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Europe: what kind of idea?

Robert Bideleux

The European Legacy, Volume: 14, Issue: 2, Pages: 163 - 176

Swansea University Author: Robert Bideleux

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Abstract

Salman Rushdie once asked “What kind of idea are you?” This article transposes his provocative question to “Europe”. It proposes that “Europe” cannot be primarily identified or located in terms of geographies, histories, religions, cultures or values, and that the countless attempts to do so merely...

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Published in: The European Legacy
ISSN: 1080-8770 1470-1316
Published: Abingdon The European Legacy 2009
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URI: https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa11323
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Abstract: Salman Rushdie once asked “What kind of idea are you?” This article transposes his provocative question to “Europe”. It proposes that “Europe” cannot be primarily identified or located in terms of geographies, histories, religions, cultures or values, and that the countless attempts to do so merely diminish the various competing ideas of “Europe”. The article also challenges more recently fashionable visions of “Europe” as a series of concentric circles centred upon (or emanating from) Brussels, as these indefensibly privilege some parts of “Europe” by treating them as Europe’s “core”, while equally unacceptably marginalizing other vital (and in most cases equally “European”!) portions of “Europe” by classifying them as ‘peripheries’. We propose that, while the currently dominant European Union countries have been busily attempting (albeit in vain!) to define and foster various ways of conceptualizing and privileging a “European core”, the borders and so-called “borderlands” of such “Europes” (however they are defined, and wherever and whatever they might be) have been continually constructing, contesting, resisting or challenging the various contending notions of “Europe”. Moreover, the peripheries and perimeters are no less important – and often no less “European” – than the supposed “core”, which is in any case continually shifting, mutating, and regrouping. Indeed, the ever-shifting so-called “peripheries” and “perimeters” of “Europe” have often done more than the supposed “core” to give substance to whatever conceptions of “Europe” were being mobilized or were jockeying for primacy at any given moment. The article concludes by arguing that the various contending ideas of “Europe” can best be understood, not as fixed entities, nor even as teleological constructs, but either as creative improvisations on themes which turn out differently each time they are ‘performed’ (as in jazz), or as competing narratives, à la Roland Barthes. Ultimately, taking a leaf out of Barthes’s book, the article puts forward a “Europe” Theory of Classification, which operates at the levels of functions, actions and narration.
Item Description: co-authored
Keywords: European Union, conceptions of Europe, borders, peripheries, cores, imaginary places, Borges, creative impovisation, Barthes, narration.
College: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
Issue: 2
Start Page: 163
End Page: 176