Challenge of Teaching ES

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What’s Really Different about Teaching European Studies?

The INOTLES ( Tempus project really kicked off in late June with a four day programme of seminars and workshops on teaching and learning European Studies. The project partners are University of Maastricht (project lead), University of Surrey and the Institute of European Studies (IES) at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. The project promotes European Studies in three Partner countries in eastern Europe: in Ukraine, the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and the Yuriy Fedkovych Chernivtsi National University; in Moldova, the Free International University of Moldova and Cahul State University; in Georgia, the Tbilisi State University and Batumi Shota Rustaveli State University.

The objectives of the project are the promotion of cultural exchange and the building of understanding between the EU member state and the Partner countries. At the practical level, the project is designed to increase the competitiveness and employability of students and staff in the Partner countries. As such, a range of activities took place over the four days in Brussels. Brief presentations on what and how we teach were followed by a discussion of the range and variety of teaching methods employed in the teaching of European Studies. These discussions, which facilitated the type of cultural exchange we sought to achieve, were followed by activities showcasing a handful of teaching methods in more detail, including Problem-Based Learning (PBL), simulations and e-learning. To get a taste of what was done, you can see the tweets sent via Simon Usherwood’s storify link:

The project got off to an excellent start, not least with the discussion about what we really mean by ‘European Studies’. Perversely, it was also this discussion that left many of us with questions about why we were talking about teaching and learning in European Studies, rather than teaching and learning more generally. In other words, what, if anything, makes European Studies different?

Our discussion focused first on problematising ‘European’. When we invoke ‘Europe’, are we talking about the EU or does it include countries not in the EU? If it doesn’t, where does that leave Switzerland, to use just one example. If it does, where does Europe end? This is a particularly troublesome question for Russia and Turkey, with one foot in and one foot out of Europe (geographically-speaking). Needless to say, we didn’t resolve this but we did at least all agree that we are all European. The second part of the discussion related to disciplinary range in European Studies. Were we focusing only on the more cognate disciplines and sub-disciplines: Politics, International Relations, Sociology, History, etc.? This would be a problem since we know that Economics, Law, Anthropology and Psychology also have much to offer to our understanding of the European Union and European politics and society more widely. Again, this was not resolved except inasmuch as all the partners represented a relatively narrow range of disciplines which would inevitably shape our future discussions to Politics/IR, Sociology and Economics.

The issue that has continued to exercise the project members from the Department of Politics at Surrey is that relatively little time was spent in considering whether and how European Studies constitutes something different, such that different or new teaching and learning methods are required. We have been chewing over this issue since the workshops and our reflections have given risen to the following considerations, though where this will take us later, well, watch this space!

In the European Studies field as it is taught in the UK, the European Union is the focus. Covering 28 member states, a large number of partner and candidate countries and encompassing political, sociological, economic, legal, historical, anthropological  issues (and more), that leaves an immense range of disciplines and key issues to get through. And that’s the place to begin when trying to understand why teaching and learning European Studies constitutes something distinct.

Add to that the fact that the EU is something different in international relations; it is not a state, a federation, a confederation or a customs union, though it has elements of all of these. The EU is most commonly described as sui generis and this ontological anomaly affects not only how we theorise the EU but also how we study and learn about it. Adhering to convention in terms of spread and type of teaching method, in other words, simply can’t do justice to the subject matter. The EU also represents an epistemological challenge, any module leader has to mull over the question of how we can know anything about the EU before they can decide what to teach from week to week and be able to articulate why.

For those of us who do teach or have taught European Studies, there is nothing quite like it. It is eclecticism writ large and makes puny some of the problems that beset more narrow disciplines. In International Relations theory, we still debate whether it is possible to tell the story of any entity from both the outside and the inside, whether we can both explain and understand (see Martin Hollis and Steve Smith’s seminal 1990 book). In European Studies, very simply if you can’t explain, you can’t understand, both the exogenous and endogenous have to be incorporated into our analysis of European relations. For Foreign Policy Analysis, one of the big problems is a methodological one, how do you incorporate multiple levels of analysis into a single analysis? Well, if you’re looking at European Foreign Policy, it’s not a question, it’s a necessity. Finally, any decent European Studies scholar will know something about more than their own discipline because the focus of their study requires them to do so. What makes teaching and learning European Studies different? The wealth and breadth of knowledge and understanding that is acquired and applied - it’s certainly not for the faint-hearted.


Cristiano Bee

Maxine David

Simon Usherwood


Department of Politics

School of Social Sciences