Merje Kuus – Symbolic Capital in Transnational Diplomacy: Puzzles from Brussels



Event Date: 15-16 February 2013
Deighton Room,
Trinity College,
Cambridge CB2 1TQ

Translating Diplomatic Culture

Part of the Diplomatic Cultures Research Network (AH/J013900/1)

Professor Merje Kuus (University of British Colombia) – Symbolic Capital in Transnational Diplomacy: Puzzles from Brussels

The European External Action Service or EAS as the European Union’s own diplomatic corps is a uniquely transnational diplomatic service: its officials represent not nation-states but the EU as a transnational legal person. That new service requires a new institutional culture. A European diplomat remarks: ‘At EAS, we are not in the stage yet where we have our own style. I’m not sure whether we want to have it. Maybe this [ambiguity] is built into the institution. Maybe it’s too early to tell.’ The scene is so ambiguous in part because national credentials do not translate into EU-level ones directly. To understand the skills and resources required from EU diplomats, we need to grasp the translation and transformation that occurs when nationally based competencies ‘hit the ground’ in Brussels. The translation is geographical as well as political and social: what are being negotiated are not only national interests but also different conceptions of what is a genuinely European diplomatic culture and where is it—where does it draw from, where is it produced, and what is its relationship to different national cultures.

This presentation focuses on the role of symbolic capital in such translation. Every social field operates in part through tacit social conventions that are learned by daily practice. In Brussels, where consensus-building and peer pressure are the driving forces of policy-making, both states’ and individuals’ ability to advance their interests depends in part on their symbolic resources of connections and reputation. To grasp the rules for the production of rules in Brussels, we must analyse how these resources operate. We need to understand the embodied practices and resources, such as presence or charm, that the social field neither teaches nor explicitly demands but that nonetheless function as valuable resources in Brussels. Drawing from 105 non-attributable interviews with 72 policy professionals, I clarify what it means to be well-endowed with symbolic resources in EU settings. In so doing, I begin to analyze what might be called the social geography of European diplomacy.

Merje Kuus is Associate Professor of Geography at the University of British Columbia. Her research program focuses on the geopolitics of transnational policy processes and her current work examines the production of expert knowledge in European Union institutions in Brussels. Dr. Kuus is the author of Geopolitics Reframed: Security and Identity in Europe’s Eastern Enlargement (Palgrave, 2007) and the co-editor with Klaus Dodds and Joanne Sharp of the Ashgate Research Companion to Critical Geopolitics (Ashgate, 2013).

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