EUROSPHERE’s research activities take place in the realms of ideas and experiences. In the realm of ideas, EUROSPHERE identifies the existing theoretical and empirical approaches to European public sphere and foster a synthesis of the earlier and relevant ongoing research. The sites of this effort are previous and current empirical findings as well as texts of political philosophy. Based on this, EUROSPHERE further develops its innovative diversity perspective on the public sphere, which we envisage suits an analysis of various features of the diverse European society.
In the realm of experiences, EUROSPHERE identifies the features of social/political actors and sub-European communicative public spaces that obstruct or facilitate the articulation of an inclusive European public sphere. Based on different scenarios and alternative combinations of different approaches to diversity, polity, and the public sphere, EUROSPHERE identifies the notions, discourses, and objectives that are in the process of becoming dominant in key European actors and political spaces. Then, EUROSPHERE poses the following questions: how are these notions and objectives spread and made relevant in different political contexts as well as in the context of the European Union politics, and what contestations and conflicts do they create in policymaking? Therefore, the overall research question is answered with a focus on the impact of two specific building blocks of European society, which are seen to be amongst the crucial factors impinging upon the articulation of an inclusive EPS: 1) The roles of different types of social and political actors, and 2) the impacts of different social and political communicative spaces.
These choices are not arbitrary: a focus on public sphere has to include citizens’, institutional civil society actors’, and mass media’s framings of issues. It is therefore crucial to assess the impact of different actors and public spaces and inquire into how they relate to the emergence of different types of European public sphere. For this purpose, we develop tools for data collection and engage in activities of qualitative data collection and qualitative data analysis of the features of four types of social/political actors. These actors comprise of European think tanks (elites/experts), political parties, social movements/citizens initiatives, and electronic/print media. We assess the features of each selected collective actor. Then, we classify these actors with respect to their orientations to essentializing (ethnic/religious), nationalizing, transnationalizing, Europeanising and gendering spaces. These data collection and analysis activities aim to assess the inclusiveness (and openness) of the sub-European public spaces and of social and political actors in terms of alignments and misalignments between the sub-European public spaces and the envisaged European public sphere in the making. Furthermore, we also assess how these actors/spaces obstruct or encourage the articulation of a common European public sphere.
For purposes of empirical research, the European public sphere is conceptualized in four different ways:
(1) As a set of already existing communicative / discursive public spaces that are increasingly more interconnected and overlapping with each other (horizontal and vertical interconnectedness between sub-national, national and transnational communicative public spaces)
(2) As a separate, emerging trans-European communicative / discursive space that comes in addition to, and complements and/or competes with, the historically developed existing communicative public spaces
(3) As a set of collective social and political actors (organizations) that are increasingly more interlinked and collaborate with each other beyond the existing national boundaries
(4) As a separate set of social and political actors that create European-level networks that come in addition to, and compete with, the already existing trans-European networks
In the current chaotic picture of citizens, organizations, communicative public spaces, and political institutions that interact, interconnect, and interlink with each other, social and political actors are facilitating or inhibiting the emergence of an inclusive European public sphere in different ways. In EUROSPHERE, citizens and organizations’ roles in and contributions to the formation of a European public sphere are understood in terms of:
- the inter-linkages, inter-connectedness, and overlaps that they create or deter between the existing Europeanized and non-Europeanized communicative / discursive public spaces (essentializing/minority, nationalizing, transnationalizing, Europeanizing and gendering spaces)
- the new trans-European communicative / discursive spaces that they create or participate in or work against
- the vertical and horizontal trans-European networks of organizations that they create or participate in or work against
- the discourses about the European polity, diversity (including exclusion and inclusion, citizenship, minorities, mobility, migration, asylum, gender, etc) and the European public sphere that they bring into these networks and interconnected spaces
Indeed, all of the above processes of inter-connections, inter-linkages, and overlaps between communicative spaces and networks of organizations as well as a variety of discourses about Europe, the EU polity, and diversity are in place in today’s Europe to some degree. Interconnectedness of existing communicative public spaces and inter-linkages between organizations (collective actors) beyond a variety of borders and boundaries constitute each other. It is the social and political actors’ transcendence of boundaries that create interconnectedness between Europe’s communicative public spaces. On the other hand, it is the different degrees of openness / closure of the existing communicative public spaces that facilitate or obstruct such transgression. Hence, to understand the European public sphere, interconnectedness of spaces and networks of organizations are analyzed in one common research frame. One research challenge is thus to assess whether these can be viewed as parts and parcels of a European public sphere in the making. If so, how are these processes structuring the emerging European public sphere? Which types of inclusions and exclusions will a resulting public sphere form and what dominant discourses may it result in? Most importantly, in the normative framework of EUROSPHERE, which notions of a European public sphere are more democratic and inclusive than others?
EUROSPHERE collects and deploys relevant data about the features of communicative public spaces, of social/political actors, and of individuals. Concerning data-collection about social/political actors, at least three social/political actors were selected in each category (i.e., 3 think tanks, 3 political parties, 3 social movements, 3 newspapers and 2 TV channels) in each country according to standard selection criteria. Leaders of these organizations as well as their other important members were interviewed. Concerning data collection about communicative public spaces, also here the units of observation are social/political actors; however, this time they are treated as sub-spaces of the communicative public spaces. Here, the key data collection activity focuses on the interrelationships and patterns/substance of interactions between the different types of social/political actors claiming to belong to or to be speaking on behalf of the same communicative public space (e.g., the substance/patterns of interaction between a political party, a social movement, a media actor, and a think tank). We also collect data about the discourses of public spheres, citizenship, involvement, etc. of which social/political actors are a part of as well as data about the features of openness/closure in these communicative public spaces.
Further, existing survey data about the features of individuals who are associated with the five types of communicative public spaces through their engagement/involvement with different social/political actors are being taken from previous European surveys such as ESS, EVS, and Eurobarometer as well as other international sources like ISSP. The survey data concerns individuals’ involvement in political processes, their levels of co-otherness, patterns of multiple belonging, mobility patterns, patterns of multiple orientations to public spaces as well as the individuals’ relevant background.
At the national level, we analyze how and why political parties, social movement and non-governmental organizations, think tanks, and media actors (newspapers and TV-channels) form or join networks and channels for influencing the public debates at sub-national, national, and European levels. At the trans-European level, we focus on several European party federations, several trans-European networks of movements and NGOs, and several trans-European networks of think tanks, and how and why different organizations operate in these trans-European networks and channels. Further, we investigate the modes, methods, and issues of collaboration between the national and transnational levels. On both levels, we collect data about the institutional features of these organizations as well as data from interviews with their formal, informal, and oppositional leaders in order to understand how, and on which policy issues, they contribute to public debates at which levels (national or European); which arenas, networks, channels, and resources they are using to influence the public debates; and their political objectives concerning diversity, EU-polity, and the articulation of public spheres in Europe.