Conflicts and European Socialization

Struggles for Justice, Equality and Recognition in a European Society

"Conflict is of sociological significance, in that it engenders or modifies communities of interest, standardization, and organization", wrote Georg Simmel in 1908 about conflict as a form of sociation. According to Simmel, conflicts generate and reproduce social spheres of action while at the same time structuring and differentiating them. Struggles, conflict, and controversies thus reflect processes in which the relations between actors are established and ordered, and in which the existing orders of such relations are altered. The project takes up this line of thought and seeks to discover the contribution of conflicts to sociation at the European level, focusing on conflicts in which actors dispute issues of justice, equality, and social recognition. It investigates whether and how such conflicts create European spheres of action and generate or alter European contexts of order.

Addressing these issues must entail theoretical consideration of the concept of conflict. Although approaches based in conflict theory are prevalent in social research and historiography, as well as in research on Europe, there is nonetheless a lack of discussion about the concept of conflict and its application in these approaches. This deficit is thus the starting point for this research, which will investigate from a sociological-historical perspective the interdependencies between conflicts and nation-state concepts of order, on one hand, and the connections, intersections, and boundaries between the concept of conflict and the conceptualization of violence, the rule of law, and the welfare state, on the other. By reflecting on these questions, the project aims to utilize the concept of conflict for investigating spheres of action above and below the level of national orders and to make it a reliable category for the analysis of Europeanization processes. A further goal is to attempt to go beyond conflict sociology’s perspectives rooted in modernization and integration theories.

The empirical investigation of conflicts over justice, equality, and social recognition in selected member states of the European Union undertaken here will draw on these efforts to address theoretical and conceptual issues. It is argued here that by considering the genesis and practices of such conflicts and how they are dealt with in society, European spheres of action and order as well as the alteration of existing systems will become visible. This thesis has been developed on the basis of case studies of:
a)    urban conflicts in which the actors involved broach questions of distribution and belonging related to societal contexts of order;
b)    conflicts at the operational level in which the actors involved (through a European Works Council, for example) negotiate their interests in terms of established contexts of order;
c)    conflicts in which the actors involved focus on the contexts of order, making them the subject of conflict for instance in the realm of the politics of memory and migration policies.

(Last modified October 2014)