9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN26 Sociology of Social Policy

2009-09-03 09:00:00 2009-09-03 10:30:00 Thursday, 3 September 09:00 - 10:30 Restructuring European Social Policies Building II, Auditório C1.04

Informational Capital and European Social Policy: Knowledge Production, Accumulation of Symbolic Power and the Cognitive Unification of Europe

This contribution deals with the link between European Social Policy, the production of statistical knowledge, and the cognitive unification of Europe. Social policy in the EU does not only take the form of decision-making, collective agreements, or policy coordination but is also and increasingly concerned with knowledge production. The expansion of the statistical infrastructure is particularly striking in this respect. The refinement of quantified information on the economic and social state of the Union constitutes EU-wide problems as well as common European challenges. Using Pierre Bourdieu's sociology we can say that the EU accumulates symbolic power in the form of Informational Capital. This capital allows for performative acts, which lead to symbolic representations of Europe as a single social and economic space. Thus, on the cognitive level the production of Informational Capital prepares the advent of a European society.

A case study of the development of social indicators in the field of poverty and social exclusion policy exemplifies the dynamic and efficacy of this transnational form of power. From the very first attempts to establish a European policy on poverty in the 1970s adequate knowledge about the "real extent" of poverty in Europe was a key issue. Over time conceptual innovations - like the replacement of the concept of poverty by the concept of social exclusion - have inspired an expansive dynamic of knowledge production. The development of theoretical claims (e.g. dimensions of social exclusion) triggered the development and improvement of measuring instruments (e.g. indicators for the number of people living in jobless households or the share of early school leavers). Consequently, issues covered by European statistical representations are now ranging from health to homelessness. With every new indicator and with every further EU document describing the social situation in Europe our practical capacity to perceive of Europe as a unified entity with genuine European properties advances. Hence, building a European statistical infrastructure is an important aspect of the unification of Europe.

The contribution presents results from a Ph.D. on the sociology of European policies on poverty, social exclusion, and inclusion, which I completed in December 2008.