A thought about modelling euroscepticism

PSA 2012 is coming to an end and I’ve had some really interesting and useful discussions with colleagues on a number of subjects.  One topic that came up was an old one, namely the continuing basic problems in researching euroscepticism.  From the very word itself, through definitional and classificational inadequacies to a lack of systematic descriptive work, pretty much every aspect of the subject is ripe for appraisal and reappraisal.  Even the most used framework – Taggart & Szczerbiak’s hard-soft model – is, by its authors’ own admission, fraught with problems, the very inclusiveness that has made it so popular for others obscuring many other aspects of interest.

This is where you might reasonably expect me to set out a resolution, but I fear that this isn’t going to be the case, or at least not completely.  Following one of our CRN panels on scepticism on the edges of Europe, I was struck by the thought that there was a way of resolving the desire to include country-specific explanations.  It’s not a very developed thought, but it’s a step towards offering something to this bigger set of challenges. Thanks to Adis Merdzanovic (University of Zurich) for prompting the idea and giving me many of the raw materials used below.

As researchers, we’re torn between parsimony and richness of explanation. In studying euroscepticism, this has meant we’ve often used core ideas of strategy or ideology to ‘explain’ why things happen, but once we locate a specific instance it quickly becomes apparent that there are lots of other contextual factors at play.  In particular, at a country-level there are particular political debates and touchstones.  So in Turkey we might be talking about how to label the Armenian genocide, while in France we reference the spirit of the Revolution and in Poland we have concerns about division and foreign oppression.  Put another way, British discussions of straight bananas don’t really travel, socially, politically or academically.

So how can we resolve the desire for a relatively simple explanation with the need to expose the peculiarities of the case in hand?  My thought is that we need to have a two-level model.  In the first level, we need to map the particular ‘lenses’ that we find in the case.  These frame the local debate and activity and help us to understand the environment in which we find ourselves.  In the second level, we would identify the underlying motivations that actors have when using the first-level lenses.  Here we could take our pick of factors, but to follow Adis’ model it could cover political, utilitarian and cultural dimensions.

There are numerous issues here, which I think are fairly obvious.  Most importantly, it’s not a particularly simple model, which makes me worry it has some redundancies within it.  Secondly, it doesn’t have a predictive capability.  Third, because of the first level it hampers cross-country comparison, although that would become easier with more cases, as patterns appear.

So, some gains, some costs.  Something for me to think about some more as I head back from Belfast.