Monday, 2 July 2012

The European Commission – A Conservative Institution?


The idea for my first post in this blog came to me last Saturday. No, I will not talk about the financial crisis. I want to talk about a promotional video that the European Commission made to encourage women and girls to pursue a career in science.
The idea that there are not enough women that choose a scientific career I agree with. The idea that someone might want to do something about it, I don’t disagree with. However, the idea that a Barbie type advertisement is the best way to promote that, I completely disagree with, both as a woman and as a political scientist.
It is not the first time that the EC has made doubtful communication choices. Remember when they released that video remake of Kill Bill? Institutions like the European Commission do not only seek more power and influence vis-à-vis the European Council and the Member States, but more importantly they desperately seek a link with the European citizens, a link that can legitimize them and possibly make them more popular to the European public. In the theory of cultural hegemony of Gramsci, we can see how a particular systemic capitalism manages to maintain the control of society. This theory can I believe easily be translated to today’s financial and debt crisis, but I will not do that today. Instead, I want to use that framework and apply it to the EC. So Gramsci tells us, that the main reason why we don’t rebel against the current political system is because we have adopted the values and interests of the ruling elite as our own, and by doing so we deny our own interests. We believe that what is good for the ruling elites is good for us. This concept of cultural hegemony is a concept that I find quite convincing, and that is well suited for application to a wide range of examples in the contemporary world.
If you apply the concept to the European Commision you can see that it has effects on the nature of the Commission as an institution. The Commission sees itself like a progressive institution that promotes women’s rights. They even went as far as creating a European Women’s lobby from scratch, to have a ‘women’s point of view’! So we have the Commission’s self-perception as a progressive institution on the one side, and we have this video on the other. A video that appeals to all the clichés you can think of when it comes to young women: lipstick, sunglasses, pink, and fashion… As if the only way to attract their attention is to appeal to their consumerist instinct, exactly the same way as advertisement uses your most basic instincts to sell you a product.  So that’s it, the EC advertises but doesn’t promote, appeals to your instincts but doesn’t inspire you. The European Commission by assuming that this is what will appeal to young women is self-sabotaging its purpose. The way you promote your ideals is as important as the ideas themselves. Therefore the EC is stuck in a contradiction here between its ends and its means, and because I do not believe that the ends justify the means, the Commission has a problem! If the Commission promotes this kind of values and ideals then it is precisely one of the institutions that Gramsci describes, one of those institutions that build cultural hegemony instead of promoting a credible alternative! The Commission did not convince me that ‘science is a girl thing’, and if the guys in suits at the Commission think that the only thing young girls respond to is a Barbie advert I suggest they watch this and take this girl’s example!

Alexandra Athanasopoulou

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