Promises and Limits of the Resurrection of the Concept of Empire in EU Studies
After the wave of decolonization, the USSR was the only contemporary political system to be called an empire. When it collapsed, scholars started using the notion of empire in the context of the USA. Now, some EU scholars use the notion of empire in the European context too. Interestingly, the EU offers the first contemporary context of use of this notion in a mainly normatively neutral way. Empire is ‘simply’ used to describe and analyze recent trends in the integration process, which nonetheless raises questions. Has this political concept been dug out of Europe’s history because the integration process is taking a different path? Is it because the explanatory potential of standard theories of integration has been exhausted while the so-called ‘new theories of integration’ are disappointing because they aren’t really theories of integration? But can the concept of empire provide better explanations than the two theories which have dominated the scholarly debate since the creation of the EC/EU and than the new theories, which don't really succeed in challenging the old ones? What exactly is the added value of this concept? Should we bother using it at all? This paper presents a critical analysis of the use of the concept of empire in publications on the EU. It explores the potential as well as the limits of this concept in terms of theorization, of methodological implications and of explanatory potential.
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21st International Conference of Europeanists. 2014