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Keith Cherry (Postdoctoral fellow) explores issues of pluralism in the EU

Keith Cherry is a Killam Postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alberta and a Graduate Fellow at the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria and a new member to the European Community Studies Association.

The EU is the first governance structure of its kind, somewhere between intergovernmental and supranational with a complicated sovereignty-sharing web. While many would be hesitant to call the EU a federation, it can be compared to Canada because of the separate but united structure. While initial comparisons are often drawn between the Provincial-Federal relationship in Canada and Member State-Union relationship in the EU, Keith's research "compares the relationship between the EU and its Member-States with the relationship between First Nations and Settlers on that part of Turtle Island sometimes called Canada." 

What attracted you to the field of European Studies/ fascinated you about the EU?

I first became interested in the EU because of the challenges it poses to conceptions of social order that revolve around state sovereignty.

Traditional conceptions of the state posit a world of discreet, autonomous political units each with its own sovereign authority. The EU, however, has intentionally cultivated prolonged efforts to make its member states both less discreet by creating shared endeavors, open borders and open economies, and less autonomous by creating shared political, legal, and economic decision-making bodies.

In this way, the Member-States of the EU have made themselves something less than sovereign. Yet the EU itself has not become a new, continental sovereign. Instead, the system functions without sovereigns - through complex negotiation between Member-States, and between Member-States and the Union itself. This inherently negotiated and polycentric form of social order represents an unbundling of political authority that I felt opened up exciting new ways to think about collective decision-making. 

As I learned more about the EU, I also became interested in how economic structures had become entrenched into the EU system. I began to see how these structures pre-figure the outcomes of political negotiations in important ways, limiting the otherwise negotiated nature of European governance.

I think that these tensions – between autonomy and community, between sovereignty and interdependence, between democracy and market-capitalism – are some of the most fundamental tensions in the world today. For me, the EU represents a unique and dynamic prism that puts such issues into sharp relief and helps us to imagine creative ways forward.

What is the most important issue to be addressed in your research?

My research offers a practice-centered account of the EU’s unique form of pluralism, focusing on the techniques used to reach shared decisions and how these allow us to re-think social order in ways that challenge traditional concepts of state sovereignty.

However, I think that the most important aspect of my work is its comparative dimension.

My research compares the relationship between the EU and its Member-States with the relationship between First Nations and Settlers on that part of Turtle Island sometimes called Canada. Both settings have birthed broad academic literatures which are centrally concerned with questions of pluralism and state sovereignty, yet the two are to a meaningful extent closed off from one another, with little academic or practical exchange on these matters. My work helps put these two profoundly different settings into conversation.

Surprisingly, I found that actors in both settings have actually developed some remarkably similar practices – especially interpenetrating institutions or co-decision mechanisms, and conditional authority claims. Together, these practices enable actors to contest and coordinate their respective authority claims in ways that do not rely on an overarching sovereign or even a shared set of rules. Instead, practices of interpenetration and conditional authority make all parties responsive to multiple standards of conduct, allowing actors to seek justice over time in conditions of persistent difference and conflict. 

I think that this similarity offers some important insights about pluralism, and that is the most important aspect of my work.

Keith Cherry is a teacher, researcher and community activist living on unceded Coast Salish territories. Keith is currently a Killam Postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alberta working with Prof. Joshua Nichols. His upcoming research project explores the relationship between rural Indigenous activists and their urban supporters in co-articulating social struggles.

Keith is also Graduate Fellow at the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria, having received a PHD in Law and Society at UVic working with Professors Jeremy Webber, John Borrows, Oliver Schmidtke and James Tully. Keith’s doctoral research focused on legal pluralism in two contrasting settings, settler/Indigenous relationships in Canada and member-state/Union relations in the European Union.

Keith’s research interests include legal pluralism, comparative transnational law, settler colonialism, and European integration.


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