Betty Rouland & Étienne Toureille, Le carnets de l’IRMC, janvier 2021
Fortuitous meetings can lead to the emergence of innovative research projects. For instance, the Franco-German project Imageun officially started in the beginning of September 2020. This research project is part of the Franco-German call for projects in Humanities and Social Sciences funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR) and the German Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) for a period of 36 months.
The European Union is in a phase of substantial spatial and social restructuring: its territory has increased through the accession of 13 Eastern and Southern European countries since 2004; it has given itself a new constitution in form of the Lisbon Treaty; it is trying to cope with a severe financial crisis and the rise of nationalism and autocratic appeal in and around it; and currently it has to work through the loss of a member for the first time in its history. Simultaneously, the EU’s neighbourhood is also undergoing severe transformations. Not only because the “neighbourhood” changes in form of accession to the EU or secession from it (Brexit), but also in light of geopolitical shifts, such as the conflict in Ukraine, the effects of the Arab revolutions (including the wars in Syria and Libya) and the power aspirations of Turkey, Russia, Iran and some Arab States. The socio-spatial shape of the entire macro-region around the EU, often termed the “European neighbourhood”, thus, has been changing substantially – and with it the relations between EU-members and non-members within this macro-region. Also beyond the EU and its neighbourhood, seemingly stable macro-regional orderings of the world are in flux. These transformations of global macro-regional ordering and the changing meanings of “Europe”, the EU and the relations with its “neighbours” are in the centre of this project.
Against this background, we propose to explore geographical imaginations of the socio-spatial shape of this macro-region and the spaces of interaction within it, focusing on five key countries in and around the EU: Germany, France, the UK, Tunisia, and Turkey. Then, three levels of geopolitical analysis will be covered: higher education systems, political stakeholders, media outlets. In so doing we will contribute to contemporary academic debates on macro-regionalization, Europeanization, the sociospatiality of the EU, and its international identity and role – including the relations with its neighbourhood and the socio-spatial shape of a larger (European) macro-region around it. More concretely, we pursue two key ambitions. Firstly, we aim to develop a comprehensive and dual comparative account of dominant geographical imaginations between five countries and three levels of geopolitical analysis decisive for shaping such imaginations. Secondly, and in addition to the academic output, we intend to not only study geopolitical agents on these levels but actively work with them for collectively developing visions on the future socio-spatial shape of the macro-region. As such, collaboration with fellow researchers, think tanks, political stakeholders and journalists is an essential and enduring part of this project that ensures broad public visibility and high political buy-in through the inclusion of these agents in the research process.