Bo Stråth


Bo Stråth (Curriculum Vitae) was 2007-2014 Finnish Academy Distinguished Professor in Nordic, European and World History and Director of Research at the Department of World Cultures / Centre of Nordic Studies (CENS), University of Helsinki. 1997-2007 he was Professor of Contemporary History at the European University Institute in Florence, and 1991-1996 Professor in History at the University of Gothenburg. He is a member of The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

The Modernity of Europe and the Economy as a Polity

by | Jan 1, 2002 | Seminars and Discussion Groups, Curriculum vitae

Organiser: Bo Strath (HEC) and Peter Wagner (SPS)
Date: started in 2002
Place: European University Institute, HEC and SPS Department


The Economy as a Polity

Within Bo Stråth’s and Peter Wagner’s prestudy Modernity of Europe of their research project Europe’s Cultural Heritage Reconsidered, they organized 2001-2 with Christian Joerges in the Law Dept a seminar series called The Economy as a Polity. They established a working group with the same name. The seminar prepared the book The Economy As a Polity


Tuesday, 30 October, Convento 15.00-19.00
John McCormic (New Haven), Habermas on the European Union: Normative Aspirations, Empirical Questions and Historical Presuppositions
Discussant: Peter Wagner (EUI)

Tuesday, 13 November, Convento 15.00-19.00
Philip Manow (Konstanz), Modell Deutschland as an Interdenominational Compromise
Discussant: Christian Joerges (EUI)

Thursday, 22 November, Convento 15.00-19.00
Robert Salais (Ecole normale supérieure de Cachan, Paris), The Subsidiarity Principle and the Social Dimension of Europe
Discussant: Karl-Heinz Ladeur (EUI)


Thursday, 6 December, Convento 15.00-19.00
Jürgen Neyer (EUI/Bremen), Governance in Non-hierarchical Multi-level Systems: Problemsolving Beyond the State
Comment: Jochen von Bernstorff (EUI ) (to be confirmed)

Thursday, 17 January, Convento 15.00-19.00
Marcella de Cecco (La Sapienza, Rome), and Roberto di Chirco (JMF-EUI), The Political Dimension of European Monetary Union

Thursday, 31 January Convento, 15.00-19.00
Johan Heilbron (Centre de sociologie européenne, Paris) and Colin Crouch (EUI), The Sociology of Economics and Finance

Thursday, 14 February, Convento 15.00-19.00
Milos Vec (Frankfurt a.M.), Technicity as Governance in Industrial Societies
Discussant: Peer Zumbansen (EUI/Frankfurt a.M.)

Economy and Politics in Europe after the Erosion of the Nation-state: historical, socio-political and legal perspectives’

Organiser: Christian Joerges (LAW)
Bo Strath (HEC, RSC)
Peter Wagner (SPS)
Date: 2002-2003
Place: Badia

A seminar series in 2003-4 continued the 2001-2 series of the Working Group “The Economy as a Polity” at the Robert Schuman Centre. It was also established and linked to the complementary project on “A European Social Citizenship? Preconditions for Future Policies in Historical Light”, organised by Lars Magnuson and Bo Stråth (see A European Social Citizenship? Preconditions for Future Policies in Historical Light).

‘Economy and Politics in Europe after the Erosion of the Nation-state: historical, socio-political and legal perspectives’ was the name of the new series. It was an interdepartmental project and a seminar between the Departments of History and Civilisation, Law, and Social and Political Sciences. During 2002-3, several Jean Monnet Fellows affiliated with the working group contributed to this seminar series. 

Outline at the outset
The relation of ‘the economy’ to other aspects of social life, particularly ‘politics’, ‘society’ and ‘culture’, is a key theme of the social and historical sciences. It has been so ever since the argument for the beneficial logic of market exchange was raised in Europe in the eighteenth century and ever since laws about the freedom of commerce were introduced in European states, mostly during the nineteenth century. The separation of economics from the other social sciences is an intellectual outcome of those interconnected legal, political and economic transformations. It has persistently been raised as a problématique from Max Weber’s time onwards.

In the current situation, ‘globalisation’ is often seen as the effective creation of a world market subjected to the laws of neo-classical economics. Political and legal regulation could have only one of two purposes: to facilitate the emergence of global market exchange or to deal with any undesired consequences of such exchange in a compensating fashion. If that were an appropriate analytical perspective, the intellectual controversies within and between the social sciences and the historical struggles over the political forms of modern societies, both of which characterised the past two centuries, would finally have been overcome.

In our view, however, any ‘economic’ theorising resides on presuppositions of legal and political philosophy and thus cannot achieve separation from those concerns. And any historically and empirically existing ‘market’ always shows analysable socio-cultural forms of what has been somewhat infelicitously called ’embeddedness’. The processes of European integration and ‘Europeanisation’ then, rather than merely modernising European political and economic life with a view to a global market era, are exactly the site at which issues of legal and political philosophy and socio-cultural forms are at stake and re-emerge in a new guise.

The study of European integration and ‘Europeanisation’ is too narrowly conceived if it sees these processes as mere responses to globalisation processes driven by economic incentives and with a determined and rather limited range of adaptive possibilities. On the one hand, there is not just erosion of the politico-legal structures of the nation-state and the socio-cultural forms of European ‘life-worlds’ due to ‘globalisation’, but rather a transformation of existing forms that entails creative-agential involvement of European actors. And on the other hand, a global market is as little self-sustaining as the markets of the nation-based economies have ever been. In politico-legal terms, transnational regimes and new patterns of juridification are emerging. In socio-economic terms, the globalising transformations entail the development of new ‘worlds of production’ (Robert Salais and Michael Storper) that always have specific and often territorially based structures of networks and material engagement.

In this context, we propose to review some of the theoretical controversies about the political forms of market-based economic life. That is what we mean by proposing to see the economy as a polity and using a historical comparison of the current situation with European debates about the politico-legal embedding of the economy during the first half of the twentieth century, particularly during the inter-war period.

Thus, The seminar is intended to have a theoretical and historical axis, the interrelations of which are twofold. First, a move beyond any futile continuation of abstractly discussing the relation between ‘state’ and ‘market’ has to provide a historical contextualisation to identify the specific issues at stake. And second, rather than proposing in any simplistic way that the inter-war debates and measures could provide Ð analytical or political Ð guidance for the present situation, we propose this historical comparison as a means to retrieve forms of conceptualising the economy as a polity. The few more detailed considerations that follow should be read in this light. The working group on The Economy as a Polity and the seminar series resulted in The Economy As a Polity.

Other seminars and conferences contributed to the prestudy The Modernity of Europe as well:

Richard Kearney: Nations and Narratives: Pax Romana, Pax Americana

Extraordinary Seminar within the framework of the research project The Modernity of Europe

Organized by Bo Stråth and Peter Wagner

11.00-13.00, 2 May 2001
Sala Europa, villa Schifanoia

In this extraordinary seminar, Prof. Kearney will explore the origins of the Roman and American Empires in narrative ‚primal scenes‘ involving scapegoating and demonisation of the ‚Other‘. He will show how these foundational myths are then cited and recited at times of crisis to restore a sense of national identity and consensus. In the case of the USA, this will include the reenactment of the Mayflower myth in modern American culture and cinema (Birth of the Nation, Stagecoach and the current Aliens obsession).

Richard Kearney (Professor at University College Dublin and Boston College) is one of today’s most thought-provoking philosophers of modernity. He has authored Poetics of Modernity, States of Mind, The Wake of Imagination, Questioning Ethics, Transitions, Postnationalist Ireland, and Poetics of Imagining as well as two novels and a book of poetry.

The research project The Modernity of Europe: A Comparative Historical and Political-Philosophical Assessment

Writing the History of Political Thought/Ecrire l’histoire de la pensée politique

Workshop in the framework of the research project Modernity of Europe directed by Bo Stråth and Peter Wagner

Organiser: Bo Strath

Date: 24/11/2003 Place: Villa Schifanoia

This workshop aims to illuminate the connections between politics, language and history and how these connections can be analysed in methodological terms. The point of departure for the workshop will be a text by Lucian Jaume, “La pensée en action: pour une autre histoire des idées politiques”, and a comment on the paper by Quentin Skinner, who more than anybody has addressed the issue of the workshop, and to whom Jaume is referring in his paper. After this first round, the workshop will continue with oral 20 minutes contributions by the other participants, followed by a general discussion.

The text by Jaume (pdf)

In connection with the workshop, there will be a small book launch at 16.00 with an introduction by Iain Hampsher-Monk for Quentin Skinner and Bo Stråth (eds), States and Citizens, Cambridge U P 2003, followed by a drink.


24 Nov Sala Europa, Villa Schifanoia

10:00 Opening and welcome, Bo Stråth

10:15 “La pensée en action: pour une autre histoire des idées politiques” Lucien Jaume and Quentin Skinner

11:00 Coffee

11:30 First round of comments Hans Bödeker, Javier Fernàndez Sebastiàn, Willibald Steinmetz, Peter Becker, Martin van Gelderen

13:00 Lunch sala Bandiera

14:30 General discussion

16:00 Book launch States and Citizens

18:00 Drink

Administration: Thomas Jorgensen and Sylvie Pascucci

The Modernity of Europe

Organiser: Bo Strath and Peter Wagner (SPS)
Date: Thursday, 11.00-13.00, 2004-2005 (autumn and spring term)
Place: Villa Schifanoia, Sala Europa

Europe (and, more broadly, the West) has long been regarded as the birthplace of both modernity and of modern social theory and political philosophy. The parallel advent of successful ‚modernization‘ of non-Western countries such as Japan and a kind of post-colonialism that sees itself as a radical alternative to, rather than merely a liberation from, Western dominance, on the one side, and of postmodernism as a cultural-intellectual challenge within the West on the other has, however, cast doubts on at least any simple versions of the story of the rise of Western modernity. The new start of European integration, at the same time, has brought the differences between Western versions of modernity, such as between Europe and the US, which were much debated during the inter-war period, back to the centre of attention, not least in the form of the question about ‚European identity‘. In this context, the concept of ‚European modernity‘, not as a principally superior mode of social organization, but as one among a variety of institutional interpretations of a broader programme of modernity emerged. A number of attempts have recently been made in the historical and social sciences to develop perspectives in theory and research that live up to the new situation.


Against this background, the seminar’s aim is twofold: First, it aims to deepen the understanding of the specificity of the European variety of modernity both in terms of its historical development and institutional form and interpretative self-understanding. Second, to explore the broader background to the first question, it aims at bringing together some of the attempts, which are often still being separately developed, for a long-term and comparative historical and theoretical reassessment of modernity in its variety, in which European modernity is seen in its global context.

The basis of the seminar is a research programme on the modernity of Europe directed by Bo Stråth and Peter Wagner since 2001 and is now coming to a close. The seminar structure is related to a book manuscript by Stråth and Wagner in the conclusion of the research programme. In addition to other readings, the authors will present drafts of various chapters with the expectation that the seminar discussion of these texts will improve the book’s quality. Therefore, the convenors hope not only for regular but also for active participation with critical comments and suggestions. A conference, a workshop, and possibly occasional guests will further enrich the seminar discussion.

Conference „Varieties of World-Making: Europe and Beyond“
14-16 Oct

Workshop „Cultural Dialogue“
28 Oct


  • Monographs
  • Anthologies
Creating Community and Ordering the World
A European Memory
A European Memory?
European Solidarities
European Solidarities
Reflections on Europe
Reflections on Europe
The Economy as a Polity
The Economy As a Polity
A European Social Citizenship
A European Social Citizenship?
Representations of Europe and the Nation in Current and Prospective Member States
States and Citizens History Theory Prospects
States and Citizens
The Meaning of Europe
The Meaning of Europe
From the Werner Plan to the EMU
From the Werner Plan to the EMU
Europe and the Other and Europe as the Other
Europe and the Other and Europe as the Other
Myth and Memory in the Construction of Community
Myth and Memory in the Construction of Community
AFTER FULL EMPLOYMENT European Discources on Work and Flexibility
After Full Employment
Enlightenment and Genocide Contradictions of Modernity
Enlightenment and Genocide, Contradictions of Modernity
Department of History and Civilization Nationalism and Modernity EUI Working Papers
Nationalism and Modernity
The Postmodern Challenge Perspectives East and West
The Postmodern Challenge
The Cultural Construction of Norden
The Cultural Construction of Norden
Comparativ Wohnungsbau im Internationalen Vergleich Heft 3-1996
Wohnungsbau im internationalen Vergleich
Language and the Construction of Class Identities
Language and the Construction of Class Identities
Idylle oder Aufbruch
Idylle oder Aufbruch?
Democratisation in Scandinavia in Comparison