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Andy Smith

Researcher without borders

When he greets you at the Bordeaux train station with his nine-year-old daughter who, he apologizes, “will stay with us but has brought things to read,” Andy Smith looks like a traveler in transit. A Senior Researcher at the Local Life Research Center (CERVL)1, Smith spent only ten years in his native England. After a childhood divided between Nigeria, New Zealand, and the Fiji Islands, at age 25 he joined his then-future wife in Paris where he taught English for a few years. Is it just coincidence that this forty-year old nomad, a political science researcher, is now a recognized specialist in European integration? “Having lived in very different societies, I quickly became fascinated by the intercultural dimension of the construction of Europe,” he recalls. When he resumed his studies in Grenoble, he “was constantly bombarded by this Manichean affirmation: the English are a hindrance to the construction of Europe!” The attitude of people around him became the basis for his struggle: he wanted to fight the prejudices that abound concerning Europe.


The subjects he has studied are as varied as the landscapes that have played a role in his life. For his doctoral thesis, he focused on the role of regional and European politics in viticulture in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. In parallel, he sought out supporters of European soccer clubs to “understand how ordinary citizens perceive Europe.” His work expanded and helped create close relationships among his colleagues at CERVL, which he joined in 1996. “We interviewed English military personnel together—that tends to create bonds,” he remembers with a laugh.
For five years he has been working more specifically on European political bodies. “There is a widespread image of a technocratic and undemocratic Europe, which may well suit national political classes,” explains the researcher. “But politics is very present at the European level, even in the most unexpected places such as in the regulation of commercial exchanges.” Thus Smith regularly travels to Brussels, Strasbourg, and Bordeaux to meet with players involved in this oft-scorned political construct, such as European commissioners. He recently published a book about them: “I am especially interested in the difficulties they experience in legitimizing their roles, and even the very existence of the European Union.”2 But don't think for a moment that this Europhile is biased in his investigations! “My role is to identify the issues and clarify the debates while remaining as neutral as possible.” In 2001 his research enabled politicians to better concentrate the debate on the number of European commissioners for each country.


In 2003, Smith received the CNRS bronze medal, which rewarded his efforts and, moreover, encouraged him in his work. “That really means something when you're a foreigner,” he admits. French research appreciates him, and the feeling is mutual, because in France “researchers in political science can take a sociological approach, which is rare in other countries.” Although his heart now beats for France, he cares little about the nationality on his passport: “Sometimes I feel I'm Fijian…,” he muses aloud. He turns his gaze to his well-behaved child, who has just finished her magazine. And then it's time for Andy Smith to continue on his own journey.


Matthieu Ravaud


1. Centre d'Etudes et de Recherche sur la Vie Locale. Joint lab: CNRS/Sciences Po Bordeaux. 2. Jean Joana and Andy Smith, Les commissaires européens: Technocrates, diplomates, ou politiques?, Presses de Sciences Po, 2002.

 


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