RELATE (European Studies in a Relational Universe) is a research network funded by UACES for the period 2022-2025 and led by Ana Juncos, Marianna Lovato and Heidi Maurer, with the support of Carlos Bravo, Sharon Lecocq and Nick Wright. The goal of RELATE is to bring social relational approaches – particularly practice theory, network theory and pragmatism – into the mainstream of European and EU studies, to foster a supportive community of like-minded senior, mid- and early career scholars and to establish a methodologically rigorous research agenda for the application of these approaches to the study of contemporary issues in European politics.
Placing social relationships at the centre of analysis can provide a better understanding of intra-EU processes as well as the role of the EU as a global actor. From the value of practices for the study of EU negotiations to the importance of the EU’s role in global networks, social relational theories offer a broad array of tools for the study of European politics, EU decision-making and the role of the EU in international affairs. Moving beyond debates over agency or structure, relational approaches see networks as emergent properties and focus on interdependencies through repeated social interactions. While relational approaches are by now firmly established in the areas of International Relations theory or Comparative Politics, their application in European Studies is still scarce and not well connected to wider scholarly debates.
RELATE 2022-2025 pursues four aims: (1) to bring together scholars with an established expertise – as well as those with an interest – in social relational theory (community building); (2) to advance and inspire a methodologically rigorous and innovative relational research agenda (research design innovation), (3) to bring relational theory into the mainstream of EU and European studies (community cross-fertilisation) and (4) to contribute to capacity-building of early career researchers (ECRs). For each aim we have also laid out well-defined targets that RELATE aims to achieve between 2022 and 2025.
Aim 1: Community-Building
RELATE connects early career, mid- and senior scholars that are working with or are interested in exploring relational approaches. By bringing together different scholarly communities focusing on different aspects of relational theory (e.g. critical social theory, practice theory, social network analysis), RELATE is establishing and consolidating a diverse academic network and fostering cross-disciplinary exchanges.
Aim 2: Research Design Innovation
RELATE advances and encourages a methodologically rigorous, yet varied, research agenda for the application of relational approaches to European and EU studies. RELATE places the ontological underpinnings of relational theory at the centre of the methodological discussion, with the goal of aligning different kinds of research questions with suitable methodologies and methods of data collection and analysis. In so doing, RELATE brings together experts from across a wide spectrum of traditions – from ethnography and elite interviewing to survey design and social network analysis – to explore the potentialities of mixed-methods approaches and to foster methodological exchanges between otherwise separate scholarly communities.
Aim 3: Community Cross-Fertilisation
RELATE will not only build a community around social relational approaches, but it will embed that community in existing scholarly communities, including UACES, the ECPR Standing Group on the European Union, the Jean Monnet network RENPET and the Methods Excellence Network. RELATE is thus (1) attracting scholars that would otherwise neither enter into contact with European Studies associations like UACES nor participate in European Studies conferences like the annual UACES conferences and (2) providing new opportunities for cross-fertilisation and theoretical/methodological exchanges during UACES conferences or dedicated RELATE panels at international conferences such as ISA.
Aim 4: Capacity Building with/for Early-Career Researchers
RELATE is committed to actively integrate early career scholars. It supports the expansion of their theoretical knowledge, strengthen their methodological skills and helps them acquire valuable research experience in a novel and promising field of European Studies through targeted activities and guidance from senior and mid-career scholars. RELATE is co-led by an ECR (Marianna Lovato) and includes two ECRs in the coordination team (Sharon Lecocq and Carlos Bravo). The network also counts several PhD candidates among its members (including members of the UACES Graduate Forum committee).