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Session Overview
RN32_01a_H: (De-)Politicization in the Neoliberal Era I
Wednesday, 30/Aug/2017:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Ov Cristian Norocel, Université Libre de Bruxelles
Location: HB.2.16
HAROKOPIO University 70 El. Venizelou Street 17671 Athens, Greece Building: B, Level: 2.

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De-politicization and technocracy in the European Union: a theoretical approach


Sapienza University of Rome, Italy

The role of expertise and specialist knowledge in the decision making has a long tradition in the history of political thought. In the last decade we assist to its stunning growth in front of the challenges of complex socio-economic topics inside contemporary societies. This tendency brought to an opposition between “politics” and “technocracy” that has been emphasized by the crisis of representative democracy and political parties.

In the European Union this process is particularly evident. The neo-functionalist approach has laid the foundations for the following technocratic development (Booker 2011). According to Majone (1999) technocracy is the peculiarity of the European Union as a “regulatory state”.

The role of European Commission, an institution without democratic legitimation, opened the way to the rise of a technocratic power: lobbies, pressure groups, experts committees play a crucial role in the European decision making, according to the model of the European governance (2001).

On the contrary, some scholars argue that the opposition between politics and technocracy has been overtaken by the inverse process of “politicization” of European institutions with the attribution of greater power to the European Parliament and the introduction of elements of participatory democracy in the art. 11 of the Treaty of Lisbon, (Radaelli 1999, 2014; De Wilde 2011).

The way the economic crisis has been coped with reopened the debate on technocracy and de-politicization at national and European level. The role of intergovernmental bodies (Eurogroup) and procedures (fiscal Compact) the so-called troika (European Commission, IMF, ECB) accumulate powers outside political institutions, but also call for a de-accountability of political actors (Burnham 2001; Kettel 2008; Wood, Flinders 2014) as in the model of post-parliamentary democracies (Andersen, Burns 1996).

Back to Bling Bling? The neo-liberal turn, corporate board quota’s and gender equality in the EU

Alison E. Woodward

Institute for European Studies, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium

Changes in frames for equality are often attributed to the neo-liberal turn of European politics. Today, when measures are proposed, the business case often overrules arguments based on justice and equity. To what extent can transitions in gender and diversity equality policies be explained by the neo liberal turn? One of the few proactive initiatives in the Barroso Commission was draft legislation for quota’s for women on corporate boards. In tandem with this launch the Commission stimulated transnational civil society activism by supporting new transnational associations such as European Women on Board. This paper hopes to examine the extent to which supporting such more elite organisations is additional evidence of the neo-liberal turn. First it examines the organisations funded around equality in the period 2008-2016 to see patterns in funding and cuts and their relation to positions on the equality agenda. Then the case of the foundation and activities of European Women on Boards is investigated. The case offers yet another illustration of the unusual role of the EC in attempting to shape European civil society, but also illustrates present paradoxes in the EU gender equality agenda, as it seemingly returns to a focus on ‘majority/white’ women’s concerns. Interviews with the founding members of the association, EU and EP officials working on the directive and wider civil society actors as well as observation form the empirical background.

Gendered embodiments of closure: Marginalization, participation, and politicization in the context of new urban poverty

Eeva Luhtakallio

University of Tampere, Finland

This paper examines the gendered embodiments of the sense of closure – a lack of opportunities to fulfill personal aspirations and to enhance one’s life circumstances – in the context of new urban poverty and marginalization, explored by way of an ethnographic study in a disadvantaged neighborhood of a large Finnish city. Studies of ‘advanced marginality’ (e.g. Wacquant 2009) point out that instead of mere material deprivation, the mechanisms of marginalization have significant consequences in terms of citizenship and democracy. The crisis of representative democracy, addressed in both empirical and theoretical studies during the past decades, is thus not only a crisis of representation, but a crisis of equality that attacks the very fundaments of the idea of equal and active citizenship cherished in these societies. In this paper, I ask how does marginalization affect citizenship on an individual and collective, grassroots level. Gender is an important key to understanding the societal consequences as well as individual experiences of the above tendencies. Marginalization, precarization, and symbolic exclusions from citizenship and political participation have multiple gendered dimensions. In the Finnish context, the recurrent depoliticization of gendered participation and power is a crucial feature in concealing the mechanisms of inequality (see e.g. Holli 2003; Luhtakallio 2012). Furthermore, the embodiedness of these processes affect the styles of e.g. political agency so that the latter may be hard to recognize through the use of traditional tools of studying political action (e.g. Skeggs 2011). I examine how gender intersects with the experiences of closure and marginalization, as well as the experienced possibilities of participation and politicization.

Un-making ‘gender’ as a resistance against the neoliberal order in Europe

Eszter Kovats

ELTE ÁJK, Hungary

This paper seeks to contribute to the academic debate on the reasons behind the rise of transnational movements resisting “gender ideology” or “gender theory” in several European countries and on European level. On the basis of critical theories on liberal democracy and its crises the paper situates the phenomenon in a broader European and global crisis. It argues that it is a symptom of problems of a scale going beyond gender equality, and gender is just symbolic glue, a terrain on which hegemonic battles are fought. What is at stake is a re-definition of the bases of liberal democracy and of the post WWII human rights consensus.

On the one hand, these movements reflect the current tendencies of identity politics in feminist and LGBT activism, best known from the Anglo-Saxon world, but having a growing influence in continental Europe. On the other hand, as previously argued by Weronika Grzebalska, Andrea Pető and myself, attacks on “gender ideology” should be seen as part of a broader political shift, characterised by the growing popularity of illiberal parties and the populist right all over Europe and beyond. Resistance against “gender ideology” cannot be understood solely as a resistance against values of equality, or as a backlash against women’s and LGBT rights. Rather these movements provide culturalist answers to the current crises of the liberal democracy and of various structural concerns, among others to the embeddedness of feminist and LGBT issues in the neoliberal order, including the depoliticised, technocratic and top-down way of policy-making.

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