System Theorizing and Environmental Governance in the EU
Sociology PhD Student (ISCTE) / Research & Development (INA) ISCTE - Instituto Superior de Ciências do Trabalho e da Empresa / INA - Instituto Nacional de Administração Lisboa, Portugal
Although the conceptualization of society as a system has a long history in sociology, system theorizing has achieved sound scientific developments in approaches like functionalism and neo-functionalism, historical and marxian theories, and actor-oriented dynamic system theories. When addressing governance issues, this conceptual complex allows sociological research to unveil and explore the social dynamics that underlie agential strategies, structural arrangements and systemic change. Globally, the field of environmental polity has acquired considerable attention and has led to major transformations in institutional and normative configurations. In fact, sustainable development is perceived as the result of the emergence of a universal model of global governance, as a complex, multi-level, multi-interest, democratic network of rules, norms, institutions and agents.
Within the European Union polity model, environmental governance arrangements have been influenced by the shift from national to supra-national regulatory scope, the increasing participation of public interest organizations and social movements, and the complexity and multiplicity of interests and values in society. On the other hand, national corporatist and neo-corporatist social systems, with different approaches to governance arrangements and policy-making processes, both influence and are influenced by the European model, which is arguably neither a pluralist nor a corporatist one.
This paper first explores how system theories conceptualize and contribute to explain governance arrangements in the field of environmental policy-making processes. It then draws on the results of a cross-national research project on adaptation to EU multi-level governance in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Hungary and Poland, based on a social network analysis (SNA) methodology at the institutional level, to provide insights on how different national socio-political frameworks interact with the European polity model and bring about diverse institutional learning patterns and governance arrangements in the field of environmental policy.