An Anthropology of the European Union: Building, Imagining and Experiencing the New Europe

An Anthropology of the European Union: Building, Imagining and Experiencing the New Europe

An Anthropology of the European Union: Building, Imagining and Experiencing the New Europe

An Anthropology of the European Union: Building, Imagining and Experiencing the New Europe


One of the problems facing Europe is that the building of institutional Europe and top-down efforts to get Europeans to imagine their common identity do not necessarily result in political and cultural unity. Anthropologists have been slow to consider the difficulties presented by the expansion of the EU model and its implications for Europe in the 21st Century. Representing a new trend in European anthropology, this book examines how people adjust to their different experiences of the new Europe. The role of culture, religion, and ideology, as well as insiders' social and professional practices, are all shown to shed light on the cultural logic sustaining the institutions and policies of the European Union.On the one hand, the activities of the European institutions in Brussels illustrate how people of many different nationalities, languages and cultures can live and work together. On the other hand, the interests of many people at the local, regional and national levels are not the same as the Eurocrats'. Contributors explore the issues of unity and diversity in 'Europe-building' through various European institutions, images, and programmes, and their effects on a variety of definitions of identity in such locales as France, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Belgium.


For an anthropologist Europe-building within the European Union (EU) presents at least two original features. First of all, the recent history of post-war European institutions shows an alternating of acceleration and regression. One cannot describe it as a linear process, nor as something which might be considered a priority by the majority of Europeans. Secondly, the process of building Europe is never complete. the vision that ‘one day Europe will be a united political entity’ was shared by the first generation of the EU's pioneers, but the assertion that ‘later the “esprit européen” will triumph’ has given room to a more sceptical vision of the future (Abélès 1996). the most salient characteristic of eu officials'discourses and practices is the link between the immediate present and an indeterminate future. in some circles it does not seem possible to be European without projecting oneself into a world which does not yet exist, and which cannot be adequately understood using the classical notions of political science. This chapter focuses on two points. the first part deals with the openness and the structural uncertainty of the European Union's future. the second part examines the difficulty in constructing the common notions which orientate the quest for this future.

Virtual Europe: An ‘Unidentified Political Object’

One anthropological approach to the eu is less interested in describing European institutions and their functions than it is in analyzing the imbrication between present and future in a political project which seems unable to exploit the resources of the past. Studying two Directorates General (DGs) in the Commission (Abélès et al. 1993), I was struck by the way in which events were digested, without people being too much involved in their diverse implications. An anecdote illustrates this point.

At the beginning of my fieldwork I spent part of my time in a building where the Forward Studies Unit, a think tank working for President Delors, was located. Everyday in the elevator I met people who seemed to worry. I did not understand this attitude, which contrasted with that of other officials working in the building. Some time later, I learnt that they were the agents of a Directorate General which . . .

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