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Chapter

Cover European Integration Theory

7. Social Constructivism and European Integration  

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.

Chapter

Cover Politics in the European Union

4. Critical Perspectives  

This chapter examines the range of critical perspectives now applied to the European Union, including social constructivism, critical political economy, critical social theory, critical feminism, and post-structuralism. These critical—often termed ‘post-positivist’—approaches emphasize the constructed and changeable nature of the social and political world. Many such approaches reject the notion that social reality can be objectively observed and argue that various agents, including policy actors and scholars themselves, are involved in its construction. They highlight the less obvious manifestations of power that pervade the interrelated worlds of political action and political theorizing. It is important to consider why these more critical perspectives have been absent for so long within mainstream studies of the EU.

Chapter

Cover European Union Politics

18. Enlargement  

Ana E. Juncos and Nieves Pérez-Solórzano Borragán

The process of enlargement has transformed the European Union. It has had far-reaching implications for the shape and definition of Europe, and for the institutional set-up and the major policies of the Union. This has been accomplished through a number of enlargement rounds, which the first section of the chapter analyses in detail. This is followed by a review of the enlargement process itself, with a focus on the use of conditionality and the role of the main actors involved. The contributions of neo-functionalism, liberal intergovernmentalism, and social constructivism to explaining the EU’s geographical expansion are evaluated in the third section of the chapter. The success and prospect of future enlargement are discussed in the context of wider EU developments, especially the effect of the economic crisis in the euro area, ‘enlargement fatigue’, the domestic context in the candidate countries, and Brexit.