Eva Hartmann and Poul F. Kjaer (eds), The Evolution of Intermediary Institutions in Europe: From Corporatism to Governance.

Author:Bruff, Ian
Position::Book review

Eva Hartmann and Poul F. Kjaer (eds) The Evolution of Intermediary Institutions in Europe: From Corporatism to Governance, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015; 277 pp.: ISBN 9781137484512 (hbk), 68.00 [pounds sterling]

Critical accounts of capitalist societies always run up against the perennial problem of how to study such societies without falling into one of two traps: (1) highlight the fundamentally interconnected nature of the social totality but ultimately reduce the functioning of that totality to one set of social relations or factors; (2) understand the need to remain sensitive to the intrinsically variegated nature of any society but take these distinctions not as parts of an integrated whole but as de facto different worlds. It is often the case that different approaches explicitly seek to avoid falling into these traps, yet end up doing so by virtue of how the approach privileges certain kinds of analysis and critique over others (on trap (1) see Bruff (2009), and on trap (2) see Bruff (2011)).

One of the most important and sophisticated discussions of strategies for avoiding these traps is Antonio Gramsci's notes on state and civil society (e.g. Gramsci 1971: 210-276). While these notes have been the subject of much debate and controversy, not least because of Perry Anderson's (1976) critique (see Thomas (2009) for a decisive rebuttal), they indicate, as do other parts of Gramsci's writings, that the institutions and practices which connect different parts of society to each other are of critical importance when studying and critiquing that society. Or, as Poul Kjaer puts it in the introduction to this fascinating and thought-provoking volume, 'intermediary institutions possess a strategic location in society, and ... the study of such institutions thus has an intrinsic heuristic value because it provides an optimal access point for understanding the more general transformations which society is going through' (p. 2). Kjaer concedes that even this broad approach to the topic raises a number of issues, but nevertheless argues that a new research agenda on intermediary institutions is needed, especially the 'role and function of law and legal instruments in relation to the evolution and societal impact of intermediary institutions' (p. 3). In particular, the volume centres on the increasingly dense connections between transforming intermediary institutions and emergent transnational legal orders; hence the book's focus on Europe and...

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