Spatial imaginaries and selective in/visibility: Mediterranean neighbourhood and the European Union’s engagement with civil society after the ‘Arab Spring’

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Hans-Joachim, Bürkner
Scott, James W.
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As part of a repertoire of the European Union’s (EU’s) geopolitical practices, the imaginary of Mediterranean Neighbourhood is a means with which to manage dissonance between the EU’s self-image as a normative power, changing political situations in the region and the Realpolitik of security. We argue that this also involved a ‘politics of in/visibility’ that promotes democratization and social modernization through structured cooperation while engaging selectively with local stakeholders. In directing attention to EU readings of and responses to the ‘Arab Spring’, we indicate how both a simplification of the issues at stake and highly selective political framings of local civil societies have operated in tandem. Drawing on a review of recent literature on civil society activism in the southern Mediterranean, we specifically deal with Eurocentric appropriations of civil society as a force for change and as a central element in the construction of the Mediterranean Neighbourhood. EU support for South Mediterranean civil society appears to be targeted at specific actors with whom the EU deems it can work: apart from national elites these include wellestablished, professionalized non-governmental organizations, and westernized elements of national civil societies. As a result, recognition of the heterogeneous and multilocal nature of the uprisings, as well as their causes, has only marginally translated into serious European Neighbourhood Policy reform. We suggest that an inclusive focus on civil society would reveal Neighbourhood as a contact zone and dialogic space, rather than a project upon which the EU is (rather unsuccessfully) attempting to superimpose a unifying narrative of EU-led modernization.
Mediterrán-térség , civil társadalom , Európai szomszédsági politika , térképzet
European Urban and Regional Studies 26:(1) pp. 22-36. (2019)