Director of the Mortara Center for International Studies Kathleen McNamara discussed political authority in the European Union at the launch event for her new book, “The Politics of Everyday Europe: Constructing Authority in the European Union,” Wednesday in the Mortara Center.
At the event, McNamara discussed the main topics of her book, which focuses on the importance of culture, symbols and practices to the unity created by the leaders of the European Union.
Associate Professor at the School of Foreign Service Abraham Newman introduced McNamara at the beginning of the event and praised the book’s analysis of the European political climate.
“’The Politics of Everyday Europe’ … takes a central question to political science, the question of political authority, and investigates it from a novel perspective,” Newman said. “She looks at the everyday symbols and practices that elites use in order to construct that political authority.”
McNamara, who began work on the book six years ago, led the discussion on common ideas regarding the European Union and how she sought to redefine these notions.
“Many people think about the European Union as this sort of technical morass of mind-numbing regulations,” McNamara said. “My argument is that we should also think about the E.U. as a new emergent political form. We should really step back and think historically about what the E.U. represents in this broader geopolitical, historical sense.”
In the book, McNamara argues that the European Union deserves special attention in the field of comparative politics, as it presents a new form of political organization that will continue in years to come.
McNamara said that although the Union centralized power and has brought together a large number of states under one political entity, it has not encountered a large degree of opposition.
“There has been a remarkable centralization of policy capacity within the E.U.,” McNamara said. “Over the past decades we’ve actually seen remarkably little mass politics and contestation around that centralization until … the last five or six years.”
McNamara said that the acceptance of the E.U. and its success in constructing political authority has come through symbols and practices, which have allowed it to become accepted as a legitimate entity by its constituent member states.
According to McNamara, the E.U. has used symbols and practices in a way that has allowed national culture and identity to continue to thrive, while also creating a European identity that it has legitimatized through a new form of political organization.
“It’s really this everyday Europe that we should look to, to understand the symbols and practices creating Europe and Europeans,” McNamara said. “It doesn’t engage passionate feelings of belonging and identity, because the E.U. has always tried to pitch these symbols and practices as complementary to and not competing with the nation-state.”
McNamara said that culture is an important tool that can be used by politicians.
“Culture can be a tool for power,” McNamara said. “It can actually be a really important mechanism for interested parties to create a sense of certainty about their political authority.”
McNamara also discussed the formation of political authority in Europe.
“Political authorities try to redraw the boundaries of political authority and … try to rewrite history in order to promulgate certain understandings of their political projects and to create a sense of identity,” McNamara said.
McNamara concluded by emphasizing how the E.U. in particular has benefited through the use of these tools and has been able to create a continental European culture.
“The E.U. has been very conscious of this type of historical work and has in fact spent a lot of time and money trying to think about how to create Europeans,” McNamara said.
Miika Tomi (SFS ’17), who attended the event, said she found McNamara’s argument about everyday life in Europe fascinating.
“I think the issue of Europe is ever more pressing, and Professor McNamara had interesting thoughts on how to look at constructing identities,” Tomi said. “Having worked for the E.U. government for the past four years, I thought it was a very interesting perspective.”
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