- Thomas Risse
The chapter presents a short overview on social constructivism as a distinct research programme and shows what it contributes to the study of European integration. Social constructivism represents a meta-theory or an ontology, not one more substantive theory of European integration. The substantive contribution of social constructivism to the various theories of European integration is to insist on taking meaning construction, discourse, and language seriously, and to point out the mutual constitution of agency and structure. Moreover, social constructivism emphasizes the constitutive features of social institutions including the EU as not just constraining behaviour, but also affecting the identities, interests, and preferences of actors. The chapter then uses the question of European identity to illustrate empirically social constructivism ‘at work’. A constructivist account of the euro and the migration crises demonstrates that European political leaders reacted largely to the mobilization of exclusive-nationalist identities by (mostly) right-wing populist parties and movements. In sum, the social constructivist research programme in EU studies has quickly left the stage of meta-theorizing and concern for ontology and epistemology behind, and has now entered the realm of concrete empirical work dealing with real puzzles of European political life.