Field and Habitus in the European Southern Neighbourhood Context

Zane Šime |

Original date of publication on the UACES Ideas on Europe platform: 2 January 2020

Photo by Omar Flores on Unsplash


Since science diplomacy is a relatively nascent field of scholarly enquiry, it is worth exploring its capacity to keep in step with other dynamic contemporary theoretical currents which are pre-occupied with the evolution of diplomacy. Science diplomacy holds the potential to induce the practice theory with a broader view of the diverse actors engaged implicitly or explicitly in the diplomatic-type of activities. This blog entry builds on the earlier ones posted in OctoberNovember, December and carves out further details of the research project aimed at examining the EU science diplomacy towards the European Southern Neighbourhood as a component of the EU structural diplomacy.


Habitus and Field

Since the research project is inspired by Adler-Nissen’s attempts to develop new theoretical avenues of exploring diplomatic practices, it also adopts her presented wording for the definition of ‘habitus’ being an “unconscious adoption of rules, values and dispositions gained from an individual and collective history. It functions like the materialisation of collective memory and is a disposition to act, perceive and think in a particular way that conforms to the field over time” (Adler-Nissen, 2014, p. 53). In more concise terms Bourdieu, on whose theoretical foundations Adler-Nissen builds her thinking, offers his re-worked understanding (Wacquant, 2002, p. 553) of habitus as “a structuring mechanism that operates from within agents” and “a socialised subjectivity” (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992, pp. 18, 126).

Likewise, the definition of ‘field’ is taken from Adler-Nissen’s appropriation of Bourdieu to the particularities of the EU studies as: “relatively autonomous social” and historically derived “system comprising a pattern of practices and beliefs, which encourage conforming with rules and roles” which regulate what is considered to be an appropriate or inappropriate behaviour (Adler-Nissen, 2014, p. 50). An analysis of higher education, research, science and innovation sectors is important not solely due to the demographic structure of the analysed region. It is also relevant to gain a more contemporary insight into the dynamics that Bourdieu described of this being a “social field like any other, with its distribution of power and its monopolies, its struggles and strategies, interests and profits” (Bourdieu, 1975, p. 19). It leads to scientific success being a fundamentally relational one – “a product of struggles between players, only achieved through the recognition in the field” (Hess, 2011, p. 321). Since the European Research Area and the European Higher Education Area transcends the EU boundaries, a more nuanced understanding how the central players have been engaging with the collaboration partners from the Southern Neighbourhood would offer additional insight into how both Areas integrate non-EU entities in the relational ties and through which centrally positioned EU research and higher education nodes these collaborations with peripheral actors are formed.

Just as Adler-Nissen discerns the commonalities and differences of a national diplomatic representative of an EU Member State, so does this research project extends a like-minded understanding that while both field and habitus are historically inherited, “the field remains as a social structure more or less independent of individual life, whereas the concept of habitus is linked to the individual” project manager and its represented institutional and national setting (Adler-Nissen, 2014, p. 70). In simple terms, “the field structures the habitus” (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992, p. 127). Due to the differing national and institutional contexts, it is expected that project managers based in the various EU Member States might have a different opinion and acquired expertise in factors which contribute to successful project implementation, thus differing understandings of the role of “statutory status” (Duggett, 1996, p. 82), especially concerning the affiliates of the consortiums based in Morocco and/or Tunisia.


Practices and communities of practices

Practices are understood as “socially meaningful patterns of action which, in being performed more or less competently, simultaneously embody, act out and possibly reify background knowledge and discourse in and on the material world” (Adler-Nissen, 2016, p. 7). EU funded consortiums are viewed from the lens of the communities of practices as groupings of professionals and academics who have a shared interest and orientation towards an implementation of a certain practice (Šime, 2019). A focus on this group of professionals follows the earlier observation of Adler-Nissen that there is a lack of theorization of the nature of practices (Adler-Nissen, 2016, p. 3). This observation is valid when it comes to such nascent fields as science diplomacy and its practices.

The practices of project managers in terms of their approach of engaging Moroccan and Tunisian institutions in the processes of the European Research Area and the European Higher Education Area are important to study because those link the domestic or the EU and the transnational or the Southern Neighbourhood relations in a manner which Bigo characterises as key coordinators being ““collectivized” as “liaison agents” and are always “double agents” because they operate both on domestic and transnational fields in parallel through a masterful use and conversion of resources which are at their disposal in the tactical moves (Bigo, 2011, p. 251). Thus, the EU-based Lead Partners and Coordinators are both at the same time engaged in the EU internal dynamics and operate according to the domestic considerations, such as national policies and the guidance provided by the senior officials of the respective research or higher education institution, as well as giving a substantial shape to the practical developments characterising EU cooperation with the Southern Neighbourhood.

Nevertheless, in an ‘intermestic sphere’ such as the Southern Neighbourhood, the distinction between domestic and external is distinctively blurred. Thus, it is also a geographic area where earlier observations about the EU internal dynamics of the evolving relations is applicable, namely, “the distinction between the national and the international scenes, a classic phenomenon in diplomatic practice, loses its meaning” (Adler-Nissen, 2014, p. 157) which in domain-specific expert environments is further reinforced by the international openness and exposure of the  European Higher Education Area and European Research Area, the impacts of their governing principles spanning well beyond the EU geographical boundaries.


Concluding Remarks

What is more intriguing is the Adler-Nissen’s rightly pointed out logic of an individual action which helps to explain why certain outcomes of EU funded initiatives might not always result in perfect conformity with its envisaged goals or generate various expectations and assessments which are affected by such factors as the relational location of the specific agent in the field. “People do not just do what is appropriate; they do not stand before obvious structures and rules which determine their actions, but in networks of relations which they virtuously manipulate.” (Adler-Nissen, 2014, p. 55) It is reinforced by other scholars that “practice theory accounts for variations in individual strategies and interests thanks to the notion of field and positional struggles” (Pouliot & Cornut, 2015, p. 308).

Besides any other types of networks, EU funded consortiums themselves correspond to a network constellation and the European Research Area is the most exemplary embodiment of the EU internal competition for centrality in terms of entering into the Framework Programme’s funded partnerships which would offer more prominent positioning among the core collaborative nodes, as opposed to a peripheral positioning (Abbott & Schiermeier, 2019; Visionary Analytics, 2017). By not neglecting the role of individual action, the perspectives of project managers are decoupled from mechanical compliance with the field regulating structures. It invites to pay attention to the role that specific composition of consortiums play in defining the outcomes of projects in a broader context of EU neighbourly relations.



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