Europe's Malaise: Insights From Comparative and Historical Social Science

Publication Title

Research in Political Sociology

Document Type


Department or Program


Publication Date



European Union, Identity, State formation, Sovereignty, Nationalism, Populism


How should we make sense of Europe's current malaise? Focused on the great recession, the European Union (EU)'s architecture, or diverging national interests, the literature offers useful economic, institutional, and political explanations. It is our contention that, however diverse, these works share one important limitation: a tendency to focus on rather immediate causes and consequences and not to step back with historical or comparative perspectives to gain a “longer” view of the dynamics at work. In this article, we begin by examining parallels between the EU's current conditions and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Then, introducing the articles contained in this special issue, we raise research questions pertaining to long-term historical, social, cultural, economic, and political factors. Are the current challenges unprecedented or do they have roots or connections to past events and developments? Is there a European trajectory into which we can contextualize current events? Are there bright spots, and what do they suggest about Europe's present and future? To engage in such questions, the papers leverage the insights of historical and comparative sociology, as well as comparative politics. In so doing, they offer analyses that see the EU as an instance of state formation. They propose that a key dimension of tension and possible resolution is the classic problem of sovereignty. They grapple with the question of identity and institutions, exploring in that context the extent and limit of citizens' support for more Europe. And they delve into the nature of the nationalist and populist sentiments within and across European countries.


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