Critical social theory approaches to European integration

Origins of critical social theory of emancipation

Critical Social Theory (CST), in its broadest sense, is a transdisciplinary approach to the social sciences that applies critique to the status quo in order to emancipate humans and the planet from the negative consequences of modernity.

A broad understanding of CST includes historical materialism, Frankfurt School theory, cultural theory, poststructural theory, feminist theory, and postcolonial theory (Manners 2018a, 322—3). For example, Craig Calhoun’s seminal 1995 study of CST included engagements with Horkheimer, Adorno, and Habermas’ Frankfurt School; Derrida and Foucault’s postmodernism; Bourdieu’s habitus, field, and capital; Haraway and Fraser’s feminist theory; and hooks and Spivak’s politics of identity and recognition. The transdisciplinary approach of CST demands the reorganisation of disciplinary practices in order to transgress and transcend pre-existing frames of knowledge organisation found in the social sciences and humanities, in particular history, sociology, economics, ecology, and politics. In this context, CST is an ‘interpenetrating body of work which demands and produces critique ... [that] depends on some manner of historical understanding and analysis’ (Calhoun 1995,35). This historically-grounded critique is essential because ‘theory is always for someone and for some purpose’ since ‘theory constitutes as well as explains the questions it asks (and those it does not ask)’ (Cox 1981, 128; Hoskyns 2004, 224). Scholarship and activism within CST is concerned with understanding how ‘tradition’, the ‘status quo’, and the ‘mainstream’ are self-perpetuating practices of modernity that have significantly negative consequences for humans, society, and the planet as a whole. As Max Horkheimer put it in 1937, these conditions necessitate a ‘critical theory of society as it is, a theory dominated at every turn by a concern for reasonable conditions of life’ (Horkheimer 1972(1937]: 198—9). As discussed in the final section on imagining another Europe is possible, CST is different to the other critical theoretical approaches in setting out a holistic, ecological, and progressive approach to the planetary politics that characterise the 21st century.

This contribution is a continuation and development of two decades of work on CSTs of European integration including ‘unconventional explanations’, ‘critical perspectives’, and ‘dissident voices’ that help make ‘another theory’ and ‘another Europe’ possible (Manners and Whitman 2003;Manners 2007;Manners and Whitman 2016), building on the intellectual heritage of Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, Horkheimer, and Theodor Adorno. However, this chapter takes two steps further in broadening the range of critical social theorists to include the heritage of Karl Polanyi and Hannah Arendt, and the work of Stuart Hall, Chantal Mouffe, Etienne Balibar, and Nancy Fraser. It also takes the current literature further in deepening the field and its contributions through examination of‘ideological common sense’,‘symbols and myths’,‘democratic sovereignty’,‘public interest ,‘transnational solidarity’, the ‘normative power approach’, and CST political theory. The rest of this first section sets out the origins of CST of emancipation through its historical and intellectual development in the study of European integration. In section two, this intellectual heritage forms the foundation for examining the development of CST through critique in the study of European integration. Section three analyses the contribution of CST to the study of European integration by focusing on its principal contributions. The final section reflects on being critical of the critical before arguing how CST imagines ‘another Europe is possible’ through an ecological critique and political theory of European integration.

Interest in CST has dramatically increased over the past 50 years since the publication in English of the works of Gramsci and the Frankfurt School during the 1970s. is only since the end of the Cold War that interest in CST has exploded with numerous works surveying CST in the social sciences. The original publications within early CST include Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks published in Italian between 1948 and 1951, and published in English in 1971; Horkheimer’s ‘Traditional and Critical Theory’ in 1937 [1972]; and Polanyi's The Great Transformation in 1944. More controversial is the identification of the works of Arendt with CST. However, Arendt did argue ‘it is true that in his early work [Marx] spoke of the social question in political terms and interpreted the predicament of poverty in categories of oppression and exploitation’ (Arendt 1963, 63). As Heather and Stolz (1979, 2) have argued,‘it is Arendt rather than the Critical Theorists who embodies the mode of thought appropriate to what Rosa Luxemburg once referred to as the “school of public life itself ”’.

The origins of many CST analyses of European integration are found in the works of scholars such as Hall (1986) and Mouffe who began working with Gramscian hegemony in the 1970s and 1980s, while Balibar drew on Marx and Gramsci to examine race, nation, class, and Europe in the 1970s and 1980s. Fraser introduced a gender critique of Frankfurt School theory and Habermas into CST in the 1980s, with a later series of interventions on the rescaling of economic regulation to regional trading blocs like the European Union (EU)EU. The second generation of post-Cold War CST analyses of European integration built on these origins and insights to contribute to increasing interest from scholars such as Calhoun examining the works of Habermas and Arendt (see Eriksen’s chapter on Habermas in this volume).

The development of CST as a critical theoretical approach to European integration grew through the 1990s, with an increasing concern for understanding and challenging the social production of knowledge; for historicising and contextualising subjectivity; and a commitment to progress and emancipation as the goals of research (Manners 2007,81).

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