The European Journal of Social Theory was established in 1998. Two issues appeared that year, and it is now in full swing. New journals are coming out like mushrooms on an August evening and some must perish, but this one is a beauty.
A requirement of success is an energetic and able editor. In Gerard Delanty, the journal has an exceptionally well-qualified person to fulfil that role. Delanty is a young Irishman who has spent more than a decade in Germany and Italy immersing himself in European thought. This has been put to good use in this journal.
The editorial board contains an impressive range of leading social theorists from European universities as well as a sprinkling from the United States and Australasia. This is perfectly proper. After all, Europe itself is by no means a self-evident category (does it include Turkey, Russia?), so that alone seems grounds for expanded editorial membership. In these days of globalisation, a journal of European theory cannot cut itself off from the rest of the world. In addition, Delanty has managed to persuade some heavyweight social theorists to contribute, such as Piotr Sztompka (Krakow), Craig Calhoun (New York), Hans Joas (Berlin), S. N. Eisenstadt (Jerusalem) and Bryan Turner (Cambridge via Deakin). This is almost reason enough to take out a subscription.
Why a European journal of social theory? First, there is the obvious linguistic diversity that has meant that, despite our proximity to one another, the pluralism of European thought tends to get eclipsed by North America. I was pleased to see in the European Journal of Social Theory that the editor resists this and includes a wide spread of writers from Denmark, Hungary, Greece, Poland, Germany, Sweden, as well as from Great Britain. I would like to see still more from eastern Europe.
Second, there is the view among many in the United Kingdom that Europe and theory together signify incomprehensibility. It is good to see that this journal emphasises that social theory engages with substantive developments such as democratisation, citizenship and identity. In this way, it will be able to resist the twin dangers of theory - either replacing analysis with abstract theory or becoming a vehicle for empty commentaries on theories. There is an element of this latter even here, but not a lot.
Third, social theory nowadays has come in from the cold. For too long it has been dismissed (with some justice) as irrelevant to practical affairs. The turmoil of contemporary change, of which the very uncertainty of "Europe" itself is an integral part, has energised theory insofar as it demands radical rethinking of previous certainties. This has helped reorient theory, injecting it with an engage spirit, and theoretically derived concepts as diverse as the public sphere, risk and globalisation have begun to play a significant part in practical affairs. We need theory to help us think clearly about deeply troubling and accelerating changes that have voided a good deal of our earlier premises. The European Journal of Social Theory promises to promote this pertinence.
Lack of space here precludes a consideration of individual contributions, but I must refer to a haunting piece by Anton Blok. This addresses the dismaying violence in the world today. Blok approaches the subject elliptically, asking questions about the relations between proximity and similarity to those who are attacked and aggressors' senses of identity. The author returns us to theory, specifically to Freud's observation on the "narcissism of minor differences".
He explores people's impulse to differentiate themselves most sharply from those closest to themselves (who seem, to those uninvolved, "all the same": for instance, can outsiders tell the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant in Northern Ireland?). Blok suggests that the comforting cliche, "when they get to know one another they're okay", may be hideously wrong. A theoretically derived notion, perhaps, but the implications of often bloody antipathy coming from near neighbours are surely profound. For articles such as Blok's, this journal is a must for your library.
Frank Webster is professor of sociology, University of Birmingham.
European Journal of Social Theory: (four times a year)
Editor - Gerard Delanty
ISBN - ISSN 1368 4310
Publisher - Sage
Price - £140.00 (institutions), £36.00 (individuals)
Pages - -