An Active Society in a Networked World

The Cultural Political Economy of Grand Strategies

by University of Lubljana (Volume editor)
©2022 Monographs 132 Pages


The book discusses the complex and issues of the implementation of the EU’s grand
strategies. The European Union implementation deficit has become proverbial failure.
While the impact of Europe 2020 has yet to be researched in greater detail, existing
work reveals substantial differences in implementation among the Member States,
especially along the divisions between North and West on one hand and East and
South on the other. Using the Cultural Political Economy as the theoretical background,
the central focus of our interest is the study of possibilities and limitations
of strategic steering of the economic development in the context of a comprehensive
societal development, such as the Europe 2020 intention of achieving ‘smart, inclusive
and sustainable growth’.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • The EU, grand strategies, and policy-making: Theoretical foundations
  • The state as the central point of society: Early approaches
  • Partial decentralisation: Neo-corporatism
  • Inability of steering: Economy as complex system
  • Complexity, nonlinearity, chaos in economy
  • Steering of nonlinear/chaotic systems
  • Influence of the complexity of environment on discussions about steering
  • Steering in Luhmann’s systems theory
  • Differentiation and economy in modern societies
  • Role of politics in steering
  • Refined mechanism of (self) steering: Helmut Willke
  • Reflexion
  • Contextual intervention
  • Systemic discourse
  • Network phenomena: Toward the upgrade of systemic analysis
  • Society of networks and developmental dynamics
  • Steering role of the state in network society: Primus inter pares
  • Suppositions for networks
  • Innovation 2.0 for smart and inclusive growth: Towards intentional strategic action
  • Towards the concept of a strategy of societal development
  • Strategy as a social process
  • Dimensions of strategic process
  • Path-dependency and social development
  • Path-shaping as a coordination through systemic discourse
  • Cultural political economy and the EU
  • The features of modern social systems: Rationality and complexity
  • EU as a complex social system
  • Managing complexity through discourse steering
  • Discourse and differentiation in the EU strategic documents
  • Communication and education as a tool for implementation of grand strategies
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Index

←6 | 7→


The subject of this book is the complex and controversial issues of the implementation of the EU’s grand strategies, with a particular interest in the developmental success of the newest members of the European Union, the former post-socialist societies. Many post-socialist countries became members of the European Union in a ‘big bang’ enlargement a decade and a half ago, with the second, smaller enlargements following in 2007 and 2013. They joined after lengthy negotiations and upon meeting a set of criteria with respect to their economic, political, and administrative performances. Furthermore, it was assumed that membership in the EU would further reduce the gap between its old and new members, not least due to a joint strategic approach, embodied in the grand strategies of the European Union, the Lisbon Strategy (2000–2010) and Europe 2020 (2011–2020). However, this may have been an overly ambitious expectation, both towards the EU grand strategies, as well as towards the new Member States.

The European Union implementation deficit has become proverbial failure, a phenomenon that is the subject of intense interest by both researchers and policymakers (Makarovič et al., 2014; Haverland and Romeijn, 2007; Borghetto and Franchino, 2010; Tomšič and Vehovar, 2012). While the impact of Europe 2020 has yet to be researched in greater detail, some work does exist (Stec and Grzebyk, 2018; Makarovič et al., 2014), revealing substantial differences in implementation among the Member States, especially along the divisions between North and West on one hand and East and South on the other (Wüst and Rogge, 2022; Kasprzyk and Wojnar, 2021). A research study based on the Cultural Political Economy approach, based on evolutionary mechanisms of variation, selection, and retention of dominant discourses (Jessop, 2004; Jessop, 2010; Jessop and Oosterlynck, 2008), as well as on mechanisms of selectivities (Ngai-Ling and Jessop, 2014), has concluded that if the EU is to successfully meet its developmental challenges, it is vital to develop more efficient mechanisms of retention of selected discourses (Makarovič et al., 2014: 624).

←7 | 8→

However, many political, cultural, social, economic and other differences still exist between the so-called old and new EU members, stemming from their different socio-political heritages. One such perceived trend that illustrates these persisting differences is the alleged hollowing and backsliding of democracy in East-Central Europe. Greskovits (2015) defines ‘hollowing’ as declining popular involvement in democracy, and ‘backsliding’ as destabilisation and reverting to semi-authoritarian practices, noticing that ‘the region’s pure neoliberal capitalist regimes are likelier to undermine popular political participation than those which try to balance marketization with relatively generous social protection for its losers’ (Greskovits, 2015: 28). As more specifically explained by Berend and Bugarič (2015: 770), ‘in political terms, democratic consolidation is still far from complete. Instead, new forms of “illiberal democracy” which are emerging reveal the vulnerability of “consolidated democracies” such as Hungary or Slovenia to “democratic regression”.’ The case of Slovenia shows that even after three decades of post-socialist transition sentiments and practices that are incompatible with democratic principles remain very much alive (Kleindienst and Tomšič, 2017; Kleindienst and Tomšič, 2021, Prijon and Tomšič, 2021), also in the field of media (Bratina, 2021).1

Given these observations, the central focus of our interest is the study of possibilities and limitations of strategic steering of the economic development in the context of comprehensive societal development, such as the Europe 2020 intention of achieving ‘smart, inclusive and sustainable growth’. This grand strategy was developed with the intent to be the strategy of the European Union, its Member States and their regions, implemented through the smart specialisation mechanism (Foray, 2015). However, is this really the case? Although it would be interesting to consider what the implications are for the current Agenda 2030 and its Strategic Development Goals, and some work on the topic already exists (Tutak et al., 2021; Szymańska, 2021; Ferran Villa, 2021), we will not dedicate significant attention to this strategic document.

←8 | 9→

The development of post-socialist countries, their successful and less successful aspects, is well documented. In the mid-1990s, Klaus Nielsen, Bob Jessop, and Jerzy Hausner stated that in the light of so many emerging publications about these problems every author should have a very good reason for additional enlargement of the already expansive corpus of literature (Nielsen et al., 1995: 3). The above-mentioned authors substantiated their contribution by researching dialectics, structure, and strategic action in the processes of post-socialist transformation. They linked the research on the unique process with some general problems of political economy and social theory. Three decades later, we need an even better excuse to engage in our exploration. Our excuse is to tackle the issue of universal and continually emerging problems of strategic steering of complex societies.

Despite the expansive corpus of literature, the issues are far from exhaustively researched and numerous unsolved questions and dilemmas remain. First, can already existing theoretical and methodological approaches be used or at least modified for research on the development of contemporary societies? In the early transitology, different authors mostly emphasised the relationship with developmental studies, which evolved by researching third-world countries and post-communist studies (Bunce, 1998; Karl and Scmitter, 1995; Ma, 1998; Wiarda, 2002). The question of applicability of neoclassical economic theory, which was, because of the influence of some international organisations, generously employed for the formation of recipes for the East-European transition, even though economic science was unable to construct mainstream economic theory capable of explaining the success of transition processes, was also often raised (Bell, 2012). Can the multi-level and more democratic approach of the current EU grand strategies avoid the perils, disappointments, and considerable discrepancies between expectations raised by ideas for post-socialist institutional changes and the consequences of measures that did not take into account specific characteristics of post-socialist societies (Genov, 1999: 58–61, Szelenyi, 2014; Gevorkyan, 2018)?

Second, what is the role of purposeful action in developmental trajectories? Are they the result of strategic choice – if that choice was even possible – or does the path-dependency play the central role (Rončević and Makarovič, 2010; Beyer in Wielghos, 2001)?

←9 |

Third, in the specific context of Eastern Europe, even after decades of scholarship there is a fundamental disagreement about transition being a story of success or not (Berend and Bugarič, 2015; Shleifer and Treisman, 2014; Poznanski, 2001; Janos, 2001; Burawoy, 2001; Berend, 2001). So, as we can see, this research area still presents numerous challenges and unsolved questions.

Finally, it should be emphasised that processes of post-socialist development represent unique empirical evidence, which enables new insights into some universal issues from the social development area of research; amongst them are the issue of developmental factors and the possibility of constructing efficacious developmental policies.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (August)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 132 pp., 1 fig. b/w, 1 tables.

Biographical notes

University of Lubljana (Volume editor)

Borut Rončević is a professor of sociology at the Faculty of information Studies (Slovenia), School of Advanced Social Studies (Slovenia) and senior researcher at Rudolfovo research institute (Slovenia). His main research interests are technologies and innovations in regional development and development of Central and East European societies. Tamara Besednjak Valič is an assistant professor of sociology at School of Advanced Social Studies (Slovenia) and Faculty of Information Studies (Slovenia) and researcher at Rudolfovo research institute (Slovenia). She is active in research on innovation, and regional development along with change management interlaced with sociological theory of social fields.


Title: An Active Society in a Networked World