The Evolving Governance Structure of the European. Union: Asymmetric, but not Disembedded

Maja Savevska

University of Warwick Publication Service. Dec 2014 [Link]

Supervisors: Mario Telò (ULB) & Matthew Watson (Univ. of Warwick)


The subject of inquiry of my research is the socio-economic restructuring of the European Union (EU). The project provides an innovative interdisciplinary intervention that uses the canonical texts of Karl Polanyi and the insights from the burgeoning Polanyian scholarship in an attempt to explain the morphology of the contradictions that underpin the EU integration project. The starting point of analysis lies in the recent debates instigated by the critical turn in the EU studies scholarship that tries to shift the focus from the causes of the EU integration to its consequences. My original contribution to the scholarship consists of providing a Polanyian critique of the EU political economy. The ever-growing Polanyian scholarship proves a formidable alternative to the already established Gramscian and Marxist routes of critical inquiry. Based on a close reading of Polanyi and the wider Polanyian scholarship the thesis proposes a new take on the established practice of using Polanyi’s concept of dis/embeddedness as an all-or-nothing phenomenon and instead suggests conceptualising the social reality in terms of tendencies. The lenses through which I evaluate the EU predicament consist of the following conceptual vocabulary: a) dis/embedding tendencies b) habitation and improvement, and c) the rate of change.

The main puzzle that the project endeavours to explain is the interplay between the disembedding and the embedding tendencies in the EU. The examination of the disembedding tendency consists of excavating the self-regulating market logic inscribed into the EU edifice by analysing the development across three policy fields: competition, finance and education. The findings suggest that the disembedding tendency is manifested not only in the monetary orthodoxy inscribed in the Economic and Monetary Union since the Maastricht Treaty and further reified during the Great Recession, but also in the privatisation, depoliticisation and commodification dynamics evident in the three policy domains discussed in the thesis. Given Polanyi’s observation that the embedding tendency is immanent to the disembedding one, the second empirical endeavour consists of investigating the surge of socio-environmental measures. Notwithstanding the institutional divergences between the social and environmental policy domains, the appraisal of the policy output demonstrates that the embedding tendency is characterised by the same marketisation dynamic that we see in the disembedding one. This thesis recuperates a critical Polanyian reading that highlights the disruptive dialectics between the disembedding tendency and the seemingly protective measures predicated on fictitious commodification. In addition to unearthing the structural bias towards the market form that constitutes the two tendencies, this project develops a normative critique of the market society, based on Polanyi’s ferocious appraisal of neoclassical economics’ formal understanding of the economy, by problematising the extension of the economising rationality within previously unaffected spheres.

This project receives funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No 722826.