Britain in Europe is an introductory text book to sociology that provides a contextual framework to a host of perceptions, concepts and interpretations that guide the reader towards a better understanding of European heritage, and that "celebration of diversity" which is situated at the core of the European project. Although the book employs an essentially sociological approach to the subject, it nevertheless considers and analyses Europe from a range of economic, geographical, historical and political perspectives, focusing upon the role and impact of the European Union on present-day European states and societies. It especially investigates the influence of Europe upon what has often been interpreted as that most awkward of European partners, the United Kingdom, although it must be added that the title, Britain in Europe is something of a misnomer, since the book compares a wide variety of European societies, organisations and institutions.
The book is aimed primarily at undergraduates, although it might well appeal to a more general and informed audience. The text is divided into five parts which deal with a whole raft of issues, such as the nature of European industrialisation and urbanisation, employment and social welfare policies; health, crime and punishment, the rise of the nation state, nationalism and national identity; racism, immigration and migrant labour, and education and religion. The text is well supported by graphics and tables and of particular value are the introductory explanations of key concepts in each chapter; these are sustained by summaries which provide students with useful notes for revision, along with guides to further reading.
An invaluable chapter entitled "Peripheral nationalism in the European Union" highlights one of the major contemporary challenges to the nation-state with analyses of the ethnic basis of identity and difference. The competing forces of ethnic and civil nationalism and the impact of the "Europe of the regions" idea upon European nation states demonstrate further the diversity of different identities to be found in Western Europe. Nevertheless it was a pity that by mainly concentrating upon the EU, the book tends to avoid Eastern and Central European issues which are important to a wider understanding of the deeper movements and developments that confront Europe, especially given that the Visegrad countries (Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic) will be in the next round of entry into the EU. The impact of nationalism and minority rights issues in "East-Central Europe", with the problems of identity and exclusion which confront those less economically developed states of Southeastern Europe continue to hamper the development of democratic and civil society in the aftermath of monolithic totalitarian systems, and needs to be addressed.
However, one should not be too critical of what is otherwise a very useful book. I was particularly interested to see references to Eastern Europe in the section on religion, which takes into account the mapping of religious cleavages, with reference to the division of the Roman Empire in the time of Diocletian; the schism between Orthodoxy and Catholicism in 1054; the inter-religious strife of the early modern period (driven by the forces of Reformation and Counter-Reformation) and the more recent bipolar divide between two appositional political, economic and belief systems that we once knew as the cold war. Throughout the progress of European history, one exclusion has been replaced by another.
As Michael Heseltine recently put it, "You cannot avoid Europe"; and even if one lays aside such pragmatic political sound bites, the least that this book will do is prepare the reader for a better understanding of what is understood by the expression "Europe" and its often much-maligned offspring, the EU. Although I nearly reached for my metaphorical gun when I read, in the introduction, a tired and over-worked Eurocentric cliche that seeks to transmogrify two world wars into "European civil wars", Britain in Europe is nevertheless a valuable addition to the growing number of European studies publications.
Robert C. Hudson is senior lecturer in European studies, University of Derby.
Britain in Europe: An Introduction to Sociology
Author - Tony Spybey
ISBN - 0 415 11717 8and 11716 X
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £45.00 and £14.99
Pages - 485