The ESPOL research centre, ESPOL-LAB, is composed of a team of researchers who actively contribute to the development of knowledge in political science. In their research they analyse public decision-making processes and contemporary transformations in the political sphere. Questioning the boundaries of politics and the relationship between politics and society is at the heart of ESPOL-LAB’s scientific project. What is the scope of the political decisions? What are its origins? To what extent do policies still refer to the regulation of society?
The apparent fragility of the contemporary state, in conjunction with the fragmentation of identities, growing globalisation of economies, and the emergence of new forms of violence highlight the difficulty of organising social relations and meaningful societal life. Yet, while the modern state may no longer be seen as the exclusive framework within which common rules are developed and transformed, it nevertheless retains an unparalleled appeal and ability to guide and organise society.
In this context, ESPOL-LAB research aims to help inform political decision-making processes, their normative underpinnings and the constraints they face, also including their continuously transforming relations to territory and violence. Our research team is composed of specialists in various political science fields, such as public policies, international relations, comparative politics, history of political ideas, and political theory.
1) The quality of democracy
Representative democracy has been put to the test for several decades, in Europe as in the rest of the world. To understand the multifaceted causes of this crisis is one of the major challenges of social sciences and, more particularly, of political science. The role of political parties and governments is changing. In a globalized world, the position of nation states, including in the European Union is evolving. The forms and arenas of political participation are diversifying. The rise of so-called ‘populist’ movements is a challenge for the political elites.
Based on a reflection of the fundamental principles of democracy, this thematic axis aims to analyse the formal and procedural conditions of democracy, the capacity of political institutions to meet these criteria as well as the causes and consequences of democratic transformation. The research conducted on these issues goes beyond a strictly legalistic reading of democratic rules, and also includes a theoretical reflection on the criteria of good governance and an empirical analysis of political processes.
Using the tools of political philosophy, political sociology and public policy analysis, the work of this axis focuses specifically on:
– political representation, such as elections, parties and parliaments,
– new spaces of democracy, especially economic democracy,
2) Regulation and governance
This axis of ESPOL-LAB focusses on the transformation of the regulation of society. Adopting a broad definition, this term refers to the production and implementation of rules and standards in a given territory by institutions holding a certain legitimacy. In this sense, regulation includes both, government activity and private norms aimed at organising a sector of society or social relations. Far from being a neutral or purely functional, regulation basically implies material and ideational conflicts which are underlying this development and/or result from it, which need to be analysed.
Questioning politics by regulation implies a triple interrogation in terms of actors, arenas of regulation, and finally, instruments. Regarding the actors, the question is the famous “who governs?” by Robert Dahl, questioning the actors influencing the production of standards and their implementation. These new players are also pushing regulation to change the arena of government and governance, with the growing importance of infra-, supra- and transnational levels, and the development of public-private or private standards alongside national or international regulations. Public regulation at the national level, which has prevailed for a long time, is challenged by the importance of new global issues (for example, international conflicts, migration, environmental change, economic globalisation, etc.).
The research carried out at ESPOL-LAB focuses on this evolution of governance to analyse how the actors themselves bring in and pursue their stakes, but also to analyse the consequences of these public-private actor constellations.
Finally, the form and nature of regulation depends on the issues at stake. Consequently, the modes of coordination between actors as well as the instruments of regulation evolve. Regarding the sources of change, our research analyses the role of certain norms, such as neoliberalism or participative democracy, in changing these regulations. The fields of application are diverse: Security and defense, economy, environment and agriculture are all areas of regulation studied in ESPOL-LAB.
The work of this axis focusses in particular on:
– advances and limits of governance: in emerging areas (e.g. the environment) as in sovereign areas (e.g. as security and defense),
– reconfigurations of international law,
– the role of cultural policies in internationalization, especially in the construction of Europe,
– the legitimacy of international regulations.
3) Reconfigurations of the International
This axis of ESPOL-LAB explores the contemporary transformations of the International. The latter is traditionally understood as an abstract space and without its own territory where political and social phenomena evolve which are overlooked by the state or between states. The International can however also be understood as a certain regime of limits, historically contingent, articulated around the spatial division between the internal and the external. From this, a whole series of normative and structuring distinctions of political practice and the very understanding of politics could be elaborated: a distinction between the citizen and the foreigner, between domestic and foreign policy, between crime and war, between the criminal and the enemy, between internal security and national defence, between the police and the armed forces etc.
The International has always been put to the test and also has continuously been transformed in the process of global integration, as suggested in the literature about the advent of a ‘global and borderless world’. Yet, the International has never totally been dissolved in ‘world politics’ that would disregard or override the states. Rather than disappearing, the State is being transformed and, in this context, the International is also undergoing a transformation. The third research axis analyses the contemporary reconfigurations of the International.
In a critical and reflexive perspective, these works particularly question the reorientation of the historical construction of the modern state, the evolving notions of space, borders and the enemy, the contested (and yet continually reaffirmed) procedures of legitimising state sovereign authority and the transformation of the conditions for the exercise of violence.
Among the themes that drive the work of this axis, we will mention in particular:
– international security and regional and international security organisations,
– armed conflict, war and military strategy,
– terrorism and anti-terrorism.
ESPOL-LAB is partner in the project RECONNECT (Reconciling Europe with its Citizens through Democracy and the Rule of Law). This multi-disciplinary project funded by the European Union under the framework programme H2020. The project brings together 18 academic partner institutions from 14 countries, coordinated by KU Leuven. RECONNECT aims at understanding and providing solutions to the recent challenges faced by the European Union. With an explicit focus on strengthening the EU’s legitimacy through democracy and the rule of law, RECONNECT seeks to build a new narrative for Europe, enabling the EU to become more attuned to the expectations of its citizens. A special focus is on EU economic and fiscal policy, on terrorism, international commerce and on migration. Members of ESPOL-LAB contribute particularly to work package 6 ‘Practices of democracy’ and in work package 11 ‘Counter-terrorism’. Read more
ESPOL-LAB participates in the EPHEMER project (‘Ethics and Holoptic Pedagogy for Network-Based Teaching’), funded by ANR as part of the DUNE Future Investment Plan (Development of Experimental Digital Universities). The project, which is carried out within the ICL by the ETHICS research group, develops an experimental methodology for integrating ethical concerns into teaching. Since 2017, ESPOL-LAB hosts a three-year post-doctoral researcher, Zach Bastick who is developing experiments on the digital aspects of democracy. This innovative approach aims to enable students to confront ethical considerations of contemporary issues, including Artificial Intelligence, the digital divide, and online discrimination. The students shall become active actors in their own pedagogy, critically approach emerging issues of digital politics, and analyse the dynamics of their individual and group responses. The project is transversal and promotes interdisciplinary collaborations within the fields of experimental political science, psychology, commerce and law.
ESPOL-LAB participates in the ‘Collaborative Observatory on Terrorism, Anti-Terrorism and Violence’ (O.C.T.A.V.). This is an initiative of scientists from various disciplinary backgrounds, supported and funded by LabToP-CRESPPA-Paris8-CNRS, ESPOL-ICL, REPI-ULB and CERI-SciencesPo/CNRS. Its members address issues related to “terrorism” and “anti-terrorism” by questioning their relationship to the contemporary transformations of violence and politics. To this end, O.C.T.A.V.’s activities are carried out in two formats: a university research seminar and a series of “practitioner meetings” (under Chatham House Rules) with professionals from the fields of security, defence, intelligence, justice and social work. The sessions of the research seminar and the practitioner meetings alternate around the same theme.
The working group emerged from the observation that there have never been as many episodes of so-called “terrorist” violence as there have been since the 1970s and the gradual institutionalisation, in France, Europe and the United States of what we have come to call “anti-terrorism”. This does not suggest that “anti-terrorism” would generate “terrorist” violence, it rather means to reject the terrorism/anti-terrorism opposition that has structured political, media and expert discourse ever since. From the 1970s onwards, largely fuelled by experts and the media, the political discourse has constantly pitted “terrorism” against “anti-terrorism”, exclusively presenting the latter as the state’s response to “terrorist” violence. In so doing, the political discourse ignores the mimicry of practices which, since that time, is at the heart of the emergence of anti-terrorism: the more “terrorism” has been described as a new form of violence whose entrepreneurs would act as a network, the more security, defence and intelligence actors have been called upon to organise themselves in turn as a network, via increased use of computing tools, and to develop a renewed form of state intervention against the violence labelled as “terrorist”. It is this renewed form of state intervention against so-called terrorist violence that is now called anti-terrorism.
This diagnosis of a transformation of non-state violence to which the security and defence apparatuses of modern states would only respond by adapting to it is wrong. In addition to locking up so-called terrorists and modern states’ security, defence and intelligence apparatus in a worrying escalation of violence and repression, it also blocks the reflection about alternative public policies that could provide a different treatment of violence. Their transformation does not only affect non-state violence, but also state violence, as evidenced by the most recent proposals in France or the United States to increase anti-terrorist capabilities.
Through a three-year programme (2017-2020), the O.C.T.A.V. sessions intend to explore the broad hypothesis according to which “terrorism” and “anti-terrorism” refer to the complex transformations of the way in which the general phenomenon of violence has been problematized and categorized under modernity, in order to allow its treatment by state authorities whose legitimisation process has been described and analysed by a Weberian-Eliasian historical sociology. Under this hypothesis, it is accepted that the analysis of the violence involved in the terrorism/antiterrorism cycle can no longer rest upon the series of oppositions historically accredited and yet often misleading between individual violence and state violence, between “terrorism” and “anti-terrorism”, between democracy and barbarism, between modernity and Islam, between the West and the Middle East, etc. Such an analysis implies a reflexive gesture of distancing such categories of thought that structure the entire political and expertise discourse.
Project “Reviving democratic participation in Europe: lessons from the crisis”
Professor Michael Holmes (Liverpool Hope University) completed a research stay at ESPOL-LAB, funded by the Regional Council Nord-Pas de Calais under their ‘Invited researchers’ programme’. During his stay throughout the year 2017, Michael Holmes pursued a project on the impact of the Euro crisis on political parties as agents of democratic participation. Results of this work is an edited volume (to be published by Manchester University Press) to which Julien Navarro and Antonella Seddone contributed, and to the organisation of an international conference on Brexit in November 2017. Michael Holmes continues to collaborate with ESPOL-LAB as associate researcher.
Project “Between personalization and democratization”
From September 2015 to August 2017, ESPOL-LAB hosted a post-doctoral researcher, Antonella Seddone, to conduct her research project ‘Between personalization and democratization: the changing role of members within political parties’. As part of the ESPOL-LAB research axis ‘Quality of democracy’, this project was funded under the programme ‘Accueil de Jeunes Chercheurs 2015’ by the Conseil Régional Nord – Pas de Calais. During her stay at ESPOL, the post-doctoral researcher published widely in collaboration with members of the research unit, especially with Giulia Sandri. Antonella Seddone continues to work with several colleagues as an associate researcher of ESPOL-LAB.
The ESPOL-LAB team consists of 14 faculty members working on the transformation of European and global politics: 10 Associate professors, a Professor (HDR), a Lecturer, a Post-doctoral researcher, and a Doctoral researcher. ESPOL-LAB is headed by Sabine Weiland (Director) and Thierry Chopin (Deputy Director).
ESPOL has also five associate researchers. We welcome applications of interested researchers to become associated with ESPOL.
ESPOL-LAB is member of the ECPR (European Consortium for Political Research), the principal political science research network in Europe. The ESPOL-LAB team supports the Revue Internationale de Politique Comparée.
ESPOL welcomes researchers to become associated with the School and, more specifically, with ESPOL-LAB, our Research Centre. The association of researchers serves the purpose of enriching the academic and intellectual life at ESPOL. We invite researchers with a scientific profile matching the research topics pursued at ESPOL to join us as associate researchers.
More information can be found in the Guidelines and the Application form.