Europeanization of Balkans through a Multispatial Lens

by Ana Pajvančić-Cizelj


This article presents the research methodology and approach of the Marie Curie project titled Spatialities of Europeanization in Western Balkans (EURoWEB)[1], which I am conducting at the Centre for Southeast European Studies. The project opens a dialogue between urban studies and Southeast European studies to develop a new multispatial approach to the Europeanization of the Balkans.

What is the societal relevance of this project?

For the citizens of the Western Balkans, Europe is increasingly becoming a distant and abstract political entity. Connection with Europe is mostly perceived through a two-decade-long exhausting and uncertain process of European integration, happening between the state actors and the EU officials.  There is a lack of information and trust on both sides and the gap between Europe and the Western Balkans is getting bigger. Communication, trust, and mutual legitimacy can be enhanced by direct relationships between people, groups and organizations focused on visible issues that matter in the everyday life, such as housing, environment, or access to jobs. European organizations and inter-urban networks like EUROCITIES are important channels for establishing communication around these issues and for bringing Europe closer to its citizens. They assemble a wide circle of distant actors, from universities, civil society organizations, and citizen associations to local government administration, and enable exchanging information, experiences, and best practices in solving common everyday challenges. The importance of the horizontal dimension of Europeanization is well recognized in EU countries.

Since participation in networks is not necessarily reserved to the EU member states nor are their effects confined to the EU borders, why is the role of inter-urban networks in the research about the Europeanization of the Balkans almost unrecognized?

One probable reason lies in the spatial articulation of the political, public and academic discourse on the Balkans in Europe. Socio-spatial metaphors of globalization and Europeanization (networks, transnational, inter-urban, etc.) are mostly reserved for the global and European financial, political or cultural urban centers. The peripheral Balkans, associated with pejorative designations and stereotyped as rural, backward, stuck in a past, and therefore – disconnected – continues to be analytically observed through a more traditional socio-spatial lens focused on territories, borders, and states.

Research techniques and visualizations are not neutral – they derive from the methodological choices and define the way the objects will be perceived, described and interpreted. If we approach the Balkans through the lens of states and territories, we produce one visual representation and interpretation and if we look at it through the prism of networks and connections, we get another one.

The first image shows some of the cities in the Balkans on a classical geographical map. The maps’ relationships are simple physical distances that are later interpreted by relying on the implicit socio-spatial imaginaries (north/south; proximity to the EU borders, previous and current conflicts, the territory of the former Yugoslavia, etc.).

The second image shows the affiliations of Balkan cities in European networks working on urban issues[1]. The distances (and size of the nodes) are now not related to the physical, but social space between cities. The visualization includes the mapping of the underlying spatialities of Europeanization that takes place through cities as hubs of information, knowledge, and policy flows. It also indicates the emergence of diverse and insufficiently visible relations between Balkan cities established through Europeanization, intersecting and disturbing the traditional socio-spatial imaginaries.

The focus on inter-urban connectivity and exchange, as important mediators of globalization and Europeanization, could help overcome the nationalistic perspectives on the Balkans. In this sense, methodologies and approaches that employ a multi-spatial lens can be particularly useful and also transformative because they grasp the alternative social relations built through the invisible spatialities across the region.

However, the inter-urban networks are not existing in a vacuum. They are created, occupied, and modified by actors who pursue their own interests and are embedded in the wider spatialities including local governments, state structures, transnational spaces, ideologies, and markets, that can modify their proclaimed purposes. Political elites in Balkans can pose obstacles to networks, contain their effects, or use them for their own goals and promotion. The national socio-political context marked by centralization or state capture disturbs the impacts of inter-urban networking. Networks can also be hollow, empty of meaning, and used to simulate or mimic Europeanization. They can transfer global neoliberal urban recipes under the European flag, as a result of the market influence. EU, as a supranational organization, can on the other hand encourage or limit the participation of the Balkans in European networks, in the line with its interests, funds, and changing agendas. It can use inter-urban networks as tools of soft power and control over the bordering territories and new member states.

To grasp this spatial complexity of Europeanization, the EURoWEB develops a mixed-method research program. It is based on the complementary use of quantitative social network analysis (SNA), qualitative network analysis (QNA), interviews, and document analysis. While the former identifies, visualizes, and describes networks and their urban nodes, the latter provides an insider view of networks and an in-depth exploration of their contextual embeddedness.

By employing the multispatial lens, it is possible to keep the focus on the state and the EU actors and simultaneously look at the places, local communities, and a variety of non-state actors involved in the Europeanization. This opens the possibility for the analysis of the really existing networks between Europe and the Western Balkans and assessing their potential for establishing relations, communication, and exchange between them in the future.

[1] The project received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 101028592

[2] Find out more about the project on ResearchGate and LinkedIn

The Author:

Ana Pajvančić-Cizelj is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Southeast European Studies, working on the project Spatialities of Europeanization in Western Balkans. From 2021, she holds the position of Associate professor at the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Novi Sad. In 2017, she was a visiting researcher at the Department of Landscape Planning, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), Vienna, within the Austrian Academy of Sciences’ Joint Excellence in Science and Humanities program. She received her BA, MA, and Ph.D. degrees in Sociology, from the University of Novi Sad. She is a member of the international working group Gender and Climate just Cities and Urban Regions within the ARL – Academy for Territorial Development in the Leibniz Association. Her research interests are in the area of urban sociology with a focus on global urban processes, feminist urban studies, urban ecology, and cities in Southeast Europe. She published in international journals such as Territory, Politics, Governance, and European Journal of Women’s Studies.


Pajvančić-Cizelj, Ana: “Europeanization of Balkans through a Multispatial Lens” (09.06.2022); URL:

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