European Integration has been a topic of social science research for more than twenty years now but has, for a long time, been dominated by the analysis of political and administrative processes of building European Union institutions and changing national policy. Only the last years have seen an increasing interest in processes of Europeanization from a more general, sociological, perspective that less emphasizes legal aspects and transnational bargaining processes but put its focus on the impact Europe – in one of the multitude of shapes it takes – has on people’s lives and everyday activities.
This newly emerging research question introduces not only a new type of research object into European Studies but also focuses our attention on what is actually is that we call Europe and whether this goes beyond legal institutions. While political science can easily represent Europe by the European Union or the Council of Europe, sociology needs to ask the question whether changes it observes are a sign of Europeanization or an expression of more general processes like de-nationalization, globalization or transnationalization ((Delanty, G., & Rumford, C. (2005). Rethinking Europe. Social Theory and the Implications of Europeanization. London, New York: Routledge.)) – and develop general criteria for each category. Observing, for example, an increase in cross-border commuting, air travel ((Mau, S. (2007). Transnationale Vergesellschaftung. Die Entgrenzung sozialer Lebenswelten. Frankfurt / Main: Campus.)) or language proficiency ((Gerhards, Jürgen, From Babel to Brussels: European Integration and the Importance of Transnational Linguistic Capital (September 1, 2012). Berlin Studies on the Sociology of Europe (BSSE) Working Paper No. 28. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2156812 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2156812)), might be an indicator for Europeanization but it remains unclear, in how far there is a distinctly European dimension to those activities. Even more, we don’t even know yet how we could identify such a dimension.
Thus, instead of looking at the grand scale of Europeanization, spanning an area from Finland to Spain and from Ireland to Romania and discussing the emergence of a pan-European common society, sociology must develop a much narrower focus and, first of all, ask the question of how people’s activities and thinking are related to their region, their home state and/or Europe as a social scale. In other words, while political science does well by taking the European Union as a starting point of its research and considering its emergence as well as its influence on domestic or even regional policies, sociology needs to acquire a more bottom-up perspective that asks in which ways people change their everyday lives in respect to its territorial basis and the formerly dominant order of the nation state, what these changes might be attributed to and how this might relate to the emergence of some kind of societal entity we could call Europe.
It is tempting to simply attribute all types of transnationalization that do occur within the European continent to Europeanization, as it currently so often done, but this blurs the fact that there are several different processes within the modern wold that might trigger this change in activity and thought patterns. So we first have to develop the conceptual framework and the corresponding analytical toolkit to be able to systematize those developments and then start considering whether one might interpret them as an expression of Europeanization.
Not surprisingly, first research following along those lines does actually find that people’s thinking and acting does more and more transcend their country of origin but not necessarily obtain a territorial scale that could be called European. While research on Danish youths shows how transnational thinking and life planning, if transnationally oriented at all, mostly refers to cultural and economic centers like London or the United States’ east coast ((Yndigegn, C. (2003). Life Planning in the Periphery: Life Chances and Life Perspectives for Young People in the Danish-German Border Region. Young, 11(3), 235–251. doi:10.1177/11033088030113003)) , my own research on German border regions shows on a smaller scale, how people actually do expand their horizon of activities across borders and how they even, to a limited extend, adopt cultural patterns from their neighboring country. It also points out how geographically limited these activities remain, being more or less restricted to the immediate vicinity on the other side of the border and how they create only little interest in the neighboring country as a whole, and even much less in Europe ((Müller, N. (2014). Die alltägliche Reproduktion nationaler Grenzen. Konstanz: UVK.))