is illustrated in Jean Monnet's often quoted saying that if he could start again he would start with culture - these ideas have served as a kind of background ideology to the otherwise culturally deficit project of integration. It is not surprising therefore that the concept of culture in European integration has remained extremely obscure and has frequently been seen as a spiritual idea, as is suggested by works on the 'spirit of Europe', for instance, Jaspers (1947), Husserl (1965), Patoka (1973) and Kundera (1984). [4]

A third perspective on European integration has emerged since the 1980s. This is something between the federalist vision of a unified European nation and the realist model of co-operation. This model, which is the product of an increasingly global world order, sees European integration as something more than just co-operation between autonomous and largely sovereign nation-states. It may be suggested that this model embraces the idea of Europe as a regulatory order, as opposed to merely co-operation or unification (Majone, 1996). In this functionalist model the nation-states surrender a degree of their sovereignty in order to survive under the conditions of globalization (Milward et al, 1993). In short, globalization is the condition which has replaced the need for peace in the justification of European integration today. There is no doubt that supranational governance has served the state, rather than undermining it for the tendency has been for the state to surrender only those dimensions of governance it is less equipped to deal with. The supranational level thus takes over the dysfunctional aspects of national governance and thereby contributes to systemic reproduction in the creation of a more functionalized steering system that operates at different levels. Therefore the announcement of the end of the state may quite well turn out to be premature (Dunn, 1995; Hirst and Thompson, 1996). The tendency appears to be a movement towards a multi-levelled polity in which sovereignty is shared on many levels (Maier, 1987; Taylor, 1991; Kooiman, 1993; Castells, 1998). With the uncertain status of a purely regulatory model, the problem of European integration is now seen to be the need to articulate a degree of social integration and cultural cohesion. There is widespread concern at the failure of European integration to deal with social integration and questions pertaining to its democratic legitimation, problems which did not exist in the previous decades when nation-states were supreme and the sole players (Hoffmann and Keohane, 1991; Chryssochoou, 1994; Marquardt, 1994; Haarland Matlary, 1995). While the regulatory model differs from the first in that it recognises that the age of the classical nation-state has passed, it does not entirely accept the federal vision for, in general as far as policy making is concerned, the political culture of the nation-state is seen as the only system capable of providing the supranational polity with a system of legitimation and identity. Yet there is widespread uncertainty on the relationship between regulation and integration.

With the growing confluence of the regulatory model and the project of societal convergence, the old questions of classical sociology have returned: how is social order possible? What is the collective representation of Europe? How is legitimate governance possible? What is the basis of social integration? With the transformation of the transnational polity into a social, political and cultural framework in a project of institution-building that is not unlike that of the classical period of nation-state building, we are once again asking the question what constitutes a social group and what are the dimensions of group membership. I shall now look at the extent to which the project of European integration realises a specifically European sense of community which could be the basis of social integration.

Is there a European Community?

In order to deal with the question whether the political culture of the European Union can be the basis of a sense of group membership, I shall take in turn the four dimensions of the demos, the ethnos, the social and the cosmopolitan as identified above. My argument is that these concepts have been mostly borrowed from the model of group membership associated with the nation-state and applied to something like the European 'community' they become deeply probelmatical. However, rather than reject the project of constructing a specifically European sense of community, I shall try to point to an alternative model.

The European Demos

The answer to the question is there a European demos is most definitely negative. Political community is still almost entirely national. Let us take the three central dimensions of citizenship, sovereignty and democracy which are the basis of political community.

The Union has of course institutionalized a European citizenship, but this is derivative of national citizenship.[5] While this is likely to increase in the future the most striking feature of this kind of citizenship is that it is entirely codified in terms of highly formalistic rights. There is a notable absence of a participation dimension in the current form of the European demos, which appears to have been based very much on the liberal-pluralist understanding of citizenship as rights. This is of course always the case with global citizenship: the more expansive citizenship becomes the more formalized it is and the less substantive it can be.[6] Thus global citizenship is ultimately a matter of transnational human rights which frequently override national citizenship. A major deficit in the existing literature is exactly what are the implications of global or transnational citizenship for a citizenship of participation.

As already noted sovereignty is still largely in hands of the nation-states who are the main actors in the international realm. It may even be argued that the power of the state has been increased as a result of European integration rather than eroded since the tendency does appear to be for the Union to take over from the state those functions which the state performs less well, e.g. regulation of financial markets and international trade. However, there is no disputing the tremendous transformation of sovereignty that has occurred and which points to the formation of a multi-levelled polity (Close, 1995; Delanty, 1997a; Castells, 1998). In this context the question of federalism is very important but the chances of the Union to become a federation are hampered by the fact that many of the constituent units, ie. the member states, are themselves internally federalized while others (for instance the UK and Ireland) are highly centralized, in particular the latter.[7] The complex relations of sovereignty that this involves makes the idea of a unitary European demos an unlikely prospect.

Finally, as far as democracy is concerned there is the problem of legitimation. How is power legitimated in the Union? The kind of democracy institutionalized in the Union is more a kind of cartel democracy than one connected with citizenship. National governments are legitimated in the electoral system and are empowered to represent the electorate in the Union who do not excercise significant influence of a direct nature, and at the most is a kind of limited agenda setter (Tseblis, 1994). The European Parliament, for instance, is not sovereign in the way national parliaments are and the Council of Ministers have relatively speaking absolute power. The result is the much discussed democratic deficit.

In sum, then, we can say the European demos is one that has achieved a low degree of citizenship participation, a high democratic deficit and has not solved the problem of sovereignty. Needless to say, this is not to suggest that the national governments score particularly high on these points (Judge, 1995).

The European Ethnos

It has long been recognised that European integration lacks a cultural dimension comparable to that of nation-states. Europe lacks the core components of national culture: language, a shared history, religion, an educational system and a press or media. Language is the main stumbling block. With some few exceptions, language was the key dimension to the formation of national culture from the late nineteenth century onwards. Since the decline of Latin in Middle Ages there is no common European language. The globalization of culture has of course led to the world-wide diffusion of the English language but it has also led to the relative strengthening, in Europe at least, of German and the decline of French. Even though the number of people in the professions who speak more than one language is increasing, there will be no European language as such. An ethnos cannot be constructed on the basis of a polyglot elite. Religion is obviously not a criterion for a European identity and there is no memory of a shared sense of history. To be sure Christendom once served to unify the continent but since the split between western Latin Christendom and eastern Orthodoxy in the early Middle Ages and the subsequent split within western Christianity with the Reformation religion has ceased to be coeval with European identity. European history has been the history of a great deal of division. Every attempt to unify the continent resulted in ever greater divisions (Delanty, 1995a, 1996a, 1996b; Fontana, 1995). As Therborn (1995, pp. 233 - 6) has argued whatever resonances of Christianity remain are more likely to be exclusionary. Thus Milan Kundera's (1984) equation of the spirit of Europe with (Roman Catholic) Christianity only served to exclude those parts of the continent whose history was more shaped by other traditions.

The cultural integration of national societies was also very much dependent on national education programmes which provided a universal cultural reference framework. Europe does not have such a framework, apart from some programmes for cultural exchange (Wintle, 1996). These programmes are based on the premise of temporary and subsidised mobility which was not the case with nation-state building in the past when mobility was often enforced and related to industrialization.

Attempts to create a European ethnos through a media policy are not particularly impressive when compared to the still mighty national press and media. Efforts made to articulate a sense of European identity by appeal to high culture or cultural heritage have been quite extensive, but these efforts have little resonance in the public. Who is interested in the 'spirit of Europe' when issues of identity are at stake? There is also a pronounced tendency to conflate a cultural idea with identities. At best the European ethnos is emerging around highly mobile elites and consumers of cultural heritage.

In my view the only really substantial sense of a European ethnos is emerging around the articulation of a European identity based on exclusion. There is a growing sense of the need to express an identity of exclusion, a supranationality, when the reference point is the non- European. Uncertain of any internal commonalities and mindful of the political vacuum in the institutions of the emerging polity, Europeans are inventing an ethnos of exclusion. In general, then, there is little to suggest that Europe is the basis of a substantive identity based on a sense of cultural community.[8]

European Society

Is there a European society? What is the social in the project of social integration? This is a question of growing interest in sociology (Giner, 1993; Schlesinger, 1994; Therborn, 1995, 1997). Again once we use conventional criteria borrowed from the nation-state we shall also come to a pessimistic conclusion. The specifically social dimension is almost entirely market driven, both in terms of commodities and labour. European integration has enhanced the flow of commodities and has made labour more flexible. But beyond the world of consumption and work there is little on the specifically European level to compare with national societies.

What would be the principle of integration? There is some evidence to suggest that the Union is creating a kind of consensus based on inclusion through work, in particular labour mobility. One of the principal expressions of consensus in the postwar period rested on the creation of welfare states. Yet nothing comparable exists on the European level. More importantly than the absence of a social citizenship on the European level, is that at the national level the welfare state, while not being at an end, is experiencing severe restrictions, a development that is undoubtedly linked to the rise of nationalism in the member states. The welfare state was the basis of a certain consensus and provided social stability for the member states for much of the second half of the twentieth century. Since there is no European equivalent to this there can be no European society in the conventional sense of the term 'society' as a social domain, as intended by Durkheim for instance.

World Community

Finally there is little to suggest that Europe is committed to world community in the sense of a cosmopolitan ethic of global citizenship. A strong emphasis on exclusion and the building of a 'fortress' mentality, it has frequently been noted, is central to its present project as well as a strong hostility to the formed 'eastern' Europe (Burgess, 1997). A security agenda and the tightening of border controls seem to be more central than a concern with human rights, for instance. However this is an area that is of potential for the Union which has transformed national citizenship, though this has on the whole remained on the margins (Meehan, 1993) and has also made a contribution to a postnational citizenship for immigrants (Soysal, 1994).

If European integration has not succeeded in creating an demos, an ethnos and a social dimension and if its commitment to world community is weak, then, what are we left with? Is there an alternative concept of the social which might be more pertinent to European integration or should we be content with a purely regulatory model for Europe? My conclusion so far is that so long as confine our horizons to the exisitng intellectual categories of classical sociology and the political frawework of the nation-state European integration can only be regulatory order and cannot be the basis of genuine social integration. Does this mean that we should confine the European project to regulatory regimes and abandon the search for integration? In the next section of the paper I shall consider the possibility that a degree of social integration can be possible within a regulatory order.

In Search of the Social: An Alternative Vision

In the previous section I argued that so long as European integration continues to be based on the project of reproducing the framework of the nation-state on the supranational level it is doomed to failure for the reasons given above and for the additional reason that the nation-state, precisely because of European integration and the wider processes of globalization, is already undergoing far-reaching internal change. In other words, there is no point in reproducing on the supranational level a model that is already in crisis on the national level. I shall not enter into a debate on this here beyond remarking that in my view it is more important to institutionalize a political community of participation on regional and local levels than on the supra-national level, which is best designed for other kinds of politics. I shall outline some developments in recent social theory which I think point to a new conceptualization of the social and which may be pertinent to European integration.

One striking development in recent times is the turn away from society altogether. This is evidenced in the great popularity of communitarian political philosophy, which has brought about a revival in the concept of community (Etzioni, 1995). Proponents of postmodernism too have turned to community as a postsocial from of group membership (Delanty, 1998c). Differing from the communitarian concept of community - which seeks to fuse the demos and the ethnos - the postmodern-Heideggerian approach advocates 'community without unity', community as openness to communication and one in which otherness is recognised (Blanchot, 1988; Nancy, 1991; Corlett, 1993; Maffesoli, 1996). Moreover the postmodern concept of community is not based on the idea of tradition, which is still a residual category in communitarian philosophy. The idea of community that is emerging in these and other works is one of a framework of plurality and flows of communication and can be the basis of a legal framework (Cotterrell, 1995).

The communitarian conception of community has had a greater resonance in North America, where the tradition of political community has been strongest. In Europe the seduction of community has been different. While there is little to suggest that EU administrators are influenced by post- modern concepts, the idea of community beyond tradition is highly relevant to the project of community beyond the state that is implied by European integration (Linklater, 1990; Tassin, 1992). I think the crucial question here relates to community as flows of communication. In my view this conception of communication allows us to avoid the theme of the 'end of the social.'

The theory of communication as a form of action has been proposed by Jürgen Habermas (1992a, 1992b, 1994a, 1994b, 1996a, 1996b, 1997, 1998) who argues that Europe must institutionalize a postnational citizenship based upon a civil society whose citizens are communicatively competent. The model of citizenship that is fundamental to his work is one gives that central place to communication. In his view European integration must create not a state centred demos nor a culturally integrated ethnos, but discursive spaces, public spheres of debate. This public sphere 'must be embedded in the context of a freedom-valuing political culture and be supported by a liberal associational structure of a civil society' (Habermas, 1997: p. 263). In his view this entails public communication that transcends the boundaries of the nation-state and their public spheres. Only a communication- theoretical understanding of democracy is appropriate today. To be rejected then are the liberal-pluralist model (which rests on a too formalistic concepts of rights) and the republican-communitarian model of strong democracy (which makes too many concessions to the ethnos and complete participation is problematic in highly complex societies). A communicative democracy, or as Habermas prefers, a 'discursive democracy', is one that is located neither in the state (including territory) nor in the cultural community (including tradition and history) but in the discursive spaces in civil society. In his model the discursive foundations of politics are more important than actual active participation in decision-making, which can be unrealistic in highly complex societies and particularly so on the transnational level.

From a highly normative and philosophical point of view, I believe Habermas' notion of a discursive democracy based on communicative spaces located in civil society is of great importance for understanding a possible model for European integration. But how can this philosophical model be related to concrete developments? Can it be linked to an emergent social dimension? I shall consider this in the final section of the paper.

Conclusion: The Knowledge Society and European Integration

In the conclusion to the third volume of The Information Age, Manuel Castells (1998) applies the idea of the network society, originally outlined in the first volume (Castells, 1996), to European integration. A network society does not have a centre but nodes, which may be of different sizes and can be linked by asymmetrical relationships in the network. A network, then, is an open structure that expands in different directions. It is not a functionally integrated body with a central principle of organization essential to its survival. According to Castells the distinctive feature of the network now emerging is that it is forming through the global diffusion of information: the network society is an informational society. Apart from this interesting suggestion Castells (1998: pp. 332) does not develop further his notion of how European integration might be conceived of as a network society. He merely notes that the European polity is likely to be characterized by multi- levels of power. As a network state, authority will be shared along different points in the network.

The idea of the network society forces us to think the concept of social change. The classical model of change, influenced as it was by the nineteenth-century's myth of progress - as evidenced in the works of Marx, Spencer, Durkheim, Weber and Parsons - assumed a linear model of change by which societies change as from one condition to another. Time is thus a continuum along which societies pass. The present model of change is one that is best termed 'transformation'; it is less one of historical or epochal 'transition' than of the multidirectional flows of information.

In my view the emphasis on the diffusion of information is valuable but we will have to go beyond Castells' over- stating of information. It is his overall thesis that the network is organized though flows of information. Undoubtedly the expansion in information technologies of communication has transformed economic relations and has open up a whole new range of social and cultural possibilities, but I think there is more to the possibilities of communication than are suggested by the somewhat technocratic idea of information.

I would like to conclude by tentatively suggesting that the notion of the 'knowledge society' might be a more approriate model for the social dimension in European integration, but a 'social' with a difference. The idea that we are living in a knowledge society has become a central tenet in recent sociology (Böhme and Stehr, 1986; Stehr, 1992; Melucci, 1996; Böhme, 1997; Delanty, 1997b, 1998a, 1998b). In the sociology of Alain Touraine (1977) we find one of the most elaborate atttempts to theorize the confluence of knowledge, culture and production. The knowledge society is more than the information society, which is the application of knowledge in production. Knowledge pertains to the wider cognitive capacity of society to interpret itself and to imagine alternatives. By knowledge I mean what the late Cornelius Castoriadis (1987) called the 'imaginary institution of society': the ability of society to cognitively interpret itself. The question then is whether there is an imaginary dimension to European integration. If there is, it cannot be along the lines of Durkheim's collective representation since this assumed the reproduction on the European level of national society and, moreover, was conceived in terms of values.

My analysis in this paper has demonstated the futility in transposing the conventional concepts of social integration borrowed from the nation-state to the European level: Europe is neither a political nor a cultural community and neither is it a society in the conventional sense of the term based on a principle of consensus. This leads to the conclusion that if Europe cannot be 'real' community perhaps it can become a 'virtual' one. This virtual society is not one that is constituted as a system of values but as a discursive framework. Europe cannot become a democracy in the sense of being based on a citizenship of participation. Under the conditions of societal complexity, we can no longer take for granted a model of democratic participation on the supranational level.[9] There is little point in holding onto a model that has already reached its historical limits on the national level and expecting that it will solve the democratic deficit on the European level. This also applies to the idea of cultural community: since under the conditions of multiculturalism and cultural diversity - which would be both impossible and undesirable to wish away, quite apart from being dangerous - Europe cannot be based on a cultural community. In my view, given the exhaustion of the demos and the ethnos on the European level, the challenge for further social transformation is to explore how the principle of discursivity can be given expression by European integration. In this context a central question is that of the status and role of knowledge.

At the moment there is not much that is distinctive about the European project as a knowledge society in the making. In 1993 the European Commission published a White Paper on the information economy and the Bangerman Report of May 1994 focused on the broader idea of an information society and the need for a whole range of policy relating to economic, social, cultural and technical areas. Since then the Union has encouraged discussion on governance and citizenship in the 'virtual community' with projects for electronic communication between governments and citizens (see Bellamy and Taylor, 1998). However, these measures which are still at the level of policy formation are minimal and for the moment the Union is unlikely to compete with the US dominated information society. Developments in the area of education, such as the Socrates programme of student and staff mobility, are perhaps more significant but do not amount to a knowledge society.

As I have argued knowledge is wider than information and pertains to the very cultural self-understanding of a society. In what way can Europe become a knowledge society? Is it possible to create a civil society based on knowledge?

Taking up Habermas' notion of communication as discursive we can make the observation that knowledge today is increasingly taking the form of contested knowledge, in such matters as group boundaries and in the fundamental codes of group membership as well as in matters pertaining to scientific expertise. Thus what is distinctive about current forms of collective identities is their ability to contest existing social frameworks and cultural codes. The culture of contestation in identity politics is rivalled only by that in knowledge production more generally. Both share the ability to exercise the power to define reality. In the risk society, knowledge is a matter of contestation and of the de- legitimation of expertise. This can be seen in such instances as AIDS, BSE, radioactivity, biotechnological developments such as cloning, medical ethics, neurology which have all opened scienticized knowledge to public scrutiny bringing together discourses of nature, science, law and politics. These cases are also interesting in that the degree of contestation permeates to the cultural model of society itself and the discourses related to these issues are not dominated by any one particular social actor. The players are organized interests, professional bodies, experts, policy makers, regulatory agencies, media, social movements. In the absence of a key social actor, it is the public who is becoming more important as a social mediator in disputes which question the very foundations of a society's cognitive and cultural structures. Under these circumstances a model of consensus is being replaced by a model of dissensus and one in which social movements are becoming incrasingly focal (Tarrow, 1995).

In order to appreciate the full significance of such developments we must see that knowledge is also becoming a medium of cultural experience: we are experiencing social reality more and more through cognitive frameworks. This is what is meant by the term 'knowledge society', a term which I think is more pertinent than the expression 'information society' (with its too narrowly instrumentalist view of knowledge). As a leading proponent of the thesis of the 'knowledge society', Germot Böhme (1997, p. 461) puts it: 'Human society as a cultural community consists essentially in the fact that produced knowledge does not remain individual but through symbolization and rule formation is made intersubjectively available permanently; that is, knowledge becomes cultural capital.' In the resulting confluence of culture and knowledge, the politics of identity are released. Therefore the question of whether the new discursive spaces can be captured for democracy is of great importance. Perhaps this could become the challenge for European transformation.


1 For debates on citizenship see Brubaker (1989), Brubaker (1992), Roche (1992), Turner (1993), Stewart (1995), Hindess (1998), Lister (1998).

2 This is discussed more fully in Delanty 1995a and 1996a. See also Bodei (1995) and Fontana (1995).

3 For some general debates and overviews see Davis and Rootes (1994), Rhodes et al (1997) and Lehning and Weale (1997).

4 I have discussed some of these conceptions of Europe as a spiritual discourse in Delanty (1995a and 1995b).

5 On European citizenship see Meehan (1993), MacCormick (1993; 1996), Close (1995), Cesarni and Fulbrook (1996), Preuss (1996a, 1996b, 1996c), Delanty (1997a).

6 On global or transnational citizenship see Baubock (1994), Soysal (1994), Jacobsen (1997).

7 On federalism see Burgress (1989), Tushnet (1990), King and Bosco (1994), Marquand (1994), G. Smith (1995).

8 For some perspectives on European identity and suranational identity see Cerutti (1992), Derrida (1992), Garcia, (1993), Wendt (1994), Bodei (1995).

9 This has been argued from quite different perspectives. See Luhmann (1990), Zolo (1992), Peters (1993).


Earlier versions of this paper were presented as an invited lecture to the School of Languages and European Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK 6th February, 1998 and as a plenary address to AEGEE - Association des Etats Generaux des Etudiants de l'Europe (European Youth Forum) Conference: 'Why the European Union?', Warwick University 11-12th March 1998. I am grateful to the Editor of Sociological Research Online and three anonymous referees for advice on an earlier draft.


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