Unveiling Europe

A veil has been lif­ted from Esto­nia. At least, that is what it feels like for this West-European walk­ing around in the coun­try after the European cur­rency has been intro­duced to its cit­izens. Some­how, Esto­nia sud­denly appears more ‘vis­ible’, as if a thin fog was cov­er­ing the small Baltic nation up until the first of Janu­ary 2011. Tak­ing the Neth­er­lands roughly as my geo­graph­ical ref­er­ence point of ‘home’, Esto­nia now feels a little ‘closer’ in the geo­graph­ical sense (or less remote, whichever way you prefer to put it). It has finally become a part of Europe as I appar­ently impli­citly con­ceive it.

Edit: WARNING: This post con­tains irony here and there.

Source: http://93rockon.com/news/articles/2010/ dec/31/estonia-joins-crisis-hit-euro-club/

My research is on vary­ing con­cep­tu­al­iz­a­tions of ‘Europe’. That is, I’m inter­ested in Europe as a social con­struc­tion across geo­graphy and social groups, and that goes bey­ond ‘just’ the polit­ical integ­ra­tion of large parts of the con­tin­ent. Doing a PhD at the EUI, I am nat­ur­ally often con­fron­ted with exactly this mis­con­cep­tion. If you’re doing research on how people feel about Europe, then fel­low research­ers quickly default into think­ing this means Euro­scep­ti­cism and polit­ical sup­port for the project.

I don’t blame them: the vague notion of ‘Europe’ and the rel­at­ively con­crete European Union pro­ject have become strongly entangled in our day-to-day speech and within our frames of ref­er­ence. So much, in fact, that it is hard to really sep­ar­ate the two without con­sist­ently emphas­iz­ing that you’re not only talk­ing about the EU and European polit­ical integ­ra­tion, but about people’s rather vague notions of Europe more broadly.

As a res­ult, I think I have been down­play­ing to oth­ers and myself just how import­ant people’s ima­gin­a­tions of ‘Europe’ have been to polit­ical integ­ra­tion, and more import­antly the other way around: how import­ant polit­ical (and in this case mon­et­ary) integ­ra­tion has been to people’s con­cep­tu­al­iz­a­tion of ‘Europe’.

Partly as a res­ult of work­ing on my research topic, partly per­haps due to pre­sump­tu­ous­ness, I used to think of myself as reas­on­ably detached from ‘Western-Europe-centric’ think­ing. I used to think of myself not primar­ily as Western-European, and recently prob­ably not even as (just) ‘European’ (and ‘Dutch’ has never really applied to me, but that’s for another blog post). I have spent quite a lot of time in Cent­ral and East­ern Europe (mostly in Poland and Esto­nia), and always find myself try­ing to redefine people’s Western-centric world­views when I’m back in the Netherlands.

How­ever, as my feel­ings after the Euro was wel­comed to Esto­nia have shown me, the polit­ical integ­ra­tion of Europe clearly has shaped my con­cep­tu­al­iz­a­tion of what ‘Europe’ is. And though I am ashamed to admit it, it has affected my impli­cit ideas on centre and peri­phery. The Soviet Union col­lapsed, the EU expan­ded to the East, Esto­nia joined Schen­gen, and now the coun­try finally became a full mem­ber of ‘Europe’ with the intro­duc­tion of the European cur­rency. Now, as I watch the Esto­nian shop­keep­ers and cof­fee vendors clum­sily count their first Euro’s, the coun­try slowly starts to demys­tify before my eyes and some­how feels more and more like ‘home’.

Jer­oen Moes is a PhD researcher at the European Uni­ver­sity Insti­tute, Florence. His research focuses on con­cep­tu­al­iz­a­tions of ‘Europe’ across the con­tin­ent with in-depth case stud­ies in Esto­nia, Italy, and the Neth­er­lands. He employs a meth­od­o­lo­gic­ally mixed approach by com­bin­ing large N stat­ist­ical ana­lyses with small N in-depth qual­it­at­ive research. More on his research pro­ject can be found on the ‘Ima­gin­ing Europe’ web­site (www.Imagining.eu).


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