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International Political Sociology (2011) 5, 426445

Beyond Constructivism: The Political Sociology of an EU Policy Field

Stefan Bernhard Institut fu Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung r

This article applies a political sociology of knowledge to an EU social policy eld. Taking the case of poverty and social inclusion policy, it shows that European social policy has found a raison detre alongside national social policies, feeding into EU member states national policies and producing comparative policy-relevant knowledge based on a genuine set of resources. Going beyond constructivist approaches, this article contends that the establishment of these resources can be reconstructed productively as the establishment of a transnational eld in Pierre Bourdieus sense of the term. In a process stretching over more than four decades, the EUs rudimentary policy for tackling poverty in the 1970s has evolved into a semi-autonomous eld of social inclusion policy. This eld encompasses monitoring capital, social capital, ofcializing capital, scientic capital, and informational capital, all of which EU-level actors use in different ways to position themselves against other actors in this transnational eld. Thus, a complex and dynamic conguration arises that consists of actors, institutions, and ideas. The article concludes that while there are many afnities between constructivism and political sociology, the latter can go further in analyzing and theorizing phenomena such as ideas and discourses.

EU integration studies have inherited a schism between rationalist and constructivist approaches from International Relations (for example Kratochwil and Ruggie 1986; Ruggie 1998; Adler 2002). In the past decade, constructivist researchers have gained ground in EU studies by arguing against rationalist shortcomingsjust like their counterparts in International Relations. In particular, they have pointed to the neglect of phenomena like discourses, intersubjective constitutions of ideas, or the construction of identities (Checkel 1998; Christiansen, Jorgensen, and Wiener 2001; Risse 2009). Constructivists share common positions with political sociologists. However, as I will argue in this article, political sociology can go further than constructivism when it comes to empirically analyzing the phenomena in which constructivists are interested. I introduce a Bourdieusian political sociology of elds centered on the following ve research principles: relationalism, the concept of eld emergence, structural power, conict, and reexivity (section 2). This approach is then applied to the EU social inclusion policy. Empirically, the main contention is that over the past four decades, European social policy has found a raison detre alongside national social policies: it con sults EU member states and produces comparative policy-relevant knowledge based on a genuine set of resources (section 3). This development can only be
Bernhard, Stefan. (2011) Beyond Constructivism: The Political Sociology of an EU Policy Field. International Political Sociology, doi:10.1111/j.1749-5687.2011.00143.x 2011 International Studies Association

Stefan Bernhard


fully understood when reconstructed as the gradual emergence of a semi-autonomous transnational eld of social inclusion policy. Once this eld had fully emerged, it started providing monitoring capital, scientic capital, social capital, ofcializing capital, and informational capital, all of which EU-level actors use in different ways to position themselves against other actors in this eld. A complex and dynamic conguration therefore arose, consisting of actors, their strategies and networks, institutions, and competing ideas of what a good social inclusion policy for Europe should look like. The emergence of this eld has taken place within the wider context of EU integration and the latters bias in favor of negative market creation. Without doubt, the establishment of a social inclusion policy eld has been a success for the weak, market-correcting side of EU integration and the struggle for a European social (Carmel 2005). Even so, this success is an ambivalent one since this eld is structurally subordinated and committed to the Lisbon Agenda and its successor, the Europe 2020 agenda. In the nal section, I draw the conclusion that constructivist approaches may address some of the issues raised in my reconstruction of this eld and that they may also include some of the above-mentioned principles. However, only eld analysis integrates all ve research principles in a theoretically ambitious and empirically productive research program (section 4). Political Sociology and Constructivism Political science clearly dominates sociology when it comes to analyzing the political aspects of EU integration. This is particularly striking in the area of EU institutions. While political science has developed highly productive research strands such as the one on new modes of governance (Begg and Berghman 2003; Threfall 2003; Lodge 2007; Armstrong, Begg, and Zeitlin 2008), sociology has only just begun to tackle the issue (Rumford 2001; Bigo 2007; Saurugger and Merand 2010). In this respect, it is remarkable that in the eyes of main stream EU studies sociology is often misunderstood either as dealing exclusively with general social theory (Favell and Guiraudon 2009:555558, 569) or as being identical with constructivism (Rosamond 2000:171). While it is true that sociology has more in common with constructivism than with rationalist (for example, neoliberal intergovernmentalist) approaches (Moravcsik 1993), there remain substantial differences between sociology and constructivism. In order to overcome these misunderstandings and to emphasize political sociologys added value, it is necessary to directly juxtapose political sociology with constructivism. This seems particularly important since political sociology has thus far undertaken little to link itself to EU studies (Georgakakis 2009:78; Rowell and Mangenot 2010). Still, while I will point to several weaknesses of constructivist research, it should be clear that this is done in a constructive spirit. The critique aims at a better understanding of the respective positions. After all, interdisciplinary collaboration cannot work except on the basis of a clear understanding of commonalities and differences. Having said that, eld analysis in political sociology can contribute to constructivist EU research in at least ve aspects1: 1. Field analysis pursues a decidedly relational research perspective (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992; Emirbayer and Johnson 2008; Swartz 2011). Didier Bigo lucidly summarized this principle: The positions of social actors, and the relations between these positions can be represented as forming a space, a social space. The positions of the actors in this social space cannot be conceived of in absolute terms. Every

The argument focuses in particular on constructivist literature dealing with the Open Method of Coordination.


Beyond Constructivism

position can only be located relatively to the other positions in this social space (Bigo, Bonelli, Chi, and Olsson 2007:9). Relationalism as a methodological principle has an ontological and an epistemological aspect. Ontologically, it implies that research interests encompass all social objects, actors, institutions, ideas, judgments, etc. that dene each other in a relational setting. In this respect, eld analysis is less conned than constructivism to some facets of social reality (such as ideas, culture, and discourse) at the cost of neglecting others. Epistemologically, relationalism implies that a single element of the social (for example, an idea or an actor) can never be fully understood in isolation. There is no inner quality, substance, or essence that denes these elements as such. Instead, each element holds a positionthat is a distinctive set of relationsin a web of positions and relations. Understanding an element means reconstructing its differences in relation to other elements in a setting of similar as well as different elements (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992; Emirbayer 1997). The case study presented in the following sections implements the principle of relationalism by showing that the emergence of a eld is a process of establishing connections and dynamics between the so-called enjeu, institutions, ideas, and actors. It thus overcomes the problem of ideational exclusivity (Mangenot and Rowell 2010:5) that has unfortunately become a feature of constructivism. 2. A second contribution of a eld analysis is that it systematically links power, structure, and culture (Swartz 1997). Common knowledge, agendas, ideas as well as the distribution of perceptions are considered to establish and maintain structural relations of power and domination (Bourdieu 1977, 1984, 1986). In structural terms, relations of power can be reconstructed as an unequal possession of power resources (or capital) in social elds. The structure of a given eld is marked by different positions that can be qualied according to the amount and the composition of different types of capital (Bourdieu 1984). To the extent that a segment of the social can be meaningfully considered as social eld, there are more or less powerful actors in competition with on another (Fligstein and McAdam 2011). Typically, constructivism emphasizes the fact that crucial aspects of the social realm are in fact socially constructed and it deals with how they are constructed. In research on the Open Method of Coordination, this approach can be found with respect to the analysis of soft law and its relevance (Trubek and Trubek 2003; Trubek, Cottrell, and Nance 2005). Here, the puzzle is to dene the nature of the phenomenon and how it functions. With the theory of eld, we can go further and ask who was interested in soft law procedures in the rst place and why this was the case. Our case study on EU social inclusion policy shows that EU integration by knowledge pooling and monitoring (that is, by the Open Method of Coordination) has been driven by certain actors because it is in their best interest. The power-structure-culture nexus thus links actors (in our case: the European Commission and the European AntiPoverty Network, EAPN) to culture (for example, policy knowledge or ideas produced with the Open Method of Coordination) and structure (for example, monitoring capital and informational capital). One can also say that it locates cultural phenomena in a social space. 3. When constructivists speak of culture, discourses, or ideas, they tend to think of a single culture, discourse, or idea. Kerstin Jacobsson (2004), for example, highlights the importance of a common knowledge base for the European employment policy, which islike social inclusion

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policybased on the Open Method of Coordination: The Commissions work of redening the European economy in terms of common concerns and problems, and its active pressure on member states to review their traditional social and employment policy, have constituted a deliberate attempt to forge the national economies into one by establishing the parameters of a European economy and a European labour market (Jacobsson 2004:362). While it will become clear that the European Commission took on a quite similar, knowledge-producing role in the eld of social inclusion policy, Jacobssons approach has a major drawback: it does not look into the struggles around the establishment of common concerns and problems nor does it investigate the struggles that are based on these. Even though all actors in a given eld share knowledge of the rules of that eld (the doxa), this does not preclude them from struggling. I will show that actors in the eld of social inclusion policymaking share a knowledge-based approach to policymaking based on structural resources such as informational capital and monitoring capital. Against this backdrop, these actors engage in struggles on different (more or less symbolic) levels. 4. Apart from being relational, structural, and conict-sensitive, eld analysis is characterized by a diachronic approach. Social elds emerge, evolve, and vanish over time (Guzzini 2000:165). They are empirical phenomena that may change in size, form, and content at any time. Within the stream of permanent change in the social world, certain objects, ideas attract the attention of social actors and start to become desired and valuable objectsso-called enjeux (Bourdieu 1998). As actors arrange around an enjeu, a social space emerges, forming an interior logic that is more or less depend on adjacent (or superior) elds. When reconstructing the emergence of a eld, the researcher has to show that the development of the eld is at any historical moment a contentious, non-teleological, and open process. Field analysis thus gains a counterfactual tenor, continuously stressing the fragility and contingence of the eld in question. This goes beyond constructivist approaches that tend to overlook the importance of a diachronic research perspective (Christiansen et al. 2001). In research on Open Method of Coordination (both constructivist and rationalist), the story of voluntary policy coordination on the basis of mutual exchanges typically begins with the coining of the term Open Method of Coordination. It is common to consider strength and weaknesses of the method (Kerber and Eckardt 2007; Kroger 2010), but it is uncommon to ask where the concept of policy coordination came from and whether it had predecessors in European policy elds (see Pochet 2005 for an exception). The present reconstruction of the emergence of the eld of EU social inclusion policy will show that the concept of pooling and distributing knowledge at the European level was already established in the 1980s. Since then, the European Commission and other interested actors elaborated the concept and pushed for its institutionalization. 5. Finally, eld analysis in political sociology is a reexive approach (Guzzini 2000; Leander 2002; Kauppi 2009). While many constructivists would not hesitate to acknowledge the importance of this issue, eld analysis offers a concrete research program for putting reexivity into research practice. Reexivity can be applied to three distinct aspects: to the position of the researcher within his scientic eld, to the relationship between the scientic realm and the eld under observation and, last but not least, to the role of science in the eld being investigated.


Beyond Constructivism

Because of space restrictions, I will concentrate on the third aspect: the role of scientic knowledge as part and parcel of EU social inclusion policy.2 Within this eld, references to science legitimize and enable a variety of activities, such as monitoring member state policies (monitoring capital), conducting detailed studies on specic policy issues (scientic capital), and developing social indicators (informational capital). Hence, scientic practices are more than an external inuence on the eld of social inclusion policy. They are essential to its power structure. A methodological qualication is necessary at this point: eld analysis does not offer substantial hypotheses about its research objects. Instead, it informs us about a formal logic of elds (Kauppi 2009:4), thereby leaving it to the researcher to develop an empirically grounded middle-range theory of a specic eld (Bernhard and Schmidt-Wellenburg 2011). Furthermore, eld theory functions as a set of sensitizing concepts that suggest directions along which to look (Blumer 1954:7). The approach starts from the assumption that social elds are not everywhere and that not all social processes can be described as elds in a meaningful way. In order to argue that a social conguration functions as a eld, it is necessary to show how it does so in practice. For example, social indicators can only be considered as informational capital if they actually prove to be a resource for actors in a eld. Overall, the construction of middlerange theories of social elds evolves out of a constant move back and forth between theoretical premises and (more constructed than discovered) empirical material. It is a tting process. The following empirical case study is based on a qualitative content analysis of EU documents, NGO position papers, and web pages and on qualitative interviews with these actors, which included a qualitative network analysis. The Emergence of the Field of EU Social Inclusion Policy
Foundation of the Field

Social elds develop in social contexts. Throughout the emergence of the eld of EU social inclusion policy, one can see developments in the policy area that would later become a eld in close relation to the development of the European project in general. In that respect, it is important that in the 1950s and 1960s, a European social policy seemed far away. The Treaty establishing the European Economic Community, signed in 1957, only envisaged a marginal role for social issues compared with economic issues. Social provisions like the Social Chapter (Art. 117128) served the purpose of securing economic integration and helped to build a common European market (cf. Kenis 1991). Compared with the dynamic negative integration based on the Four Freedoms (freedom of movement of goods, capital, people, and services), social integration lagged behind from the beginning. If mentioned at all, European societal integration and social integration based on solidarity was assumed to follow market integration in a trickle-down process. Additionally, it was assumed that economic integration would sooner or later automatically serve social goals, so that social policy would be superuous (Holloway 1981). These assumptions made the Common Market project a neoliberal enterprise in the Foucauldian sense of the term (Foucault 2004; Bernhard 2010b). If the Common Market project had survived unchanged to the present day, the emergence of the eld of European social inclusion policy would have been
2 As I show elsewhere, reexivity of the second and third types is closely intertwined: Political scientists play a role in maintaining and dening the principles of knowledge in the eld surrounding the notion of new modes of governance (Bernhard 2010a).

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hampered or even prevented. However, by the end of the 1960s, doubts sprang up questioning the hypothesis that economic integration would irrevocably contribute to the social well-being of everybody. An indicator of this shifting perception is the meeting of heads of state and government in Paris in 1972. In the wake of the conference, it became increasingly common to question the assumption that social objectives could be reached as a mere by-product of economic growth brought about by market integration (Council 1974: paragraph 3). Hence, by the mid-1970s, ssures opened up in the neoliberal Common Market paradigm. For the rst time, the Paris declaration acknowledged the idea of complementing the process of economic integration with social policies. The Social Action Programme, and the rst Action Programme on Poverty embedded therein, translated the declaration of will made by the Heads of State and Government in Paris into concrete politics (CEC 1973a,b, 1980, 1981). Between 1975 and 1980, the rst Anti-Poverty Programme nanced a total of 60 studies and projects dealing with poverty in Europe. As a by-product of the program, the issue of poverty moved to the transnational level. Looking back, the nancial incentives of the program and the creation of the enjeu (or problem) of poverty proved to be the starting point for the emergence of a new policy eld. In a very embryonic form, the rst Anti-Poverty Programme sketched eld-specic types of capital that were related to one another and that attracted actors to engage in eld struggles. The most obvious of these resources was the economic capital dedicated to pilot projects at the local level and to exploratory studies on poverty in Europe. Scientic capital emerged as another resource of poverty policy. It is relevant for a range of Commission publications and for the compilation of national poverty reports. Social capital results from the traces left by interactions in the course of the implementation of the Action Programme. In that respect, the cooperation between the European Commission, national scientic experts, and the group of scientists charged with the evaluation of the whole program (the so-called ESPOIR group) stands out (James 1981). Finally, the capital that ofcializes emerged from the new means of publication, particularly from the intermediary and the nal report of the Action Programme (CEC 1980, 1981). At this stage, the European Commission was in the driving seat in terms of establishing the various types of capital. It organized and distributed the nancial resources, selected local projects, coordinated the network of national poverty experts, and took up the input from the evaluation of the program in its publications. Despite the denition of the enjeu of poverty, a preliminary identication of resources relevant to the political eld, and the loose assemblage of interested actors, it is important to keep in mind that European actions on the problem of poverty did not yet take the form of a eld. What is lacking is a clearer denition of the various types of capital and greater visibility of the problem. Furthermore, with the exception of the European Commission, none of the actors involved pursued a strategy3 that is exclusively and explicitly dedicated to the policy area. Finally, since the Action Programme only ran for a short period (phase one from 1975 to 1977 and phase two from 1977 to 1980), the institution at this stage offered little prospect for the future. Taken together, the elements of European poverty policy at this point in time were no more than the sum of their parts: they did not set in motion an antagonist logic of symbolic struggles with an inner logic of the denition of categories, the coining of key words, or the invention of narratives. The following sections will show what it would take to make that qualitative leap from an actor-institution-idea-conguration to a policy eld.

3 Since I deal with collective actors, speaking of habitus is problematic. I use the term strategy to denote the structurally induced movements of actors in elds.


Beyond Constructivism
Redenition of the Enjeu and the Competence of Consultation

In the run-up to the second and third Anti-Poverty Programme, doubts grew over the appropriateness of the term poverty for the description of the social problems in Europe. The European Commission sensed that the oil crisis had pushed groups formerly belonging to the middle classes to the margins of society (CEC 1981). Against this backdrop, the transition from the enjeu of poverty to the enjeu of social exclusion took place at the end of the 1980s. Two aspects are of key importance here. First of all, social exclusion is at its very core a multidimensional concept that integrates phenomena as diverse as employment, education, cultural capital, equality before the law, and chances of self-fulllment (Silver 1994:541). In so doing it moves beyond the narrow denition of poverty as a lack of money. Second, social exclusion is simultaneously a process and a condition (Kronauer 2002; Castel 2008). Interdependencies between different dimensions of social exclusion can be analyzed by applying a diachronic perspective. Homelessness, for example, is a factor that may be identied as leading to unemployment, and unemployment in turn may impair the health of someone who is already living without proper shelter. Thus, in this dynamic and interdependent diachronic perspective on dimensions, every facet of the condition of social exclusion can at some point become a cause of further exclusions. As a result, the concept erodes the distinction between the description of the social problem in question and the identication of causes and effects underlying it. For the development of the eld under investigation, the shift to social exclusion constituted a major step forward. Since the new enjeu of social exclusion covered many new dimensions as well as problems and causes of these problems, it was capable of being a highly exible tool for ambitious projects that aimed to enlarge the scope of European social policy. The developments on the semantic level were accompanied by innovations in the institutional conguration of the emerging eld. From the outset, the quest for an answer to the question of what added value a European social policy could potentially have one day played a crucial role in the face of already existing national social policies. Without a clear vision of why Europe should be active in areas in which the member states were already engaged, the project of extending the European social dimension was doomed to fail. In the mid-1980s, the development of the second and third Anti-Poverty Programmes tentatively explored what direction social policy in Europe could take. With persistence and circumspection the European Commission used the second and third Action Programmes to dene a role for itself in the midst of decentralized local and national endeavors to eliminate social exclusion. This role was that of a procient consultancy and information service. After ambivalent experiences with the rst Action Programme in which the European Commission was little more than the sender of money, the Commission explicitly set itself the goal of becoming more than a source of nancial assistance (CEC 1988b:13). The idea was to establish a machinery for the collection, dissemination, and evaluation of the local projects at the European level (CEC 1988a:9). As a result, the competencies dened for the European level stood out much more clearly than in the rst Action Programme. While in the rst program the Commission was eager to distinguish between local practice (as non-politics) and politics, in the two subsequent programs this distinction disappeared and was replaced by the positively formulated European competency for consulting on local projects and also, at a later stage, on national politics. Signicantly, the added value of European social policy along the lines of a consulting competency does not run counter to the principle of subsidiarity with which member states so eagerly defend their sovereignty (Spicker 1991). Relying on consulting and knowledge production renounces any ambition in terms of binding European-wide

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regulations or directives. It is fair to say that it was in these documents (and similar ones on pension policy) in the 1980s that the European Commission dened the principles of Europes contribution to market-correcting social policy as we know them today. Given that the European level more or less voluntarily abstained from legal instruments, it became possible for national policies against poverty and social exclusion as well as national populations to be important points of reference for this policy area. In this respect, the foundation of the European Observatory on Policies to Combat Social Exclusion in 1990 was a groundbreaking event. In the years between 1990 and 1994, the Observatory published three reports (Room 1991, 1992; Robbins 1994) explicitly dedicated to the description of member states policies and not just to the social situation these policies were supposed to resolve. The transition from general reports on national situations by national experts in the rst Action Programme to reports on national policies commissioned at the European level was a big step forward for the policy area. The monitoring explored the idea of a European competence for consulting in a new trendsetting way. Since the European Commission also boosted efforts to mobilize national populations, one can say that key components of a political process that were later to be known as the Open Method of Coordination were already being developed at the beginning of the 1990s. The Open Method of Coordination and the procedures roughly developed in the Action Programmes share a common feature. They both approach national politics from two directions: from above by systems of information gathering, monitoring, and evaluation and from below via the indirect positive effect these transnational comparisons are supposed to have for national oppositions if it emerges that the respective national government has performed badly. It is of the utmost importance for the progress of the policy area that the semantic and the institutional innovations described above are mutually reinforcing. The change from the key semantic of poverty to the semantic of social inclusion considerably widened the room for maneuver at the European level. Based on the multidimensional approach, a wide range of social problems and policies can be addressed within the policy area. There are only two restrictions: rst of all, they have to be presented as a dimension of or a factor contributing to social exclusion and second, European activity has to conne itself to consulting. The delineation of competencies along the lines of consulting and knowledge production denes what contribution Europe can make concerning the dimensions and factors identied. Thus, for the duration of the third Anti-Poverty Programme, European social exclusion policy was more strongly positioned than was its predecessor, poverty policy. It could be argued that the progress in the policy area was marginal compared to the renewed energy invested in negative market integration with the goal of the completion of the Common Market (CEC 1985). However, compared with the situation two decades before, when the Common Market project did not envisage a place for social policies at all, the limited accumulation of competencies for European social exclusion policy is a real success story. From a structural perspective, the innovations in the area of social exclusion policy brought about new resources. Information capital joined the relational setting of already existing forms of capital (that is scientic, economic, social, and ofcializational capital). It results on the one hand from the transition to the new enjeu of social exclusion and on the other hand from the European Commissions endeavors to attract and organize the scientic work in the policy area. Information capital synthesizes the scientically informed production of knowledge in the form of indicators and the ofcializing activities of public authorities as represented in communications or Commission reports (Bourdieu 1999). In other words, it appears as an ofcially accredited description of social


Beyond Constructivism

phenomena or developments in politics based on indicators. Doubtless by the time informational capital entered the European scene for the rst time, there was a remarkable discrepancy between the demand for indicator-based measurement and its supply. What is important at this point is that the extension of the statistical infrastructure became a permanent issue for the policy area and more generally for European social policy (see for example: CEC 1993:79). This is by no means a coincidence. The idea of consulting member states on the basis of information pooling epitomizes the scientic and presumably objective measurement of states of affairs or politics in numbers, tables, or bar charts. No other form of knowledge production prots more from the general will to believe in the objectivity of science than the simple reduction of information to numbers (Porter 1995; Bruno 2010). Thus, informational capital is a potentially powerful resource for approaching national politics from above by monitoring and from below by feeding national oppositions and mass media. There were also major recongurations outside the policy area under investigation. Criticism of the Common Market paradigm deepened and triggered a symbolic schism between a solidarity pole and a Common Market pole. From the middle of the 1980s onwards, these two poles came to represent alternative visions for the future of European integration. On the one hand, the Common Market pole continued along the basic lines of negative integration by giving preference to market building. On the other hand, the solidarity pole fueled hopes for transnational integration (Vergesellschaftung) based on solidarity. The gurehead of the latter pole is Jacques Delors, who during his time as president of the European Commission (19851995) was convinced that positive integration could, would, and should follow negative integration (Ross 1995; Ziltener 2000). Milestones of the new emphasis given to the social dimension include the introduction of Qualied Majority Voting (QMA) for the directives dealing with the working environment and freedom of movement (Art. 118a EEA), the Social Dialogue (Art. 118b EEA), the Charter of Fundamental Rights for Workers and the associated Action Programme (CEC 1989), as well as the Social Protocol attached to the Maastricht Treaty (see further: Berie 1993). With its roots in the new terrain of references offered by the semantic of social exclusion and by the denition of consulting as a competence, the European policy area on social exclusion was well placed to contribute to Delors ambitious project. It supplied proponents of a strong Social Europe with the arguments and the language to initiate and maintain a conict with the Common Market pole (Delors 1985). Once social exclusion was established as part of the denition of the societal situation in Europe, it became virtually impossible to pursue an integration project that systematically overlooked this phenomenon (CEC 1991, 1992).
Sedimentation of the Field

The symbolic conict between the solidarity pole and the Common Market pole only existed for a transitional period. From the mid-1990s onwards, the two opposing approaches to the balance of social and economic issues eroded and gave way to a new consensus which relocated Europe in a global knowledge marketplace. Both symbolic poles faced change. On the side of the Common Market pole, the idea of creating and completing a unied European market from the discrete national ones was supplanted by a new focus on global competition in the information age. The emerging competition paradigm saw Europe as a whole being increasingly exposed to competition from all over the world. In order to live up to the challenges, so the story went, Europe would have to transform itself into a highly competitive knowledge-based economy and society. If it failed to do so, Europe would be left behind to be confronted with social distortions (CEC 1996; High-Level Expert Group 1997). While the competition paradigm deals with

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markets just as the old Common Market paradigm did, market now means something different. It no longer refers to the European Common Market, which was built by political will, but rather to a global market, which amounts to pre-political, quasi-natural global competition for ideas and production areas. On the side of the solidarity pole, change was even more fundamental. At rst, the idea of extending the solidarity-based social dimension found a new language in the call for social rights. However, in the same breath, the solidarity pole embraced the neoliberal axiom of their former rivals. Just like their opponents from the competition pole, proponents of a stronger social dimension accepted the claim that Europe was subject to intensifying global knowledge competition. Systems of social security, it is argued, inevitably need to adapt to these pressures (for a programmatic formulation, see Comite des 1996:14). The shift outlined here is radical. By accepting the premise of the competition pole, the former solidarity pole abandoned the goal of politically containing the market through social policy. It asserts that the global market and the rise of the knowledge society are inevitable, natural developments and thus a decisive limitation for social policymaking. So far we have seen that the symbolic conict about the design of future European integration dissipated in the 1990s. Nevertheless, within the area of social exclusion policy, one is able to observe a stronger structuring of symbolic positions at this time. After the establishment, with little resistance, of the new enjeu of social exclusion at the end of the 1980s, attention shifted from the denition of the problem to the question of what the term social exclusion should actually signify. It soon became obvious that social exclusion meant different things to different people. Two alternative versions stood out. On the one hand, the social rights perspective interpreted social exclusion as the deprivation of individual rights (Robbins 1994). Homelessness, for example, was no longer merely one of many aspects of poor living standards, but became a violation of the right to decent shelter. The same holds true for the other dimensions of social exclusion, such as education, material poverty, and the lack of embeddedness in social networks (EAPN 2000b). While it is clear that the rights mentioned here are only normative (and not judicial) in character, the link between the dimensions of social exclusion and social rights is a promising endeavor for those interested in a strong social dimension. This is a suitable strategy in a symbolic conict because it normatively enhances each particular dimension of social exclusion without losing the multidimensional idea of the concept. The labor market integration perspective, on the other hand, closely couples the ght against social exclusion to integration in the labor market. In this interpretation, the conict between the economic and the social sphere is much weaker than in the rst case since social issues have less potential to stand their ground in their own right against economic imperatives. Obviously enough, the labor market integration perspective ts in much more neatly into the overall competition project than the social rights perspective. One should bear in mind that throughout the 1990s, the two interpretations of social exclusion began to develop but they did not yet emerge as clear and contrasting alternativesneither within the policy area nor outside it. At this time, the mix of positions and actors in the policy area was still insufcient to demonstrate the typical indications of a eld dynamic, since actors did not demonstrate their positions in relation to the positions of other actors. Antagonisma crucial component of all social eldswas therefore still missing at this point. It is not until the nal stage of the emergence of the eld of social inclusion policy that the alternative interpretations became radicalized as the human capital pole (in the case of the labor market integration perspective) and the human rights pole (in the case of the social rights perspective). It is only then that the policy area turned into a partly autonomous eld.


Beyond Constructivism

Institutionally, there was a major break in the policy domain in the 1990s. The fourth Anti-Poverty Programme that was meant to follow the third Action Programme by the middle of the decade was blocked by the German government in the Council (Bauer 2002). Although up to that point the programs had made up the backbone of the European policy, the blockage was not the end of the story but merely a momentary setback. A few years later, the ght against social exclusion was included as a new aim in Art.118 paragraph 2 of the Amsterdam Treaty. Loosely following the model of the European employment policy, the respective passage describes the procedure of the policy area as follows: improving knowledge, developing exchanges of information and best practices, promoting innovative approaches and evaluating experiences in order to combat social exclusion (ibid.). Soon after the Treaty came into force, the heads of state and government assented to formalizing this approach in the framework of the Open Method of Coordination and the Lisbon summit (European Council 2000). Institutionally, therefore, the policy area gained considerably throughout the 1990s, even though the domain had to (temporarily) forego the Action Programmes as a basis for its activities. A necessary but not sufcient condition of this success can be found when looking at the actor dimension. In the third Action Programme, the European Commission already nanced a European network dedicated to the ght against poverty and social exclusion (EAPN). After the blockage of the fourth Action Programme, this European assembly of local and national anti-poverty initiatives became an important factor in the attempt by the European Commission to keep social exclusion on the European agenda. A dynamic of externalizing political initiative developed between the two actors. In one direction, the European Commission invested economic, social, and ofcializational capital: economic capital to give the EAPN basic nancing, social capital via working contacts, consultations, and joint conferences, ofcializational capital via cooperation on ofcial reports and position papers. In the other direction, the EAPN regularly provided an impetus for the extension and consolidation of social exclusion policy (EAPN 1991a,b). As a whole, this to-and-fro of forms of capital and initiatives is dynamic since the EAPN tends to go further in its claims than the Commission, which as an ofcial actor somewhat bound to the member states. This created a situation in which the European Commission could act as a mediator between the more radical demands made by the Anti-Poverty Network and the hesitant and even reluctant positions of some member states and parts of the Commission itself. The externalization of political initiative helped socially interested actors over the difcult times between the end of the third Action Programme in 1994 and the ratication of the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997, and from then on to the inception of the Open Method of Coordination in 2000 (cf. EAPN 1997, 2000a). The changes within and outside the domain of European social exclusion policy developed into a new conguration that was in many ways different to those of the previous decades. In the 1970s, it was possible for poverty to become a central issue for proponents of European social policy because it was emblematic for the growing skepticism regarding the neoliberal Common Market paradigm. The fact that the existence of poverty could not be denied and that it could even be causally linked to economic integration was the empirical proof needed to support the political calls for a human face of European integration. In the 1980s, the area of social exclusion policy was able to adapt to the growing ambition enshrined in the solidarity pole. The concept of social exclusion and the competence of consultation were exible tools to keep the downside of economic integration on the agenda, thereby substantiating the quest for a social Europe. With the rise of the competition consensus in the 1990s, social exclusion policyjust like social policy in generalhad to stand the test of

Stefan Bernhard


global knowledge competition. The more the dichotomy between the Common Market pole and solidarity pole vanished, the more the resistance to social policy eroded; however, the emphasis on productive social policy meant that social exclusion policy could no longer gain legitimacy by showing how well it suited the solidarity pole, which emphasized the need to limit the market imperative. In fact, at the turn of the century, the key question for European social exclusion policy was whether it would succeed within its connes in establishing a symbolic conict: a symbolic conict that is at least partly autonomous from the dominant competition paradigm.
The Field of Social Inclusion Policy

With the declaration of the so-called Lisbon Agenda by the heads of state and government, the pertinent trends regarding the global positioning and the denition of the role of social policy continued and intensied (Daly 2006; Diekhoff and Gallie 2007). In the wake of the Lisbon Agenda, the policy area took the step from being a domain of social exclusion policy to being a eld of social inclusion policy. Two points are signicant here: (i) the increase in value of the enjeu due to the Open Method of Coordination and (ii) the rise of the symbolic antagonist poles of human capital and human rights. (1) Within the Open Method of Coordination, EU member states set themselves Common Objectives for their respective national inclusion policies. With regard to these Common Objectives, member states drew up National Action Plans detailing the steps they had taken or planned to take to achieve the European goals. Joint Reports issued by the European Commission and the Council gathered information on those policies as well as on major social developments in member states on a regular basis. Drawing on this information pooling, all participating states are free to join multilateral peer reviews to learn from each others experience (Sabel and Zeitlin 2008). The recurring cycle of Common Objectives, National Action Plans, Joint Reports, and Peer Reviews continued the activities of the European level along the lines of consultation and knowledge production. The Open Method of Coordination therefore gave a new face to the competence of consultation established with the second and third Poverty Programmes: it elevated consultation to national-level policies, backed up its information base with Joint Reports, and made references to the national population more explicit. Seen from a structural angle, the Open Method of Coordination revalued existing forms of capital and brought in new ones. Due to the fact that the coordination procedure is rst of all a process of gathering and disseminating knowledge, the prominence of scientic, informational, and ofcializational capital became greater. Based on the systematic link between European information pooling and the evaluation of policies, monitoring capital entered as a new component (Bruno, Jacquot, and Mandin 2006:267). Indeed, the task of monitoring national policies gave the policy eld a new twist. It increased the value of the enjeu of the eld considerably because it shifted the basic attitude of the policy area from relaxed scientic observation and assistance (typically embodied in the practice of the European Observatory) to inuencing political decisions by knowledge production. Furthermore, the denition of Common Objectives for the European eld implied a shift from the problems and causes of social exclusion to solutions. Accordingly, social exclusion policy turned into social inclusion policy with the enjeu of social inclusion. The identication of causeeffect relations, scientic capital, informational capital (though in rudimentary form), and Action Programmes were key points for social exclusion policy. In contrast, social inclusion policy was characterized by the search for


Beyond Constructivism

solutions, monitoring, informational capital and voluntary policy learning via information pooling. (2) The growing importance of taking action to solve the problem of social exclusion sharpened the symbolic positions taken in the eld. As a consequence, the labor market integration perspective turned into the dominant human capital pole and the social rights perspective reformulated its position as the dominated human rights pole. These two poles are ideal-typical points of references for the strategies and practices of actors in the eld. Following on from the Lisbon Agenda, the dominant human capital pole advocated social inclusion policy as a means to improve the human capital endowment of those furthest from the labor market (CEC 2007). The dominated human rights pole, on the contrary, took the idea of social rights further by representing exclusion as a violation of innate and inalienable fundamental rights. This had the advantage of decoupling claimed rights from dutiesa link that gained prominence as Third Way thinking arrived at the European level in the 1990s (Giddens 1998:627). Once set up like this, the symbolic conict in the eld was under a tremendous amount of tension. On the one hand, we had a position that saw inclusion policy as part of productive social policy, and on the other hand, there was the tendency to claim social rights in the most unmitigated form, as an inextricable part of the human condition. One should not forget, though, that this symbolic conict subordinated the social under the global competition imperative in at least three ways: by subjugating the social under a competition imperative, by using social policy to mobilize people for the labor market, and by subordinating social policy to austerity goals (Clarke 2007:975977). The existence of enjeu-specic strategies is a reliable indicator that the emergence of the eld of social inclusion policy has come to an end. Now the eld is able to constitute meaning (in a broad sense of the term) through the relations between actors, positions, and institutions that are inherent to the eld. The fact that this conguration of meaning-production can by its very logic be separated from other congurations of meaning-production by no means implies that the eld is totally autonomous. Indeed, the opposite is the case: the Lisbon Agenda and the fragmentation of conicts associated with it show the degree to which that which happens inside the eld is interlinked with what happens outside it. The Lisbon setup supports the dominance of the human capital pole inside the eld since it is much easier for actors close to that pole to demonstrate the productive potential of social inclusion policy than it is for actors close to the human rights pole. Table 1 summarizes the emergence of the eld.
Social Inclusion Policy and the Logic of this Field

From the year 2000 onwards, the by then fully emerged policy eld started to attract new actors: apart from member states and the European Commission, they mostly included non-governmental organizations (NGOs), trade unions, and employers organizations that began to invest their resources according to the requirements of the eld, directing them to its enjeu. Analytically, one can distinguish different actors in the eld both along their position in the symbolic conict enshrined in the eld and in terms of their degree of engagement in these conicts.4 Figure 1 illustrates the actor positions in the eld. Actors can be grouped into ve distinct strategies: robust action, knowledge production,
4 This mapping of the eld refers to organizational actors, their strategies, and resources (Emirbayer and Johnson 2008). This approach differs from eld analytical political approaches focusing on individual carriers and biographies (Georgakakis and de Lassalle 2007). For future research on EU integration, it seems promising to engage in both individual and organizational prosopographies. Among other things, this could reveal interesting parallels between individual biographies in different organizations as well as elective afnities between biographies, organizations, and eld positions.

TABLE 1. The Emergence of the Field of Social Inclusion Policy

Antecedent Development Enlargement 1990s Evolving consensus on competition paradigm (information society) Sedimentation


Field Dynamic From 2000 onwards New consensus on competition paradigm in Lisbon Agenda, productive social policy Social inclusion OMC

Time period Field environment

Enjeu Institutions

19571974 Common Market project, no market-correcting social policy

19741983 Fissures in Common Market paradigm, search for human face of negative integration Poverty First Poverty Programme

1984beginning of 1990s Symbolic conict Common Market vs. solidarity, social policy balances markets Social exclusion Second and third Poverty Programmes

Stefan Bernhard


European Commission, ESPOIR

European Commission (EAPN)

Social exclusion No fourth Community Programme, but inclusion in Amsterdam Treaty European Commission, EAPN

Symbolic conict

European Commission, member states, civil society actors, social partners Symbolic poles human rights vs. human capital Alternative interpretations: labor market integration and social rights perspective Ditto Ditto, plus monitoring capital


Rudimentary: social, economic, and scientic capital, capital to ofcialize

Ditto, plus informational capital



Beyond Constructivism
Illusio + Robust Action
European Commission FEANTSA Eurochild AGE Coface

Conceptual Entrepreneurship
EAPN Social Platform

Human Capital

Knowledge Production

Human Rights






FIG 1. Actor Strategies in the Field of EU Social Inclusion Policy. AGE stands for European Older Peoples Platform, COFACE for Confederation of Family Organisations in the European Union, EDF for European Disability Forum, CECODHAS for Comite europeen de coordination de lhabitat social, ESAN for European Social Action Network, and ETWelfare for European Round Table of Charitable Social Welfare Associations

conceptual entrepreneurship, observation, and critique. Each strategy is distinct in relation to the other strategies, rst in terms of the extent to which it is in accord with the hierarchy of the various forms of capital and with the opportunities of capital conversion offered in the eld (illusio) and second, by being closer to either the human rights or the human capital pole. While all actors necessarily share some agreement on the rules of the game and the social objects worth ghting for, they diverge notably in their reaction to this setting. These differences result from the fact that the eld is selective: its resources, opportunities, and symbolic conicts are more promising for some actors than for others. The selective logic of the eld can be illustrated by an actor that stands at the fringes of the eld: the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). When looking at potential resources, the ETUC is much better equipped than any other non-governmental actor at the human rights pole of the eld. Due to its treaty-based status as a social partner, the ETUC has representative political capital at its command, and it maintains a quite substantial research institute (the European Trade Union Institute, ETUI) and a considerable number of employees in its Brussels representation. In addition, and as a result of this capital, the ETUC has accumulated valuable network contacts to key individuals and all major EU institutions and committees. None of the NGOs around the human rights pole even comes close to this resource potential. Nevertheless, the ETUC plays a much smaller role in the eld of EU social inclusion policy than many of these NGOs. This has to been seen rst of all in the context of the eld-specic conict between the human rights pole and the human capital pole. Contrary to knowledge-producing actors such as FEANTSA,5 the ETUC stands for a more skeptical attitude toward the policy eld and its opportunities. They probe the tacit neoliberal consensus that subordinates social policies to economic objects (that is growth and employment creation)the key message of the Lisbon agenda. An ETUC employee put it this way: Croissance pour qui, croissance pourquoi ? Emploi pour qui ? Emploi comment ? Mais, alors, la cohesion sociale,

FEANTSA stands for Federation europeenne des associations nationales travaillant avec les sans-abri.

Stefan Bernhard


le developpement durable : cest secondaire. Cest de la que vient le probleme !6 ` ` Second, on the structural level, the ETUCs position nds expression in the network of manifest relations between these actors. It is closely intertwined with social partners from the employers side (namely UNICE, UEAPME, and CEEP).7 Contacts to NGOs are less frequent and accompanied by mutual reservation. However, it is not only social capital that is missing here. The ETUC questions the enjeu, that is, the forms of knowledge-based capital and their institutionalization. It argues that a voluntary learning process such as the Open Method of Coordination is insufcient for attaining the ETUCs overall goal of establishing good social rights.8 For this reason, the actor does not relate his potential resources to the eld in order to turn them into specic resources such as monitoring capital or informational capital. As a consequence, the ETUC foregoes opportunities for capital accumulation and capital conversion in this eld. The case demonstrates that to a certain extent one has to play by the rules in order to gain from the local order they institute. Potential resources (of which the ETUC has plenty) can only be transformed into types of eld-specic capital if they are actively brought into relation with the institutional and symbolic structure of the eld. Obtaining a powerful position presupposes engagement in symbolic conicts and the investment of resources in ways that are pre-structured by the eld. It is in this sense that structures are both enabling and constraining. The example also shows that participation in a eld is not a bivariate dummy (full participation no participation). Indeed, limited, occasional, or part-time engagement can be characteristic of transnational elds (Georgakakis 2009:3). Contrary to other theories of social differentiation, eld analysis is sensitized to this fact. Conclusion This article has applied a eld theoretical political sociology of knowledge to EU social policy. Using the example of poverty and social inclusion policy, it has shown that European social policy has found a raison detre alongside national social policies: it feeds into EU member states national policies and produces comparative policy-relevant knowledge based on a genuine set of resources. The brief history of eld emergence demonstrates that the eld of European social inclusion policy is inextricably linked to the accumulation and mutual entanglement of a wide range of social elements (that is, actors potential resources, types of capital, strategies, enjeux, and institutions). While the European Commission was once on its own when addressing poverty issues in the European Union, the inclusion eld now attracts some Europe-wide-organized nonstate actors and motivates them to invest their resources in the eld according to the rules of the eld. Institutionally, since the inception of the Open Method of Coordination in the year 2000, the eld of social inclusion policy has been dealing with national strategies on social inclusion. This is a much more solid basis than the 4-year cycles of the Community Action Programmes and their limitation to local projects against poverty. Semantically, the development leads from a concept closely related to material deprivation (poverty) to a concept that is exible enough to incorporate all possible kinds of problems, causes, and solutions (social inclusion). Eventually, the fully edged eld gures as a partly autonomous transnational social space which is structured by two antagonist symbolic poles and
An ETUC employee during an interview. UNICE stands for Union of Industrial and Employers Confederations of Europe, UEAPME stands for Union europeenne de lartisanat et des petites et moyennes entreprises, and CEEP for Centre europeen des entreprises a ` participation publique et des entreprises dinteret economique general. 8 An ETUC employee used this formulation during an interview to describe the overall goal of the ETUC.
7 6


Beyond Constructivism

which is dedicated to the consultation and monitoring of national social inclusion policies. This eld offers monitoring capital, social capital, ofcializing capital, scientic capital, and informational capital, all of which EU-level actors use in different ways to position themselves against other actors in the eld. The political sociology developed in this article goes beyond constructivist research on EU integration. Five points can be mentioned in this respect: Relationalism and the concept of eld emergence draw attention to the historically contingent process whereby valuable social objects (here: the enjeux of poverty, social exclusion, and social inclusion) are invented, embedded, and contested. While writing the history of a eld, each element cannot be fully understood without its relative position in relation to other and prior elements. Structural power (here: including monitoring and informational capital) and conict (here: between the human capital pole and human rights pole) enter the picture via the reconstruction of shifting lines of symbolic conicts. There is not just one discourse, idea, or culture to deal with, but there is a clash of cultures, ideas, or discourses: a clash that is spurred on by structural power differences between dominated and dominant fractions of actors. Finally, reexivity ensures that eld analysis keeps in mind that the scientic observer and the object of investigation are both parts of the same social world. The case study demonstrated how scientic practices are major power sources in the eld of social inclusion policy. While constructivist and political sociologist agree on basic premises, the political sociology of knowledge following Pierre Bourdieu helps to turn these into an integrated and empirically productive research program. References
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