Governance of identity

Governance of Identity focus group analyses the ways in which law is used, particularly at the EU level, to change the way individuals regard themselves, their relations with others, and their place in society. This could be deliberate use of law to influence individual views, or a side-effect of laws pursing other policies.

The issue is increasingly important as the impact of the EU on the life of individuals reaches the point where, to paraphrase the BVerfG, it affects the quality of socio-economic life. It is no longer the case that the quality of life of citizens, meaning the style and texture of their experience in society, is essentially a national matter, with the EU merely as a co-regulator of technical issues. On the contrary, as a result of EU citizenship, expanding EU social and economic policies, and in particular the expansion of economic governance post-crisis, the EU and its institutions play a significant direct role in defining the freedoms of individuals within their society, their relationship to each other, to businesses, and to their state. This has democratic and human consequences which need to be explored.

Focusing on the citizen: starting with the subjective experience

This is typically addressed in legal work concerning the democratic accountability or defensibility of the EU and its way of working. The technocracy is defended in technocratic terms. The aim of this project is to make the subjective experience of individuals within the EU the central factor, and to explore the ways in which legal power limits, enhances and changes that experience. The importance of placing subjectivity central is that it allows us to see that individual experience is not just about the hard outcomes –  economic costs and benefits, legal rights, personal opportunities – but also about softer and less quantifiable, but humanly important aspects of life, such as the sense of belonging, the aesthetics of society, security, and trust. These may be significantly affected by laws not directly aimed at regulating such matters, and those effects may have personal, social, political and economic consequences.

Law beyond law / governance beyond governance

This research takes us beyond law in that it is about the effect of law on human beings. However, it is legal because we take the law as our starting point, and aim to map the ways in which it interacts with people. That is why the research must be done by lawyers. It may well be that it leads to new avenues which can only be explored by e.g. social scientists, psychologists or other experts. It is possible that in the future the network will include such persons. The project is a project about governance because it is about control and power, and the acceptability and consequences of that control and power. However, instead of exploring the way that an institution, a process, or a policy is governed, we are looking at the way individual experiences are governed by EU law.

Three key sub-themes

1. Citizenship and the individual: EU law and the place of individuals in European society constructed and reconstructed at numerous legal-political levels.

2. Governance of the biological and the sexual: EU law, national legal orders and bio-politics. Sexual liberties, identities and freedom.

3. Internet as a way of liberation and control: EU law, national legal orders and the multi-faceted impact of internet regulation on our societies.


–    Prof. Dr. Gareth Davies (VU University Amsterdam)
–    Prof. Dr. Dimitry Kochenov (University of Groningen)