Research objectives

WP 5 – Civil Society and the Public Sphere

WP 5 analyses how civil society and the public sphere support the democratic reconstitution of Europe. Adopting a cross-national and cross-sectoral comparative perspective, it explores the conditions and dynamics of democratisation from below. The guiding question is whether democratic practice is conducive to a particular kind of polity. Alternative scenarios for democratisation are derived from the RECON’s three theoretical models:
  • Are “civil society and the public sphere” constrained to the preservation or reconstitution of national democracies?
  • Do they take part in the construction of a federal polity through the emergence of representative structures and multi-level public spheres
  • Do they promote a novel, post-national and deliberative democracy embedded in global civil society and world discourses of justification
In WP 5, RECON’s central research hypotheses about the conditions for and dynamics of democratisation in a compound polity are tested empirically. Contributions of the public sphere and civil society for the enhancement and reconstitution of democracy in Europe and Europe’s projection of democratic principles beyond its borders are evaluated along dimensions set by the RECON models. This allows for an assessment of the preconditions, quality and effects of the constitutionalisation process in order to establish what kind of polity is emerging, particularly as regards its social constituency. All three models are explored in political practice, in terms of their preconditions and impediments with regard to civil society and the public sphere and its possible gains in terms of legitimacy. The empirical measurement of democracy is then linked back to the development and reformulation of normative theory.

With a comparative empirical outlook on civil society, WP 5 supplements the institutional perspectives of WP 2 – Constitutional Politics and WP 3 – Representation and Institutional Make-up. It analyses public discourses, civil society networks and citizens’ preferences in the broader context of European integration. Constitution making is conceived of as an opportunity structure favourable of enhancing a European civil society and public sphere. The guiding research question is in how far the constitutionalisation of the EU is accompanied by new societal, political and cultural cleavage lines that run across the nation-state configuration of European societies.

Analyses of constitutional claims-making, civil society re-organisation and citizens’ attitudes and preferences in the context of EU constitution making will provide the basis for a media and civil-society observatory with regard to the EU and its long-term constitutionalisation process. Within WP 5, empirical data is collected on the impact of:
  • The media on forming citizens’ preferences and attitudes on the EU
  • Public intellectuals and strong publics on framing European issues and debates
  • Civil society networks and sectoral publics on expressing citizens’ preferences and channelling them into public will formation and decision-making processes
  • Collective representations (traditional and new identities) on forming citizens’ preferences and attitudes on the EU

WP 5 conducts comparative surveys of selected countries, aiming at a cross-sectoral as well as a cross-country comparison. Citizens’ cognitions, discursive and strategic communicative interaction and collective mobilisation are analysed. The comparative research design links a normative theoretical framework with comparative, qualitative and quantitative methodologies:
  • Qualitative analysis of political discourses and media claims-making
  • Analysis of claims-making, collective mobilisation and protest outside the institutional arenas of the EU and the member states 
  • Structured interviews with key actors from organised civil society
  • Attitudinal data analysis of preference formation by different social constituencies
  • Focus-group studies and experimental designs to analyse contextualised mind sets, micro-processes of opinion-formation and their malleability
In a short-term perspective, these data allow for a systematic mapping of differences between and cleavages across member states, with the aim to identify patterns of variation in the perception of the EU and its democratic performance. In a long-term perspective, they allow for identifying patterns and dynamics of Europeanisation of civil society and public communication across the member states and their possible intensification with the constitution-making process. The overarching research question is linked to the possibility of pro- and anti European cleavage structures emerging in the member states, the relevance of these and the possibilities for transnationalisation along them. In cooperation with other RECON work packages, the final aim is to observe long-term trends in the development of a (trans-)European public sphere and civil society and their democratising impact within and outside of Europe.