Paradigm Shifts: Insights from the 2023 Oxford Spring School
Each spring, a group of EPS students has the opportunity to attend the Oxford Spring School hosted by the Europaeum. In this article, Nicole Molinari shares her experience at this year’s event on Shifting Paradigms in Europe.
The Europaeum is a network of partner universities across Europe founded in the 1990s. Its first members were the University of Oxford (where it is based), Leiden University, and the University of Bologna. Its purpose is to emphasise the importance of universities engaging with the broader society, the collaboration among them, and the value of interdisciplinarity. The latter stands at the basis of the activities organised by the network, which rotate around three key themes: European history and culture, European policymaking, and European liberal democracy and citizen engagement. Among the wide variety of activities the Europaeum focuses on, there are yearly events, including the Oxford Spring School, in which I participated with 11 other second-year EPS students this April.
This year, the event focused on “Shifting Paradigms in Europe”; over three days, students, experts, and scholars had the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the topic. Whether we live through an age of paradigm shifts at all levels in Europe is a question that has been addressed from different perspectives and by addressing multiple critical changes in our contemporary world. It was wondered if we are effectively experiencing paradigm shifts that are restructuring our continent, for example, concerning the issue of artificial intelligence, which could produce changes even in how we think about our lives. The same debate took place regarding democracy since the current political turmoils could represent threats to its existence and the social and economic pressures Europe is experiencing that could entail long-term consequences. Given its relevance in the current public debate, climate change could not be left out. The topic sparked a lively discussion among the speakers, who expressed very different positions on the degree of change required to tackle the problem and at what level this change should be enacted. The other two panels focused on a more historical perspective concerning paradigm shifts at the end of the Enlightenment era and paradigm shifts in historiography - two valuable insights allowing us to reflect on the similarities with the reality we are living in today and understand it better.
Apart from the panels, the students' presentations of their papers and research projects provided additional food for thought by expanding the range of addressed challenges. Some studies focused on different policies and how they adapt to changes. For example, these concerned the position of the EU towards the Eastern neighbourhood and, more specifically, the external energy governance of the EU in the area, as well as the EU policy towards refugees, the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement and how the figure of the Brazilian President Lula influenced this, and Europe’s relations with China. On the other hand, the presenters contributed to the debate on paradigm shifts by bringing a historical perspective, such as the historical importance of the EU for the East and South-East European states, the use of the word “pure” in European and Christian narratives, the volatility and consequences of regime change in a Shakespeare work, the interpretation of a Kennedy speech as a transcultural place of memory and the late Perestroika Estonian economic debate. Other projects have concentrated on relevant topics like European solidarity, the media coverage of the Russian war against Ukraine, and the application of transitional justice to this conflict, as well as last year and 2018 FIFA World Cups. Lastly, a stream of presenters focused on governance models by exploring the role of courts in accommodating minority nations, the theoretical foundations of the external incentive model, the relationship between identity divides and their governance, and the rebirth of realism in Europe.
The conclusions drawn from the students’ internal debates reveal that the participants mainly speculated over the meaning of a paradigm shift, the necessity to talk about these shifts and the main areas where these are visible nowadays. By summarising, it emerges that paradigm shifts can be intended as either conscious or unconscious change, a spectrum that continues in time and concerns how we look at and make sense of these changes. These shifts have no unique definition or scale, as they exist on both the micro or macro-societal level (or anywhere in between). History is helpful when discussing paradigm shifts; however, it only provides an understanding of what is happening, not how we experience it. The main shifts that we are currently witnessing in Europe are primarily related to the major crises of our time, namely the migration phenomenon, the financial crisis, the pandemic, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as to other events like the technological revolution with the advent of AI and social media or climate change. These have prompted shifts in how we perceive the role of security or borders and the risks posed by these crises. Consequent changes occurred concerning focusing on an international approach rather than the nation-state, long-term goals rather than short-term goals, and even aspects directly related to people’s lives like diet, as veganism and vegetarianism are getting more and more popular, and so on. On the last note, regarding whether paradigms are necessary, we concluded that changes are constant; therefore, paradigms are inevitable because we must adapt to our reality. To adapt, we need to change our paradigms.