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Europe on Credit: Narratives of Speculation, Decline, and Responsibility

Europe on Credit: Narratives of Speculation, Decline, and Responsibility

2016 Project submitted by Harvard  | Embassy of France support: $8 200,00

Project coordinator: Elaine Papoulias and Grzegorz Ekiert

Summary of the Project

For the better part of a decade, Europe has experienced a “debt crisis” that, at moments, has seemed severe enough to threaten the future of European integration.  Although the roots of the crisis are complex, it is often described in deceptively simple terms via allusions, scripts, and metaphors.  In “explaining” the crisis through available narratives or scripts, politicians, journalists, academics and financial-institution officials craft morality tales, draw lessons from history, and construct a particular vision of the future. Indeed, the utility of these narratives derives from the fact that, like fairy tales, they have heroes and villains and, most important, a moral.  The use of narrative and allusion to analyze the crisis is not innocent; it has profound policy implications. 

Despite the literary tropes and historical allusions used over and again in explaining the European debt crisis and its potential consequences, however, policy analyses of the sovereign debt crisis tend to be limited to the social sciences, and analysts within these domains are often not self-conscious about how scripts and narratives affect decision-making and outcomes.  Tools of literary analysis, by contrast, are rarely if ever combined with social science methods to analyze the crisis, its remedies, and the broader culture of credit and debt in Europe.  In a year-long series of events, we will bring financial experts, literary scholars, historians and social scientists together to examine the connection between public finance and narratives of indebtedness and creditworthiness.  At the end of the year, we hope to publish our contributions in a bilingual forum on raison-publique.fr, an international online journal dedicated to social and political philosophy.  

The EOC series would be a joint venture between Harvard’s CES and the Institut Universitaire de France (IUF) through the collaboration of Professor Mary Lewis (Robert Walton Goelet Professor of French History, CES) and Emmanuel Bouju (Senior Member, IUF; Professor of Comparative Literature, Université de Rennes 2).  At Harvard, David Damrosch (Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Comparative Literature) will also collaborate in the planning and Rawi Abdelal (Herbert F. Johnson Professor of International Management at Harvard Business School) has committed to participating.