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(p. 53) Part 2 Theories and Conceptual Approaches 

(p. 53) Part 2 Theories and Conceptual Approaches

Michelle Cini

and Nieves Pérez-Solórzano Borragán

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date: 14 May 2021

This chapter reviews a theoretical position, neo-functionalism, which was developed in the mid-1950s by scholars based in the United States. The fundamental argument of the theory is that states are not the only important actors on the international scene. As a consequence, neo-functionalists focus their attention on the role of supranational institutions and non-state actors, such as interest groups and political parties, who, they argue, are the real driving force behind integration efforts. The chapter that follows provides an introduction to the main features of neo-functionalist theory, its historical development since the 1950s and how neo-functionalism is used today. It focuses, more specifically, on three hypotheses advanced by neo-functionalists: the spillover hypothesis; the elite socialization hypothesis; and the supranational interest group hypothesis. The chapter also considers the main critiques of the theory and discusses the ups and downs in the intellectual use of neo-functionalism over the last 50 years. The final section scrutinizes the revival of interest in neo-functionalism and provides some examples of how today’s neo-functionalists differ from those of the 1950s. While neo-functionalism used to be conceptualized as a ‘grand theory’, it is now looked upon and used as a middle-range theory that explains only part of the European integration process.

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