Establishing common grounds: our first RELATE reading groups
By Sharon Lecocq and Heidi Maurer, 1 September 2022
The UACES research network RELATE (European Studies in a Relational Universe) aims to bring together scholars with an expertise and interest in social relational theory, to advance and inspire an innovative relational research agenda and bring relational theory into the mainstream of EU and European studies, and to contribute to capacity-building of early career researchers around the topic of relational theory and methodology.
As part of our activities towards these goals, we organize reading groups as a platform for discussion of selected key readings in relational theory. The goals are is to establish a common starting point, fine-tune academic language and sketch out key considerations for the application of relational theory to European Studies. The reading group activities contribute to supportive community building and foster the exchange between network members applying these approaches to the study of contemporary issues in European politics.
Our first two online reading group sessions on 11 May and 29 June 2022. Senior and early career researchers enthusiastically discussed seminal works and recent advancements in relational theory by i.a. Milja Kurki, Patrick Jackson, Daniel Nexon, Rebecca Adler-Nissen, Vincent Pouliot, Emilie Hafner-Burton, etc. We convened around the questions: How do these works present relationalism? What are commonalities and differences? What is their specific contribution to the relationalism debate? How can the relationalism debate in International Relations help us better understand Europe and the European Union? Which work in European Studies is already out there that takes a relational approach and which avenues for further research in this area exist?
These questions were discussed in smaller groups, and lessons learnt were collected and presented to the entire group through the use of the digital whiteboard collaboration space, Mural. These collectively constructed “murals” are available to network members and contain the diverse insights and the new questions that were raised about what relationalism is and about how relationalism can be used to better understand Europe and the European Union. Take-aways included distinguishing the characteristics of different approaches to relationalism, their strengths and limitations for studying European and the EU, their relation to existing bodies of work and methods – and participants contemplated on how these approaches can be adopted in their own research
If you’re interested in joining any of our upcoming reading groups or other events, such as our RELATE discussion series, forthcoming Methods Workshop, or one of the network’s panels at several international conferences, check out more information here. Since it’s kick-off event late April, the RELATE network is proud to have reached over 80 members! Join us by getting in touch here to become part our mailing list, receive our newsletter and participate in our network’s activities! You can also follow us on Twitter @RELATE_UACES.
RELATE Kick-off Event with Keynote by Professor Emilian Kavalski
By Ana Juncos, 27 June 2022
On 27 April 2022, we were delighted to formally launch our UACES European Studies in a Relational Universe (RELATE) network with a keynote by Prof. Emilian Kavalski (Jagiellonian University). RELATE has received funding from UACES for the period 2022-2025 and is led by Marianna Lovato (UCD), Ana E. Juncos (University of Bristol) and Heidi Maurer (Danube University Krems), with the support of Sharon Lecocq (KU Leuven), Nicholas Wright (University of Surrey) and Carlos Bravo (IBEI).
RELATE strives 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.
At the kick-off event, the network co-coordinators told us more about RELATE’s aims and the activities scheduled for the coming year (learn more here). In line with the network’s goal of fostering a community of like-minded scholars with an interest in relational approaches, the event then moved into a short networking session, at the end of which we had the opportunity to hear from Emilian Kavalski, the first keynote speaker of our Discussion Series. Prof. Kavalski (NAWA Chair Professor of Complex Systems, Jagiellonian University) delivered a keynote lecture titled “What Can Relationality Be Good For in IR and European Studies?”.
Prof. Kavalski began by highlighting the relevance and timeliness of relational approaches in making sense of some of the developments we are seeing in the war in Ukraine and, in particular, the social resilience and ability to creatively self-organise shown by European citizens welcoming Ukrainian refugees. Crises such as this can thus be seen in a positive light as an opportunity to establish meaningful interactions and democracy in Europe. Prof. Kavalski brought to our attention the importance of language and the need to challenge the mainstream ‘melody’ of language in International Relations (IR) and European Studies. Promoting ‘polyphony’ and engaging with concepts and ideas that come from outside the core of our disciplines is one of the ways in which relationality can contribute to addressing some of the pressing challenges in the study of world politics.
After an overview of the growth of relational approaches in IR (a ‘relational revolution’), Prof. Kavalski explained that IR and European Studies suffer from what he called a ‘Columbus syndrome’, i.e. a failure to recognize the diversity of languages and to engage with them through meaningful interactions. IR theory (and, by extension, European Studies) tends to replicate Columbus’ engagement with indigenous languages: either it accepts other non-Western theoretical accounts and concepts of the international as narratives but does not recognise they are different; or it acknowledges they are different but does not admit them as concepts or experiences which are part of the study of international relations. Instead, he argued for the need to engage with different bodies of culture and sites of knowledge production through ‘itinerant translation’. This opens up the space for co-existence of multiple worlds and for seeing, interacting and responding to alternative realities. To conclude, Prof. Kavalski claimed that a relational approach not only emphasizes relations and connections, but, more importantly, that actors only gain meaning in complex webs of encounters and entanglements. During the Q&A session, there was a very lively discussion regarding the theoretical, methodological and empirical challenges associated with a shift in paradigm towards more relational perspectives in European Studies.
If you want to watch the full event, a recording is available on our YouTube channel. This Seminar Discussion formed part of an ambitious programme of activities for the RELATE network, which also include a Relational Theories Reading Group, a forthcoming Methods Workshop, and the organisation of panels at several international conferences (in 2022 alone, RELATE has organized/will organize panels at ECPR SGEU, ECPR General Conference and UACES 2022). You can find more information about forthcoming activities here. If you are interested in joining RELATE, get in touch here to join our mailing list, receive our newsletter and take part in our network’s activities! You can also follow us on Twitter @RELATE_UACES.