From Past Practices to Future Directions in European Studies
This is part of our special feature, Imagining, Thinking, and Teaching Europe.
The Council for European Studies at 50: Looking back
As Europeanists ponder about the state of integration and disintegration of the European Union—under pressure from multiple crises and the “tensions and fractures” latent in the European project (Vail 2020)—it is only logical that they also interrogate their discipline and the ways in which “European studies” has been framed, as well as which “Europe” has been of concern to their field in practice. Since at least the early 2000s, European studies has had a strong policy orientation, as it was formulated as a “cooperation of academics, stakeholders, and practitioners to solve a common problem of common interest with the goal of resolving it by designing and implementing public policy” (Repko 2016, 410). Some have argued that it is a conflation of “Europe” with the EU and the process of EU integration that has obscured European studies as “‘the ‘soft’ end of multidisciplinary social science,” leading to its agenda being critiqued as unclear and movable compared to more narrowly-focused EU or integration studies (Rumford 2009).
With the Council for European Studies (CES) celebrating a milestone fiftieth anniversary this year, the opportunity has arisen for its leaders and members to consider the role the organization has played in constructing and pushing forward European studies―whether through its annual conference, its research networks, or the support it has provided for research—and to devise the part they want to play in the future of the (inter)discipline. The latest volume edited by Erik Jones (2020), which brings together scholars who have been involved in CES to reflect on the past, present, and future of European studies, is symptomatic of this juncture and underscores the necessity for the re-evaluation of the field’s epistemologies and practices for its sustainability. Does European studies need to reinvent itself or make adjustments to remain relevant as a certain Europe is eroding and new anxieties are affirmed? Prominently focused on the EU, European integration, a conceptualization of “Europe” around institutions, and an overall tendency to macro-level analysis, has European studies missed out on incorporating crucial dimensions of Europeans’ lives that could assist in propelling the discipline into the future?
Since its creation in 1970, CES has figured as a major actor in the development of the field in the United States, in particular since 1979 through its international conference (Council for European Studies n.d.), a now yearly scholarly and networking rendez-vous for Europeanists from each side of the Atlantic, and beyond. Thus, one way to assess where European studies has been and highlight potential gaps in its trajectory is by analyzing the content of its annual international conference over time—“the world’s largest and most prestigious professional gathering for academics, researchers, and policy specialists focusing on Europe” (2020 would have offered its 27th iteration, were it not for the corona crisis, which forced for a cancelation). While conference programs are subject to last minute changes, they nevertheless constitute a telling paper trail documenting the course of the discipline as envisaged by CES and its members—who represent the field on national and international stages—while also usefully translating intentionality and deliberate organizational purpose (notably through the call for papers around a general theme each year, pre-conference workshops, and mini-symposia).
A textual analysis and cross-tabulation of panel titles, paper titles, and institutional appurtenance of presenters/authors over the past ten years allows to draw preliminary conclusions about not only thematic evolution and participation, but also about blatant absences. I wish here to suggest for a conscious and explicit opening up of our interdisciplinary field to a selection of other “studies” that could lead to an exploration of new and complementary approaches to Europe. These could even perhaps create opportunities for new research networks around pertinent thematics, which have, until now, been missing, muted, or marginalized in the organization: Critical education studies, environmental studies, and rural studies. What could these three interdisciplinary realms of inquiry offer in terms of questioning Europe as an object of study that is plural and multi-scalar, but also in terms of suggesting paths of disruption to assumptions held about European studies? How do other “studies” cut across research domains already well established at CES? By no means exhaustive, this invitation is for an increased cross-pollination and intermingling of various “studies” in the face of shifting foci in European and global issues, as well as for an evolution in disciplinary epistemologies and ontological rethinking.
Interdisciplinarity and the emergence of the “studies”
The first hurdle interdisciplinarity engenders is that of its very definition. The second is that of application. Sometimes scorned as a mere buzzword, this “syncretic assemblage” (Klein 1996) has even been described as a cosmetic imposture (Sperber 2003) and questioned by many as either a practice, method, paradigm, ideology, metaphor, or discourse that, until a few decades ago, had flailed as “the most underthought critical, pedagogical and institutional concept in the modern academy” (Liu 1989, 743). The structural reforms of the university in Europe and the United States in the post-war era, and later on in the 1960s and 1970s, would unlock the door for the arrival of new models of knowledge production that were wished as more open, less top-down, and more participatory and collaborative―a paradigm shift propitious to the strengthening of “multi,” “pluri,” “inter,” “trans,” or “post” disciplinarity as at least institutional ideas and ideals, if not yet as practices in universities that were still mostly organized around walled-in disciplinary dogmas and compulsory canons.
For Roland Barthes (1977, 155), interdisciplinarity precisely “begins effectively…when the solidarity of the old disciplines breaks down…in the interests of a new object and a new language neither of which has a place in the field of the sciences that were to be brought peacefully together.” Indeed, the increased complexity and interconnectedness of the world’s problems brought about by globalizing processes produced new objects of study and hybridities that required novel concerted scientific approaches and cooperation. Encapsulated in theme-driven or geographical area “studies,” these new objects came to defy the boundaries of the disciplines, building their own “social capital” in a dearth of economic capital (Klein 1996), while generating their own methods, experts, values and assessments, and identities, as the disciplines had done before (Schoenberger 2001). Hence, European studies becomes “an entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques, and so on, shared by members of a given community” or, in Kuhnian terms, a “disciplinary matrix of concepts, assumptions, basic laws, proven methods and other objects of commitment common to the practitioners of a particular discipline or specialty which may or may not be necessarily related and which require individual specification” (Bryant 1975). In this context, European studies, as an “area study,” is apprehended as a “holistic approach to societal and/or cultural developments of a given territory,” while also encouraging normative analysis and positioning itself around specific values and identities (Beichelt 2020). Within European studies, voices are increasingly emerging calling for a critical re-examination of the paradigms leading the field and for the inclusion of more diverse paths in the seeking of responses to the challenges contemporary Europe confronts (Halle 2020, Beichelt 2020).
Critical education studies: An in-road to reveal power relations in European societies
“Education matters to people in a way that brings them together” and “there is a lot of resistance in communities to coalesce around issues relating to schooling” (Cohen, Huff, and Nguyen, 2020, this issue). In this special feature on “Imagining, Thinking, and Teaching Europe,” EuropeNow shares an enlightening conversation with critical education studies scholars Daniel Cohen, Alice Huff, and Nicole Nguyen that is revealing of the need across the disciplines to be, at the very least, cognizant of education spaces, practices, theories, and contexts that allow and consolidate patterns of unequal power relations. For them, it is crucial to “draw attention to the production and reproduction of inequalities through these spaces, and to how power circulates through these spaces.” Addressing and redressing injustices that originate in teaching and learning spaces, whether schools or universities, has wide-reaching socio-political ramifications that touch on many other aspects of society and policy-making. Also posing an epistemological question about the plurality of knowledges that arise from critical work, they highlight how education studies are key to criticality—even radicality—not only for reaching a better understanding of processes of oppression and injustice, but also for and intervention guaranteeing that “solidarities that people in communities are building around schools can be enacted.”
Judging by the number of paper panels at the annual conference, CES members’ engagement with education questions has not been insignificant since 2010. This is in spite of a lack of an explicit structure to gather these scholars around common projects on the topic. Only last year was a new Critical European Studies Research Network created around critical issues in education with the goal of providing a robust basis for collaborative research is this field. The list of panel headings below is proof that CES members have not waited for this network to present compelling education research, which is promising for potential future collaborations within the new structure and across the other twelve research networks. These panels signal a strong commitment to examining higher education policy, transnational mobilities and identities in education contexts, comparative research across national education systems, the relationship between education, labor, and welfare systems, the ability for European education systems to tackle economic, social, and political crises, impact of citizenship and migration on education, and access to higher learning.
2010: Five panels (<3% total panels)
- The Changing Policy Landscape in Higher Education in Europe
- Connecting European Studies and Higher Education Studies
- The Comparative Political Economy of Education and Training
- Higher Education after Bologna. Panel A: Social, Political, and Economic Consequences for Europe
- Higher Education after Bologna. Panel B: Country Cases
2011: Three panels (<2% total panels)
- Identities and Modernities in Europe: The Case of Transforming National Education in Countries in and around Europe, 2000-2010
- Student Mobility and Transnationalism
- The Bologna Process in Education
2012: Two panels (<1% total panels)
- Diversity in European Education and Skill Formation Systems in the Context of Different Labor Market and Welfare Regimes
- Contemporary Challenges to Welfare States and Education Systems
2013: Two panels (<0.75% total panels)
- Variations in Educational Systems and Their Consequences
- Education in a Changing Europe
2014: Three panels (1.5% total panels)
- Educating Migrants: Money, Institutions, and Impact
- European Educational Experiments Past and Present
- Author Meets Critics Session. World Scouting: Educating for Global Citizenship
2015: Six panels (<2% total panels)
- Reconfiguring the European Academy? The Ambiguous Impact of European and International Organizations on Higher Education
- Education, Social Investment and Inequality in Post-Crisis Europe
- Educating Europe: Learning and Belonging in Contemporary Europe
- The Political Economy of Skills and Education
- Crisis and Contradiction in European Higher Education
- New Developments in Education Policy
2016: Three panels (1.3% total panels)
- The New Politics of Higher Education: Higher Education Between Redistribution and Stratification
- The New Politics of Higher Education: Strategies and Coalitions in Higher Education Reform
- Building Human Capital in Spain and Italy
2017: Nine panels (2.9% total panels)
- Education in France: Challenges, Representations, and Reforms
- Citizenship Education for Non-Citizens
- Education Policy and Skills
- Higher Education: Research, Policy and Integration
- Erasmus Mundus: Transforming European Higher Education Through Joint Master Degrees
- Prison Education and Social Transformation: Comparing and Connecting
- Reconfiguring European Higher Education: Enhancing Diversity, Access, and Success for All
- Sustainable Pedagogies and Scholarship on Europe in the 21st century
- Simulations of EU Decision-Making as Active Learning Tools: Design and Effects
2018: Five panels (2.5% total panels)
- The Political Economy of Higher Education: Competing Demands and Diverse Actors in the Knowledge Economy
- Investigating Vocational Education Training and Research
- European Universities and the Challenges of Globalization: Shifting Governance and Ambivalent Autonomies
- Regional Strategies: The European University 2020
- Author Meets Critics: The Extreme Gone Mainstream by Cynthia Miller-Idriss
2019: Six panels (1.8% total panels)
- Roundtable on Refugee Education – New Models
- Education and Social Investment Policy in the Knowledge Economy
- Education Expertise and Professions
- Becoming Citizens? Exploring Issues of Sovereignty in the Education of Immigrant and Marginalized Students in Bulgaria, France, and Iceland
- Universities and the Global Migration Trends: Expanding our Notions of the Classroom
- Gender Equality Policies in European Universities: Alliances and Oppositions in Agenda-Setting and Implementation Processes
Noticeably, the level of participation ebbs and flows, from .75 percent to close to 3 percent of total panels for a given year. Variations may owe to the particular call for papers that points to a theme each year, although papers outside of it are welcome and the theme is always general enough that all subfields can usually find relevance in participation. The context of reception and timing with regard to European policy and reforms also matter in explaining the intensity of discussions among CES members on education topics. But regardless of exogenous factors, what these panels clearly translate is a promising yearning for linking European studies to critical education studies, cutting across numerous domains, be it social movements, culture, gender, policy analysis, migration and border studies, economic inequalities and welfare, or labor markets—issues over which CES members have organized in existing research networks. Critical education research could be made more visible at CES with purposeful planning through the new research network, and an intentional cross-pollination and joint project developments in collaboration with other CES research networks.
Environmental studies: Encouraging a greening of European studies
What could looking at Europe through the environmental lens do for European studies? It is not news to say that the environment is one of the most critical stakes in contemporary Europe. People are particularly concerned about the environmental, social, and economic impact of climate change, increasingly implicated in sustainability and conservancy issues, and ever more attentive to their individual roles as eco-citizens and green consumers, as well as to their governments’ environmental policy. At the national level, the environment is at the core of many political debates and environmental policy remains contentious, as seen in the emergence of the Gilets Jaunes movement in France that was sparked by an environmentally driven policy. Within EU governance, the environment is also a major object of policy debate with a massive investment into the European Green Deal for a climate-neutral continent by 2050 underscored by a particular preoccupation for biodiversity, food, and sustainable agriculture, and the need to recalibrate Europeans’ relationship with the natural world. But at CES, the list of panels below indicates that the environment has received modest and irregular attention (0 to four percent of total panels), and mostly by way of macro-analysis of political strategies and party politics—also logically led by what on-going reforms and policy struggles were occurring at the EU level within a given a year.
2010: One panel (<0.6% total panels)
- Environmental Politics and Policy in Europe: Transnational Perspectives
2011: One panel (0.5% total panels)
- Environmental Policy and the EU
2012: Four panels (<2% total panels)
- The Environment and the State
- Environmental Politics
- EU Conditionality and Environmental Governance before and after Accession
- The Governance of Materials and Energy — European perspectives
2013: Three panels (1.1% total panels)
- Climate Change and Social Policy: New Research Synergies
- Environmental and Resource Policy
- International Organizations and Environmental Protection: Europe in a Global World
2014: Three panels (1.5% total panels)
- Within and Without: Factors Influencing European Policy Making on the Environment
- Environment, Energy and Security: Fueling Politics
- Innovation, Jobs, and Green Growth
2015: One panel (0.3% total panels)
- Going Green? Environmental Politics in Europe
2016: Two panels (<0.9% total panels)
- European Energy Policies
- Ecological Resilience in the Anthropocene: Politics, Practice, and Knowledge in Contemporary Europe
2017: Thirteen panels (4% total panels)
- Environmental Consciousness and Policy
- Environment and Sustainability
- Europe: Sustainability and Environmental Realities
- Social and Environmental Sustainability and the Transformation of EU Labor Law
- Climate Justice & Governance in the EU
- Thinking Green: Architecture, Jobs and Renewable Technologies
- Sustainable Ecology and Green Spaces in Europe
- Shareholder Duties: A Driver for Transformation and Sustainability in EU Corporate Law
- Sustainability and Consumer Protection in the EU
- Sustainable Development Across EU Policy Fields
- Art and Sustainability in the Anthropocene
- Institutionalization of Sustainable Development as Norm and Narrative
- Housing in Transition: Sustainable Urban Development
2018: Two panel (1% total panels)
- Mobile Identities in Eco-Social Context; Beyond Spain
- Neighborhoods: Food and Family
2019: No panel
For the sake of simplifying the analysis, choosing here to focus on full panels is certainly leaving out the occasional individual papers that had an environmental cross-component but may have been placed in panels pertaining to another predominant theme. Nevertheless, these numbers are not significant enough to disrupt the general conclusion that, based on representation in full panels, the engagement with environmental aspects of European life has been fair in comparison to other fields. As an example, while in 2019 the environment was not an explicit concern in any panel, gender studies gathered scholars across twenty-three panels. At a time when the environment has become a chief challenge for societies globally, this seems like a stark imbalance. Of course, this is far from saying that issues of gender and gender injustices do not deserve the spotlight. They unequivocally do. The year 2017 is the outlier, due to the call for papers that promoted the theme of “Sustainability and Transformation.” This sudden surge in Glasgow in the number of environment-themed panels brings optimism by demonstrating that when the organization placed the environment at the forefront, Europeanists’ response enthusiastically followed.
It can then be concluded that there is interest in building bridges between European studies and environmental studies. These connections, once firmly encouraged and confirmed, could attract to CES scholars emanating from disciplines that have been under-represented, and thereby expand CES’ interdisciplinarity, which has been its sine qua non quality. For example, we might see more geographers, political ecology scholars, or thinkers generally interested in the nature-culture relationship joining its ranks. These are well-positioned to cut across existing research networks on a multitude of far-reaching topics, such as green spaces and urban design, food politics, energy policy and markets, EU green governance, health, climate justice, lived spaces, or the arts and literature. There has been a movement in the humanities to incorporate the environment, as witnessed by the vibrant field of environmental humanities, which has had its own academic journal since 2012. Through the notion of the Anthropocene in particular, many hybrid fields have gathered momentum in the last decade: geohumanities, historical ecology, environmental history, sustainability studies, waste studies, to name a few. Can European studies afford to exclude the natural world from its optic? How can European studies create a place for a possible “environmental European studies” and perhaps also for non-human and post-human ontologies?
Rural Studies: Where is the rural in European studies?
Within the EU as a whole, a 2017 European Commission report reveals that 44 percent of the European territory is considered to be “rural”—i.e. “not urban,” since it is often the case that the rural is defined by default, although establishing territorial typologies remains a conundrum because different countries use different indicators.Intermediate regions represent another 44 percent of the territory, and urban regions a mere 12 percent. Ireland, Finland, Estonia, Portugal, and Austria are considered to be predominantly rural (80 percent or more of their territory is rural). The proportion of rural territory is almost half for the thirteen countries that most recently joined the EU (EU-N13) —their urban areas representing less than five percent. Close to twenty percent of the EU population is said to live in rural areas (34 percent for EU-N13), while 45 percent dwell in urban areas. The rest of Europeans live in increasingly blurry and ill-defined intermediary categories (suburban, peri-urban…). Slovenia, Romania, and Ireland are still more rural than urban, as far as population.
As much as the twentieth century witnessed the desertification of the countryside in many countries—a pattern accentuated after the second world war, but already primed during the inter-war period—there are indications of re-populating dynamics in some rural areas of specific countries, with some cities slothfully losing population. The COVID-19 crisis offers an interesting situation to watch processes of post-confinement urban to rural relocation and the slew of social, economic, and environmental ramifications this movement of populations might prompt (rural gentrification, transport pressures, resource use, public services, energy, teleworking and broadband access, schooling…). In France, for example, the Fédération nationale de l’immobilier (a barometer for the real estate market at the national scale) recently estimated that 200,000 households could leave the Paris metropolitan area within weeks of the confinement order being lifted (as of June 2nd, the French have been authorized to roam around the national territory with no distance limitation). Faced with uncertainty about international borders and quarantine orders for inbound international travelers, people are predicted to stay within national borders and closer to home this summer as they vacation, targeting destinations in rural areas where physically distancing is less difficult than in cities. Indeed, economically, European rurality is increasingly diversified and multifunctional, with tourism steadily increasing its share of local rural economies over the last two decades in many places.
Beneath EU rural demographic and territorial statistics rest numerous economic, cultural, historical, socio-political, and environmental dimensions that are rooted in European rural life. However, notwithstanding these indicators, between 2010 and 2019, there has been only one panel at the 2014 CES conference explicitly dedicated to rural Europe (Farm, Fork, Family: Agriculture in Europe) and only a handful of papers centering their questioning around the rural. Even agriculture—if we adopt a productivist approach to rurality—has been a surprisingly scarce topic, in spite of the Common Agricultural Policy being a major stake and source of friction in the EU. By contrast, rural studies and European studies seem better integrated in Europe per se, notably through the European Rural History Organization (EURHO), indicating that the potential exists for the US-based institution and that CES could reach into those established networks for productive cross-pollination across the Atlantic.
On the other hand, urban studies have been better anchored in European studies in the United States in general. However, the rural-urban typology binary has become problematic and is mostly misled since one cannot be envisaged without the other and the delineation between both spaces is increasingly porous and undetermined. Furthermore, as much as the rural world has been ignored or at least neglected by national policies in many European countries, the tide may be changing as leaders have come to realize the electoral potential of these areas, in particular, the weight rural discontentment has had in the rise of populism in Europe. In France, President Macron, accused of being the “president for cities,” has made it a point to develop a “rural agenda” in order to rethink a ruralité―active and innovative―with the participation of and in concertation with rural mayors (Roger 2019). This is not an isolated case, as the role of the rural has been underscored in national elections in an array of countries, for example in Spain, where the depopulation of the countryside was a major stake in the 2019 legislative elections (Morel 2019). Populist leaders have engaged in seduction campaigns in rural Europe, thriving on a feeling of abandonment from national policy and sentiments of social and political exclusion from the life of the nation—for example Marine Le Pen’s party in France. The rural is cultural, political, social, economic, and environmental. Looking at Europe through the lens of the rural may cast light on fundamental aspects in the life of Europeans that are also key to the future of the European Union. Rurality invites a reflection on various socio-political and economic processes, culture, memory of place, mobilities, development, democracy, and so much more.
CES at 50: Accolades and forging a way forward
After fifty undeniably successful years, the time has come for CES to soul search. In the face of a cracking European project—Brexit, but also an uncertain future for stability and prosperity—celebration comes with an obligation for the organization to collectively and dynamically rethink its raison d’être, design new goals, and undertake new ventures in accord with changing European, global, and disciplinary circumstances. This brief retrospective on the last ten years of conference contents means to offer some possible pathways for moving European studies forward in a manner that is inclusive of other “studies” that have been left on the margins of the field so far and that call for even more collaborative interdisciplinarity to solve the many puzzles of a shifting contemporary Europe. The three domains of investigation highlighted here present a varied level of promise at CES. While there has been a palpable critical engagement with European eduscapes, the environment and the rural have been largely absent from CES’ research radar. What could we do differently or more of to palliate these gaps? Should we even? How could we create, for example, dialogic spaces for an increased reflection on the Anthropocene and non-human ontologies? And how could we reshape European studies for the study of a Europe that depends on its “rural” to be whole, and needs Europeanists to tease out its changing socialities, representations, and materialities? Whether the European Union further integrates or disintegrates, rural spaces and the environment remain central to an understanding of European peoples and to effective policy-making. Including these voices would not only make European studies more polyphonic, but it would also consolidate new forms of transnationalism and cooperation and make the discourse adaptable to a (still vastly imaginary) post-EU scenario.
Hélène B. Ducros (JD, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) is Jean Monnet Chair of Research and Pedagogy at EuropeNow. She is a human geographer with a wide array of interests who has published in various outlets (in English or French) on place-making, landscape perception, heritage preservation, and material culture, including in Norois, The Journal of Sustainable Tourism, Island Studies Journal, Rural Tourism: An International Perspective (Cambridge Scholars, 2014), The Routledge International Handbook of Walking (2017), Explorations in Place Attachment (Routledge, 2018), and The Routledge Handbook on Place (2020). While at UNC-Chapel Hill, she received the Jean Cameron Grainger Interdisciplinary Research Scholars Fellowship. Also committed to issues of teaching and learning and comparative eduscapes, she co-chairs the CES Critical European Studies Research Network (Twitter: @CESCritEuro).
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 The conclusions presented here are part of a larger project delineating the historical trajectory of CES based on its conference content and attendees. This project is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.
 For details on typologies, see Eurostat Methodological Manual on Territorial Typologies, 2018 Edition https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/3859598/9507230/KS-GQ-18-008-EN-N.pdf/a275fd66-b56b-4ace-8666-f39754ede66b
Published on June 3, 2020.