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EU Horizons 2020: Major new possibilities for research funding for process sociology

The EU has announced the outlines of a new funding programme (Horizon 2020) that will support collaborative research (onto which funding for doctoral students could be bolted) on various fields including what have been described as Societal Challenges. They are cross-EU research programmes that extend previous Framework Programmes. They will promote research collaboration on a multi-institution basis, involving at least three institutions.

One of the specific topics listed under Societal Challenges is of special interest to, and not least because of the explicit reference to the need to understand ‘the process of civilization in modern Europe’.  The EU’s description of the programme is as follows:

Topic 12. Individual reactions to the crisis and challenges to European solidarity

Specific Challenge

The crisis has put the Europeans under even more strain. Many commentators have observed that beyond the appearance of hyper-choice, our modern world dictates our behaviours and leaves people with little meaningful freedom, hence new types of pathologies. The combination of various “cultures” and “lifestyles” which enhance at the same time control on individuals and boundless self-realisation, the urgency to do well in a competitive environment together with the many frustrations of individualism, lead towards a deficit of symbolisation and the development of discontent.

In this context it is not surprising that the notion of solidarity comes back to the fore either between individuals or groups or even between people/nations/States. ‘Solidarity’ is one of the Union’s values mentioned in Article 2 of the Lisbon Treaty (TEU). It was originally closely associated with the notion of fraternity, and later on class struggle. Today it refers to a special social relationship which seems contingent on a shared political perspective. Showing solidarity is a political act. It connotes a preparedness to share resources with others.

However, how can the discontent be tackled and solidarity enhanced? This is a challenge that will require innovative thinking in political philosophy, clinical psychology and psychoanalysis, as well as sociology and law.


Research will explore the links between the meta-social frameworks and the meta-psychic frameworks in modern societies in Europe and the likely translation of these links at psychic level. It will thus explore the development of symbolisation and the “processes of civilisation” in modern Europe. It will cast light in particular on new psychopathologies in modern life and analyse whether and how the current crisis actually influences these pathologies. It should combine theoretical and empirical work in this endeavour. Research should also explore solidarity both as an intellectual concept and its more practical expressions. This requires a comprehensive reappraisal of the history of the concept, the evolution of its conceptualisation as well as the various guises of solidarity. It will assess and test the conditions of acts of solidarity by individuals generally and investigate to what extent the crisis has influenced citizens’ preparedness to show solidarity with others, in particular with those hit worst by the crisis, both within and between member States. It will explore the conditions necessary for solidarity to be successfully invoked to make a difference to European governance, and address how the relationship between solidarity, human rights and EU citizenship can be elucidated, what ‘responsibilities’ lie within solidarity as a principle and where are their limits, what kind of events or policies are specific loci for solidarity investigations which test the point at which solidarity exists or fails.

Expected Impact

Research is expected to expand and deepen the knowledge base both conceptually and empirically on the discontent expressed by individuals in modern societies. It should help to point to the cultural shifts that combine social and psychic transformations which would be necessary in order to address the deepest manifestations of crisis in Europe. Projects should also provide sophisticated historical and theoretical conceptualizations of solidarity, while simultaneously exposing the practical implications of its contemporary expressions. Research is expected to provide a critical assessment of what kind of policy responses have in the past jeopardised or even undermined European solidarity generally or negatively impacted upon individuals’ preparedness to show solidarity. Projects should develop a coherent vision of policy responses which are prone to instilling solidarity within the population. Research should also assess what kind of shared political perspective is required to facilitate solidarity and acts of solidarity within the EU.

Instrument: Collaborative projects (100%) – Single stage

As you can see, the description creates real opportunities for promoting process sociological investigations of the social and political change in Europe.  Some of the language that has been used in the description has a clear process sociological tone.  The reference to “processes of civilisation” in modern Europe almost demands a bid for research funding from the ‘figurational family’ – a bid that explores, inter alia, connections between process sociology, International Politics and European Studies, and might consider, amongst other things, Elias’s analysis of the civilizing process as well as specific reflections on ‘we-feeling’ and ‘the scope of emotional identification’, the significance of the ‘drag effect’ of nation-state loyalties and the role of ‘unions of states’ in the context of rising levels of human interconnectedness.  It is clear from the EU’s description of the research area that there is a strong interest in work that reflects on the ‘European project’ and the prospects for ‘solidarity’ given the social and political effects of the financial crisis.

The EU has announced that final decisions on Horizon 2020 will be made over the next two months, and that final decisions on proposals will be announced on 11 December 2013.  On the envisaged timetable final first year proposals will have to be submitted between May and August 2014.

My understanding is that research bids will be difficult to coordinate, organise and write, but that the rewards will be huge (around 2.5-3 million Euros may be allocated to each successful applications).

As far as the initial coordination is concerned, could anyone who is interested in the project, please contact Jason Hughes ( It will be valuable to have expressions of interest in being part of such a bid, and to reflect on how to take the discussion forward.

Andrew Linklater

Department of International Politics

Aberystwyth University