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Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Causation  

Sierens Vivien and Ramona Coman

This chapter studies causation, which occupies a central place in the social sciences. In their attempts to understand and explain ‘why’ social, economic, and political phenomena occur, scholars have dealt with causality in many different ways. The way to define and observe causal relationships has always been at the heart of harsh academic debates in social as well as natural sciences. Drawing on distinctive ontological and epistemological standpoints, at least four different understandings of causation have emerged in political science. Most authors have adopted a correlational-probabilistic understanding of causation, but some have preferred a configurational one, while others have adopted a mechanistic or even a counterfactual understanding. To illustrate the concrete methodological challenges generated by this theoretical pluralism, the chapter discusses how scholars have dealt with causality to explain the impact of European integration on domestic policies and institutions.

Chapter

Cover Comparative Politics

23. The EU as a New Political System  

Simon Hix

This chapter examines the development and operation of the European Union from a comparative politics perspective. It first considers the evolution of the EU, from the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1951 that established the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) to the admission of Lithuania in 2015 as the nineteenth member of the Eurozone, and the UK’s decision to leave the EU in 2016. The chapter then explores the process of European integration and goes on to explain what it means to think of the EU as a political system. It also describes the two basic dimensions of the EU system: the vertical dimension (the EU as a ‘regulatory state’) and the horizontal dimension (the design and operation of EU decision-making). The chapter concludes by analysing the ‘missing link’ in the EU system— the lack of genuine democratic politics.

Chapter

Cover Comparative Politics

4. The Nation-State  

Gianfranco Poggi

This chapter examines how the nation-state came into being and how it became dominant as a political unit. It first presents a general and streamlined portrait of the state—a concept that sociologists inspired by Max Weber might call an ideal type. In particular, it considers some of the characteristics of a nation-state, including monopoly of legitimate violence, territoriality, sovereignty, plurality, and relation to the population. The chapter proceeds by discussing a more expansive concept of the nation-state, taking into account the role of law, centralized organization, the distinction between state and society, religion and the market, the public sphere, the burden of conflict, and citizenship and nation. The chapter also describes five paths in state formation and concludes with an assessment of three main phases which different European states have followed in somewhat varying sequences: consolidation of rule, rationalization of rule, and expansion of rule.