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‘Government Without Statehood’? Anthropological Perspectives on Governance and Sovereignty in the European Union

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Abstract: 

It has long been argued that the EU is creating a new kind of constitutional order in Europe, one variously hailed as ‘transnational’, ‘supranational’, even ‘post-national’. Among the many theoretical descriptors used to capture the elusive character of the EU's unique political order are ‘multi-level polity’, ‘civic tolerance’, and ‘governance without government’. Yet despite its success in developing the legal, economic, and institutional framework for this emerging polity, one key factor continues to undermine the project for European construction: the lack of a common culture or identity around which Europeans can unite. Drawing on anthropological research in Brussels, this article explores the implications of the EU's absent demos. It also outlines some of the strategies the European Commission has used to address this problem and resolve its democratic deficit. Taking up recent debates developed by a number of EU scholars, I highlight some of the contradictions and theoretical weaknesses with the concept of ‘governance’ in an EU context. Reversing Wallace's dictum about ‘government without statehood’, I ask whether EU governance might not, in fact, be better construed as ‘statehood without government’ and a new form of ‘governmentality’.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Anthropology, University of Auckland, New Zealand

Publication date: November 1, 2006

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