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(p. 66) 4. Critical Perspectives 

(p. 66) 4. Critical Perspectives
(p. 66) 4. Critical Perspectives

Simon Bulmer

, Owen Parker

, Ian Bache

, Stephen George

, and Charlotte Burns

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Chapter Overview

If the ‘governance turn’ of the 1990s heralded the arrival of significant new voices in the European Union (EU) debate (see Chapter 2), there is now an even wider chorus. The perspectives and theories covered in this chapter are long established in the study of politics, but have only relatively recently become visible in the mainstream study of the EU. Critical perspectives, although very different from each other, are united in challenging key assumptions about how the EU should be studied, and what we can hope to know. They are generally concerned with exposing which actors and ideas are dominant in the EU and highlighting the less obvious manifestations of power that pervade the interrelated worlds of political action and political theorizing (see Part One, ‘Theory’, Table I.1). They tend to concur with the assertion of critical political economist Robert Cox (1981: 128), who said that, ‘Theory is always for someone and for some purpose.’ Given the key questions of power and politicization that have been more exposed during the 2010s, ‘dissident theory’ has come to challenge the more mainstream approaches discussed in Chapters 1 and 2 in a more vigorous way than before (Whitman and Manners 2016).

The range of critical perspectives now applied to the EU is too great to cover in a single chapter. Here we focus on five perspectives which provide a flavour of the variety of critical approaches that have been used to study aspects of the EU. Social constructivism offers a critique of rationalist approaches that have dominated much of the study of the EU (see Chapters 1 and 2). Critical political economy considers the EU in the context of broader dynamics of global capitalism, often building on earlier Marxist scholarship. Critical social theory emphasizes the ways in which the EU has transformed European society and politics in ways that are often unrecognized. Critical feminism points to the ways in which the issue of gender has been marginalized in the EU and in mainstream approaches to the study of the EU. Finally, post-structuralist perspectives seek to question the prevailing wisdom associated with the EU and its ideals. Several of these approaches engage, at least implicitly, with academia’s recent interest in ‘decolonizing the curriculum’ by looking at some of the biases in the mainstream literature that, for instance, exclude issues of gender and socioeconomic inequality from EU studies. Central to all the approaches covered is an attempt to think critically about assumptions in mainstream EU studies: something that we consider indispensable to understanding the ‘nature of the beast’ (Parker 2016).

Critical of What?

All of the theories considered in Chapters 1–3 are in their own ways critical of something, often a competing theoretical perspective. However, the ‘critical’ perspectives considered in this chapter are united in their critique of mainstream ‘rationalist’ or (p. 67) ‘positivist’ approaches to the study of the social and political world. ‘Positivist’ approaches are those that assume a fixed social reality (ontology) and understand knowledge of that social reality to be obtained via the neutral observation of an objective scholar (epistemology). Many of the approaches considered in the previous chapters fall within this positivist mainstream. Thus, for example, intergovernmental approaches assume that states remain key actors in driving integration (ontology) and that scholars can acquire knowledge about integration by objectively studying the actions of states (epistemology).

In contrast, the critical—often termed ‘post-positivist’—approaches discussed in this chapter emphasize the constructed and changeable nature of the social and political world. Many such approaches consider that social reality cannot be objectively observed and believe that various agents, including policy actors and scholars themselves, are involved in its construction. Critical scholarship often seeks to highlight which actors, ideas, or theories are either dominant or excluded in the politics of the EU at particular historical junctures or in particular policy areas. In so doing, they point to the less obvious manifestations of power that pervade the interrelated worlds of political action and political theorizing (for the sorts of questions posed by such approaches see Part One, ‘Theory’, Table I.1). Implicitly or explicitly, critical work of this kind suggests that ‘another Europe is possible’ (Manners 2007; Whitman and Manners 2016).

That said, the extent to which ‘mainstream’ theories are tied to a fixed ontology is itself debatable. For instance, neofunctionalist texts (see Chapter 1, ‘Neofunctionalism’) refer to interest groups’ ‘loyalties’ moving to the EU (or its antecedents) as a new location of power, in a manner that we might associate with processes of ‘learning’ within social constructivism (see ‘Social Constructivism’ below). Indeed, the father of neofunctionalism, Ernst Haas (2001: 22), stated that ‘[a] case can easily be made’ that neofunctionalism is a precursor to constructivism. It could be argued that several other theories considered in the foregoing chapters, such as historical and sociological institutionalism (see Chapter 2, ‘New Institutionalism’), also sit somewhere between positivist mainstream and post-positivist critical approaches. Moreover, social constructivism, discussed in this chapter, in certain guises explicitly seeks to offer a middle way between these positions. Risse and Wiener (1999: 776) have noted, for instance, that certain strands of social constructivism concur with the positivist epistemology of an objectively observable world even as they reject a fixed ontology.

Positivist and post-positivist positions are consequently best visualized as ideal types on a continuum, with individual scholarly contributions lying somewhere along this continuum. Table 4.1 represents an attempt to map a selection of the theories considered in this, and previous chapters, onto this continuum, although it is important to note that it is a matter for significant debate as to where these are most appropriately placed. Moreover, individual scholars identifying with any given approach may consider their own work to be positioned differently and have a far more nuanced understanding of their ontology and epistemology than the table suggests. Critical approaches that lie towards the post-positivist end of this continuum (those in bold on the table) are the focus of this chapter. These have become increasingly prominent in the study of the EU in recent decades, both due to developments in political theorizing more broadly and due to events in EU politics (Rosamond 2007; Whitman and Manners 2016).

Table 4.1 Mapping Approaches on a Positivist/Post-Positivist Continuum

ONTOLOGY Nature of (social) reality

EPISTEMOLOGY How knowledge is acquired

CONTINUUM (from positivist to post-positivist)



Objective observation

Separation of object and observer

Liberal intergovernmentalism

Rational choice institutionalism

Between positivism and post-positivism


Objective observation possible

Some interest in discourse/ideas


Historical institutionalism

Sociological institutionalism



Focus on shifting discourse/ideas

Subjective/normative observation

Observer likely to impact upon object of study

Social constructivism

Critical political economy (neo-Gramscian)

Critical social theory

Critical feminism


(p. 68) Social Constructivism

Social constructivism entered the debate on the EU not to dispute either the intergovernmental or supranational interpretation of integration, but rather to challenge the (rationalist) assumptions on which the dominant integration theories were built. As such, it should be understood as an ‘ontological approach to social inquiry’ (Cowles 2003: 110), which regards social and political reality as socially constructed. As Risse underlines (2019: 129), ‘social constructivism does not constitute a substantive theory of European integration’ … ‘it does not make particular substantive claims about European integration’. While critical of rationalist approaches, constructivists in both international relations (IR) and EU studies tend to situate themselves at different points on the positivist/post-positivist continuum. Many who would associate with the constructivist label would see their approach as an attempt to bridge the divide, taking seriously social construction while maintaining a commitment to scientific positivism and objectivity.

The social constructivist approach is closely related to sociological institutionalism (Chapter 2, ‘Sociological Institutionalism’). Both approaches emphasize that actors’ behaviour is influenced by the ‘logic of appropriate behaviour’ or norms, which Katzenstein (1996: 5) defined as ‘collective expectations for the proper behaviour of actors with a given identity’. In this view, political actors internalize social norms, which shape their identities and thus their interests. This is what constructivists refer to as the ‘constitutive effects’ of norms.

The constructivist view that the actions of individuals cannot be understood in isolation from their social environment contrasts with the rationalists’ emphasis on ‘methodological individualism’, in which the central focus is on ‘individual human (p. 69) action’ (Risse 2009: 145). However, while constructivists emphasize that individuals’ interests and identities are shaped by the social environment in which they exist, equally they argue that the social environment is shaped over time by the actions of individuals. This relationship—sometimes described in terms of structure and agency (Hay 2002: 81–134)—is one of two-way interaction and thus, in the words of constructivists, ‘mutually constitutive’.

The essential constructivist critique of rationalist approaches is that a focus on material interests (such as economic interests or security) alone offers an inadequate explanation of key developments in European integration. Such an explanation ignores the role played by deeply embedded cultures that shape national positions, and the role of ideas and values that connect political leaders or other actors. As such, a constructivist history of the EU would:

focus on the ongoing struggles, contestations, and discourses on how ‘to build Europe’ over the years and, thus, reject an imagery of actors including governments as calculating machines who always know what they want and are never uncertain about the future and even their own stakes and interests.

(Risse 2009: 147)

Constructivist Work on the EU

As noted, constructivism is not a theory as such and constructivist scholars differ significantly in terms of the focus and purpose of their analysis. Drawing on Saurugger (2013: 152), we focus here on two interrelated constructivist research themes: socialization and learning and the social construction of European identity.

Many constructivist scholars have studied how identities evolve through learning and socialization, often with a focus on such processes within European institutions. Socialization refers to the process by which actors develop common understandings and internalize common norms in response. For example, many scholars have considered socialization in relation to relatively new EU governance processes such as the ‘open method(s) of co-ordination’ (OMC) that are explicitly based on the exchange of best practice between member states and thus learning (see Chapter 2, ‘New Methods of Governance’). For instance, Radaelli (2008) has noted that three forms of learning can take place in this context: ‘learning at the top’ between EU civil servants; ‘hierarchical learning’ from EU to domestic level; and ‘bottom up learning’ whereby non-state actors and local actors diffuse their knowledge.

Several constructivists have considered the ways in which ideas about Europe or the EU have been constructed and with what consequence. Such analyses often highlight the ways in which ideas produce outcomes, which a consideration of material factors (alone) cannot easily explain. For instance, Risse argued that the EU’s decision to enlarge to twenty-five members in 2004 was largely a function of the member states’ socialization into a particular conception of ‘Europe’. Commission officials acted as ‘norm entrepreneurs’ to promote a sense of shared community values (democracy, human rights, and market economics) between the fifteen, which generated a normative obligation towards the applicant states who shared these values. In this way, ‘[r]hetorical commitment to community values entrapped EU member states into offering accession negotiations to the CEE [central and eastern Europe] and other Eastern European (p. 70) countries despite the initial preferences against enlargement’ (Risse 2009: 157) (see also Chapter 26, ‘Explanations of the “Eastern” Enlargement’). It was noted, however, that once negotiations began, rationalist accounts provided a more fitting explanation of the strategic bargaining by national governments. This acceptance of the differential appropriateness of forms of explanation is evidence that certain strands of constructivism do not seek to displace rationalist theories entirely, but to contribute to a more complete picture of how the EU works.

Rosamond (2002) has similarly discussed the ways in which concepts such as the ‘European economy’ and related concepts such as ‘European firms’ or ‘European competitiveness’ have been socially constructed. While they may seem like common-sense notions, Rosamond draws attention to the ways in which the Commission, along with networks of interest and advisory groups, was instrumental in constructing them over time and the ways in which significant economic actors came to identify with them (note some similarities here with neofunctionalist ideas about spillover, see Chapter 1, ‘Neofunctionalism’). Just as with the case of enlargement highlighted above, such use of discourse was important in determining particular possible policy responses and excluding others. In the case of ‘European competitiveness’, the concept worked alongside others such as ‘globalization’ to present the EU within a global context that required a particular, rather narrow, set of ‘neoliberal’ policy responses (Rosamond 2002: 172). We have arguably seen such responses in the adoption of strategies such as the Lisbon Agenda, in 2000, and Europe 2020, in 2010 (see Chapter 10, ‘The Lisbon Strategy’ and Chapter 11, ‘Europe 2020’; also see ‘Critical Political Economy’). There are important affinities between aspects of Rosamond’s argument and the work of the critical political economists discussed below.

Ideas about the EU may also be purposefully deployed for strategic reasons in national politics (see also Chapter 3, ‘Europeanization’). Hay and Rosamond (2002) highlighted how ideas associated with either European integration or globalization may, even in the absence of solid evidence, be presented by political actors as external imperatives to justify unpopular domestic reform measures, particularly to the political economy. As they note (2002: 148):

In a number of contemporary European contexts, it is the process of European integration (often in the immediate form of the Maastricht convergence criteria) which is (or has been) invoked as the proximate cause of often painful social and economic reforms elsewhere legitimated in terms of globalization.

Whether political actors invoke European integration as the reason for such reforms has depended on the extent to which the EU is popular in a given national polity and likely to aid in legitimating unpopular reforms. Hence it is important to note that, with the EU’s increased politicization in the 2010s, critical views of EU policies—for example in debtor states during the eurozone crisis, or of the EU generally in connection with Brexit—have been used to legitimate domestic electoral campaigns by Eurosceptic parties or the Leave campaigns in the 2016 British referendum.

Constructivism Assessed

Risse (2004: 151) usefully highlighted three main ways in which social constructivism contributes to our understanding of the EU: (p. 71)

  1. 1. By highlighting the mutually constitutive nature of agency and structure, it allows for a deeper understanding of the impact of the EU on its member states, and particularly on statehood.

  2. 2. By emphasizing the constitutive effects of EU rules and policies, it facilitates study of the ways in which EU membership shapes the interests and identities of actors.

  3. 3. By focusing on communicative practices, it highlights both how the EU is constructed discursively and how actors come to understand the meaning of European integration.

Conversely, Cowles (2003: 110–11) identified three criticisms of constructivism:

  1. 1. that it lacks a theory of agency and shows a tendency to overemphasize the role of structures rather than the actors who help to shape those structures;

  2. 2. that much of the early constructivist literature tended to focus its analysis on public actors to the relative neglect of important non-state actors;

  3. 3. that there is a tendency amongst some constructivists to identify the good things that have been socially constructed rather than the bad.

The last of these points is of particular concern to the critical approaches considered in the following sections.

Critical Political Economy

In this section, we focus on the work of a group of largely neo-Marxist scholars who have engaged with the EU. Before considering them, it is important to issue two disclaimers. First, not all approaches that are critical of the EU political economy are explicitly critical of mainstream theoretical approaches to the study of the EU covered in Chapters 1–3 of this book. Second, a number of scholars interested in critically reflecting on political economy issues may not associate themselves explicitly with a Marxist or neo-Marxist tradition. Scholars have, for instance, deployed broadly constructivist and post-structuralist approaches in order to make claims that are in some respects similar to those made by authors considered in this section (the work of Rosamond and Hay in ‘Constructivist Work on the EU’ above and the work of Parker considered in ‘Critical Social Theory Work on the EU’ below are examples). Thus, while this section focuses on neo-Marxist scholars, it is important to highlight that they are not representative of all those who have said something ‘critical’ in relation to the EU political economy.

Exponents of neo-Marxist critical political economy (CPE) are united in its emphasis on the role of capitalism and material factors in shaping the social world in terms of distinct classes. However, there are many disagreements among scholars influenced by the work of Marx. A key disagreement can be understood in terms of the aforementioned debate on structure and agency: the extent to which capitalism and the relations of production are fixed, unchangeable structures or potentially shaped and influenced in important ways by mediating agents such as states, institutions, or labour movements (for more on this debate, see Bieler et al. 2006).

(p. 72) Those neo-Marxists—notably the ‘neo-Gramscian’ scholars discussed in ‘Critical Political Economy Work on the EU’—who do see some role for agents in shaping political economy have been particularly active in their engagement with the EU as an object of study and will constitute the main focus of this section. This sub-set of neo-Marxist scholars tends to concur with the constructivist assertion that the political and social world is constructed and that ideas and discourses therefore matter in shaping that world. However, they are critical of what they term ‘liberal constructivist approaches’, asserting that we ought to take more seriously material or capitalist structures and emphasize that EU social and political reality is constructed in ways which favour particular interests or classes (van Apeldoorn et al. 2003; van Apeldoorn and Horn 2019). The work of such scholars thus seeks to expose the ways in which particular elite or capitalist interests are constructed and have prevailed in the context of European integration and constituted a ‘neoliberal’ order. At the same time, they are critical of an ‘orthodoxy’ in mainstream studies of integration that has failed to critique such an order and been complicit in its constitution (Ryner 2012; Ryner and Cafruny 2017).

Critical Political Economy Work on the EU

Critical political economists view the EU and its historical evolution in the context of broader developments in the capitalist world economy. They argue that dominant theories of integration serve to obscure deeper underlying explanations and purposes of the EU. Neo-Marxists, such as Peter Cocks and Stuart Holland, were making such arguments in the 1980s. As Cocks (1980: 39) put it:

Regional integration was a mechanism for accommodating and reinforcing the expansion of European capital while simultaneously protecting it from the possibly excessive rigours of international competition. Ideologically, supranational ideas such as federalism and functionalism provided moral and intellectual justifications at the elite level for European regional organization.

Holland (1980: 89) emphasized the importance of social class and political power to the integration process, suggesting that mainstream accounts excluded these phenomena from their analyses:

Class analysis has Marxist connotations which raise issues of exploitation and power which are inconveniently disturbing to many of the élites engaged in integration itself. Lifting the lid on class relations opens a Pandora’s box of the kind which key exponents and advocates of international integration have been trying to close and bury for some time.

From this perspective, the neofunctionalist theory dominant at the time rested on problematic pluralist assumptions regarding the wide dispersal of power within society, namely that no single group would be able to dominate the integration process (contemporary theories such as liberal intergovernmentalism (LI) could be criticized for similar assumptions). In other words, although neofunctionalism identified the role of elites and interest groups in advancing integration, it did not link the interests of these groups to broader class structures in society and politics. Their dominance in advancing integration was simply put down to the fact that they were better organized than labour interests. Holland accepted that capitalist interests were more effectively (p. 73) organized than labour ones but suggested that this argument obscured a more important explanation for capitalist influence over the process. What was important was not an observable process of business leaders influencing state actors, but a shared world view—or, as Holland (1980: 91–2) put it, ‘the combination of governmental élites and the self-electing élites of private capital, bound on a common venture in fulfilment of a common ideology’.

A later generation of scholars built on the work of these neo-Marxists, but believed their predecessors had overestimated the existence of crisis tendencies within capitalism and had not accounted for the considerable variations in types of capitalism over time and space (Cafruny and Ryner 2009: 229). Yet, the starting point for contemporary neo-Marxist scholars of the EU was essentially the same as that of Cocks and Holland, that the dominant theories of integration have basic flaws which obscure understanding of the nature of power in the EU:

by their very design they are unable to conceptualize adequately power relations that are constitutive of capitalist market structures. In other words, these mainstream theories fail to account for the structural power that determines the particular trajectory of European integration.

(van Apeldoorn et al. 2003: 17)

In particular, ‘mainstream theories’ make assumptions about the inherent rationality of market forces that leave no room for alternative organizing principles. Specifically, they ‘assume either explicitly or implicitly that market forces are expressions of an inner rationality of universal human nature that is held to be the essence of the realm of freedom in political affairs’ (van Apeldoorn et al. 2003: 18). Critical political economists dispute the assumption that the market is a reflection of human nature and that its operation equates with freedom in political affairs, and they suggest instead that this starting point obscures the uneven distribution of power inherent in the operation of markets. The consequence is that mainstream theories define power narrowly in relation to control by political authorities and thus the empirical focus is on how this power is organized. In the CPE perspective, this view needs to be supplemented with a view of power derived from social forces (generally, class relations) that underpin market relations and shape formal political authority.

To understand the true nature of power in the EU, van Apeldoorn et al. (2003) proposed a neo-Marxist approach, drawing on the work of Antonio Gramsci. As noted at the start of this section, there are affinities here with social constructivism, with the role of ideas being central to the understanding of Gramsci’s concept of ‘hegemony’. Unlike most constructivists, though, ideas here are firmly embedded in a particular (historical materialist) conception of social relations. Gramsci argued that the capitalist class does not rule by force, either exclusively or primarily, but through consent generated by the diffusion of its ideas (via state institutions and organizations in civil society). In this way, the specific interests of the capitalist class become internalized by all as the general interest and thus states only need to use force to govern as a last resort. This notion of hegemony owes something to the Marxist idea of ‘false consciousness’, which suggests that people are unaware of what is in their true interest. From this perspective, it is argued that mainstream theories of the EU not only fail to expose the underlying nature of class power that shapes its emergent political structures, but also in doing so serve to reproduce the consent that legitimizes and thus sustains this state of affairs.

(p. 74) Later analyses from this perspective focused on core aspects of the EU political economy, the single market, and economic and monetary union (EMU). Van Apeldoorn (2002), for instance, focused on the ways in which preference shifts within the European Roundtable of Industrialists—a lobbying group of corporate actors—contributed to the single market agenda in the 1980s. He charted the ways in which actors, who may have once favoured European-level protectionism, gradually came to favour a conception of competition that was global in scope. Horn (2012) discussed how such processes relate to broader shifts in corporate governance in the context of ever-more-liberalized EU capital markets. Such shifts were the result of EU regulatory reforms which, according to Mügge’s (2010) analysis, reflected the interests of banks and finance actors. Approaches from this perspective highlight the ways in which the single market project has privileged the interests of certain elites at the expense of citizens and of national democracy (see also Chapter 3, ‘Democracy and Legitimacy’ and Chapter 19, ‘Evaluating the Single Market’).

In a similar vein, Gill (1998) considered the ways in which EMU placed constraints on member states and required them to implement a set of neoliberal policy responses. He perceived EU economic and monetary policy as part of a broader trend towards legally embedding or ‘constitutionalizing’ neoliberal preferences. In the context of the eurozone crisis, such processes of constitutionalization are ongoing according to this perspective, and can be associated with the ideas of a particular strand of neoliberal thought, a German ordo-liberalism (Brunnermeier et al. 2016: 65–7).

The implications of these broader neoliberal trends for traditional conceptions of the European welfare state are made apparent by such scholars in analyses of EU strategies such as the Lisbon Agenda of 2000 and Europe 2020 of 2010 (see Chapter 10, ‘The Lisbon Strategy’ and Chapter 11, ‘Europe 2020’). While these strategies appeal to the importance of social cohesion and a European ‘social model’, critical political economists have drawn attention to the emphasis on increasingly flexible labour markets and the associated retrenchment of traditional models of welfare (often couched in terms of ‘modernization’) (Hager 2008; Nousios and Tsolakis 2012).

Other scholars working in this tradition explored the possibilities for resistance by ‘counter-hegemonic’ movements that might challenge the neoliberal direction of travel. Bieler (2011), for instance, assessed the possibility for transnational labour and social movements to resist these trends.

From a rather different starting point, but engaging with the CPE literature, Bulmer and Joseph (2016) sought to highlight the political struggles at the heart of European integration. Drawing on work from German neo-Marxists (Buckel 2011), they highlighted how fundamental political struggles in the EU could be understood in terms of several competing ‘hegemonic projects’, each of which was seeking to prevail. Of particular significance is that these projects are seen as rooted in domestic politics, with their differing profiles across EU states. Thus, whilst the neoliberal project may indeed prevail, as is the predominant finding across the CPE literature, it is in contestation with several others:

  • a national-social project that seeks to achieve socialism at the domestic level (a position perhaps best illustrated by the UK Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership);

  • a pro-European social-democratic hegemonic project that was influential especially during the Delors presidency of the European Commission, when attempts (p. 75) were made to strengthen social legislation at EU level (Chapter 18, ‘Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion’);

  • a national-conservative hegemonic project that found increasing expression in the 2010s and reflects the growth of an identity cleavage across European politics, where some voters—typically the ‘losers’ from globalization—have taken refuge in supporting Euroscepticism (also a factor in the Leave vote in the 2016 UK referendum on EU membership); and

  • a left-liberal project that focuses on human rights, women’s rights, cosmopolitanism, and ecological issues and is associated with reformist and environmentalist parties.

In their article, Bulmer and Joseph sought to use this clash of domestically grounded projects for hegemony as a way to explain the state of integration in the EU, thereby linking the CPE agenda with wider issues of integration theory. In applying the clash of competing projects to the eurozone crisis, they identified that the power asymmetries between creditor and debtor states enabled Germany’s ordo-liberal project to assume a hegemonic position (Bulmer and Joseph 2016: 741–2).

Critical Political Economy Assessed

Contributions from this perspective raise important questions for mainstream theorists, in particular about the assumptions that underpin dominant theories both of European integration and of the operation of the EU as a political system. In addition to highlighting the role of ideas, CPE contributions raise questions about the nature of power in the EU that have often been ignored entirely by mainstream theorists, or dealt with in a cursory manner. In particular, ‘critical political economy relates developments in the EU to the constraints and opportunities of capitalism’ (Cafruny and Ryner 2009: 237). The eurozone crisis—in many ways a crisis of capitalism manifest in the EU context—has certainly increased the pertinence of such an approach.

Notwithstanding its usefulness, criticisms of the CPE approach are possible. The most obvious one is that these neo-Marxist or Gramscian debates have been self-referential, discouraging engagement with mainstream EU theorists (although many CPE scholars would argue that the lack of engagement is the other way around!). Other critical perspectives covered in this chapter might argue that the CPE approach is too pre-occupied with economic (capitalist) forces to the detriment of other important ones, such as gender, race, culture, and nation. Even those sympathetic to the CPE approach may argue that, while the attempt to alter ‘macro’-level structures such as global capitalism is a worthy endeavour, it is quite idealistic. Conversely, those CPE scholars who acknowledge the difficulty of altering capitalist structures could be critiqued for an excessively defeatist assessment of the prospects of the EU/Europe.

Critical Social Theory

Critical social theory perspectives have become increasingly important in studying the EU. They overlap in many ways with the approaches that we have already considered. They support the critique of rationalism and the social constructivist notion that (p. 76) political and social reality is constructed rather than fixed. They generally concur with the idea that language and communication are central to the constitution of social realities. Many critical social theorists also support the notion that mainstream theories are complicit in constituting the EU in a particular way, and some concur to a large extent with the CPE critique of the neoliberal bias of the contemporary EU.

However, critical social theory approaches differ from the other critical perspectives discussed in two principal respects. First, while their object of study is inclusive of the EU, it encompasses broader dynamics in contemporary European society (Delanty and Rumford 2005). In particular, they frequently point to a so-called ‘cosmopolitan’ reality in Europe, highlighting the ways in which society has become increasingly complex and has transcended national frames of reference and ways of thinking about the world (Beck and Grande 2007). Second, they often explicitly promote a particular normative vision. They do not simply describe a cosmopolitan reality, but also champion it in the face of what they regard as less positive tendencies within European society and mainstream scholarship. In short, they combine a descriptive social theory with normative prescription, although there are differences between scholars within this tradition, both in terms of which attributes of the EU are celebrated and in terms of what a ‘better’ or ‘cosmopolitan’ Europe should look like.

Critical Social Theory Work on the EU

Beck and Grande (2007) highlighted the way in which social processes fostered what they called a ‘cosmopolitan outlook’ in Europe. Such processes include the exchange of social, cultural, and linguistic practices, and a ‘cross-fertilization’ of identities. These have been facilitated by the EU through integration and enlargement and have broken down traditional boundaries among Europeans, particularly those rooted in nationalism. That is not to say that all is well in contemporary Europe. Beck and Grande recognized that a cosmopolitan outlook is only a partial reality that remains endangered by, in particular, nationalist outlooks. They highlighted the ways in which what they term a ‘methodological nationalism’ ‘blinds us to Europe’ (2007: 18) or, in other words, undermines the cosmopolitan outlook that they identified and advocated. As Delanty and Rumford (2005: 188) put it:

A cosmopolitan perspective holds many attractions, not least of them being that a major problem in the way Europe is studied, perhaps the problem, is that the political and social science associated with the nation-state still pervades EU studies.

These social theory perspectives argue that a particular way of understanding and viewing society and politics that draws for inspiration on the model of the nation state still dominates mainstream scholarship. For instance, many mainstream analyses of European integration view it as a process which erodes the sovereignty of prevailing nation states while tending towards a Europe which increasingly resembles a nation state (see Chapter 1). More recent scholarship has treated the EU as a political system using comparative politics methods modelled on the nation state (see Chapter 2). A methodological cosmopolitanism, by contrast, advocates a ‘both–and’ Europe (Beck and Grande 2007: 18) where both loyalty to nation and loyalty to Europe (and, indeed, globally) is possible.

Beck and Grande cited, as realities within the EU that concur with this ‘both–and’ position, the ‘Open Method of Co-ordination’ (see Chapter 2, ‘New Methods of (p. 77) Governance’) and forms of ‘enhanced co-operation’ (whereby certain sub-sets of states may co-operate in a policy area—see Chapter 2, ‘Differentiated Integration’). For them, these are contexts which make possible both co-operation and the preservation of some differences (2007: 246). Favell (2008) identified some evidence of this cosmopolitan ethos at the level of individual European identity via his ethnography of the lives of certain mobile EU citizens.

Manners (2002) similarly argued that it was the EU’s cosmopolitan—or, as he sometimes put it, ‘post-Westphalian’—characteristics that actors (including scholars and European policy makers) should both emphasize and promote. ‘Post-Westphalian’ refers to the way in which the EU as an entity has overcome nationalism without reproducing it in the form of a new, European state. He was critical of efforts to promote the EU as primarily a military or economic power. Instead, he emphasized the importance of promoting the EU as what he called a ‘normative power’. A significant body of scholarship on EU external relations has engaged with this concept (see Chapter 25, ‘EU Power in World Politics’).

Habermas’s work on the EU (2001a) shared the idea that the EU can be conceived as an emerging or ‘immanent’ cosmopolitan entity and similarly encouraged this process. Like these social theorists, he was also concerned with the history of nationalism in the EU and promoted the idea of a ‘constitutional patriotism’ at the European level. This is a patriotism not based on national or ethnic roots, but on a shared belief in constitutional values such as human rights and democracy. However, he departed from the social theorists discussed in this section in terms of his more explicit critique of processes of neoliberal globalization. Like many critical political economists, he was concerned with these processes and also with the role that the EU had played in reinforcing and promoting them. In particular, he was critical of the detrimental effect that such processes had on the European welfare state and on democracy within the EU (in this sense, Habermas has also been an important contributor to debates on the democratic deficit—see Chapter 3, ‘Democracy and Legitimacy’).

Habermas nevertheless sought to promote the EU as the agent that might realistically challenge such trends and thus support the preservation of certain features of European social democracy. As he said, ‘the challenge before us is not to invent anything but to conserve the great democratic achievements of the European nation-state, beyond its own limits’ (Habermas 2001b: 6). Habermas’s vision of a cosmopolitan EU is closer to a federalist vision of the EU (see Chapter 1) than certain of the social theorists mentioned above would be likely to support (Parker 2009a).

Critical Social Theory Assessed

Critical social theory makes an important contribution to the study of the EU in as much as it considers the impact of the EU on European society and culture more generally. It highlights some of the important ways in which the EU has contributed to the constitution of an emerging ‘cosmopolitan Europe’; in other words, a European society that has to some extent transcended a one-dimensional nationalist parochialism and shares a set of common values such as human rights, democracy, and rule of law.

Not only are there important differences within critical social theory, but critical political economists would argue that cosmopolitan assumptions may not take seriously enough the economic foundations of the European project. Moreover, other (p. 78) critical perspectives covered in this chapter have detected in certain celebrations of a cosmopolitan Europe a problematic moral superiority or eurocentrism which potentially blinds us to ethically questionable aspects of the contemporary EU (Parker 2009a; see also ‘Post-Structuralism’ below).

However, it is arguably the rise in the EU of Euroscepticism and populism in the 2010s that presents the strongest threat to this cosmopolitanism. The new identity cleavage identified by Hooghe and Marks (2018) reveals that there is considerable resistance, expressed in Eurosceptic politics, against what politicians from this quarter would regard as patronizing, elitist cosmopolitan positions that are seeking to undermine traditional identities (see Chapter 1, ‘Postfunctionalism’). That said, as Recchi et al. (2019) have pointed out, this increasing political division paradoxically coexists with the intensifying ‘everyday’ cross-border interconnections of Europeans.

Critical Feminism

While CPE might be described as occupying the margins of EU scholarship until the past decade or so, feminist perspectives were even less present. Hoskyns (2004: 33) argued that ‘both the core of EU policy making and many of the key concepts of theorizing European integration remain virtually untouched’ by feminist and gender analysis. However, feminist scholarship on the EU has grown and diversified in the past decade, most obviously to move beyond a focus on the EU’s gender equality policies to analyse the EU in relation to questions of gender more generally.

We briefly cover some of the work that has been done on the EU’s gender equality policy, but focus here on the critical strand in the feminist literature, which shares the broad critique of rationalist approaches. Like CPE and social theory, these perspectives combine a critique of the mainstream with a particular normative perspective—in this case, a perspective that emphasizes the importance of accounting for gender both in policy making and in theorizing about the social and political world.

Feminist Work on the EU

Research on gender equality policies is well established in the EU literature. These policies had their origins in Article 119 of the Treaty of Rome (Hoskyns 1996) and developed through subsequent Treaty provisions, directives, Court rulings, and soft-law instruments relating to a range of policy areas, including part-time work, parental leave, sexual harassment, childcare, and violence against women (see Hantrais 2000; Ellina 2003). Locher and Prügl (2009: 183–4), who described the EU gender equality regime as ‘one of the more astonishing aspects of European integration’, identified a three-stage development in the area: from a focus on equal rights, to positive action, to gender mainstreaming, which means taking into account the gender dimension in all areas and at all stages of EU policy making. Roth (2008: 4) highlighted the ways in which different enlargements led to opportunities and challenges for the development of EU gender equality policies. She cited evidence of the ‘uploading’ of policies from certain member states to the EU level (particularly from ‘Nordic’ countries such as Sweden and Finland) and ‘downloading’ of policy to member states from EU level in cases such as Spain and (p. 79) Ireland. In a comprehensive discussion of the EU and gender issues, Kantola (2010) considered, among other things, the Europeanization of gender policies, focusing on the impact of the ‘downloading’ of policies in different member state contexts and their impact beyond the EU (on these concepts, see Chapter 3, ‘Europeanization’).

While the EU is often seen as progressive in this area, Hoskyns argued that, despite the growth in scope of gender equality measures over time, major EU decisions continued to be taken without reference to gender or without adequate representation of women (Hoskyns 2004: 223). Thus, the Commission’s 2001 Governance White Paper was an important document reflecting on EU political good practice, but did not mention the word ‘gender’.

Kronsell (2005) extended this critique to integration theories themselves, which she argued had done little to encompass gender dynamics. She critiqued six approaches that she saw as representing the ‘state of the art’ in EU studies: liberal intergovernmentalism (LI); domestic politics approaches; neofunctionalism; multi-level governance (MLG); supranationalism; and constructivism (Insight 4.1). (p. 80)

Insight 4.1 Feminist Critiques of Selected EU Studies Theories

Liberal Intergovernmentalism

The focus on states as the dominant actors rests upon a narrow conception of the relevant political space and excludes consideration of gender dynamics.

Moravcsik’s idea that states relate to each other and interact in the process of integration—in intergovernmental negotiations—does not take note of the fact that it is and has been almost exclusively men speaking for the state.

(Kronsell 2005: 1035)

The Domestic Politics Approach

It offers more scope for incorporating gender dynamics by opening up the ‘black box of the state’ to consider the complex processes at play. However, Kronsell (2005: 1027) suggested that this approach had been ‘less prone to include gender and women’s interest organizations within the overall assessment of EU integration’.


It has the potential for understanding the contribution of organized interests representing women. However, it does not draw attention to the distinct disadvantage of feminist groups in comparison to more powerful lobbies that shape a range of policies with significant gender implications (Kronsell 2005: 1028).

Multi-Level Governance

It is seen as complementary to feminist analysis because it emphasizes complex interactions involving multiple actors in which power takes multiple forms. However, it overlooks the fact that the policy networks central to the notion of MLG tend to be male-dominated and difficult for women to enter. Thus, for MLG to deliver on its promise, more empirical research is required on the composition and dynamics of relevant policy networks (Kronsell 2005: 1031–2).

Kantola (2019) took this discussion of theories further, notably by considering disintegration in the light of the economic crisis, the rise of populism, and Brexit, and by adopting a wider understanding of gender derived from feminist political analysis. She noted how the economic crisis and populism (including democratic backsliding in some of the CEECs) had impacted adversely on the different aspects of gender equality policy. She noted that aspects of Brexit have been highly gendered in emotional terms, with women’s concerns marginalized (see also Guerrina et al. 2018). With evidence from the crises of the 2010s, Kantola (2019) revealed advances in the feminist analysis of the EU as well as empirical evidence of how integration and disintegration impacted on gender issues. As she put it (2019: 73):

Gender equality is at the heart of integration and disintegration and subtle and overt attacks on it, including scaling down of gender equality policies, commitments and priorities, are key signals of the difficulties the European integration project faces.

In summarizing her critique of dominant EU studies theories, Kronsell (2005: 1035–6) highlighted two points: that they ignore the ‘male-as-norm’ problem, and that they are based on a simplistic view of power. As Hoskyns (2004: 224) put it, a more gender-sensitive analysis of European integration ‘brings the imbalance between the social and the economic in EU policy making into focus, puts the emphasis on democratic legitimacy and forms of participation, and prioritizes the analysis of power relations’. In these senses, there are clear overlaps with the concerns of a ‘post-positivist’ or critical feminism and those of a number of the other approaches considered in this chapter.

Critical Feminism Assessed

Critical feminist perspectives draw attention to particular policy developments, and raise questions that are not addressed by mainstream theories of the EU. In policy terms, they reveal an EU that is, on the one hand, relatively progressive in relation to gender equality issues, but, on the other, perpetuates gender inequalities and limits the participation of women in key forums. In theory terms, gender perspectives seek to reveal hidden aspects of the EU: most particularly in this case relating to the gendered effects of EU policy making and the mechanisms through which patriarchal domination is reproduced (Locher and Prügl 2009: 181). While feminists have been critiqued for overstating the importance of gender relative to other issues that determine social relations, many feminist scholars would emphasize the complementarities between gender perspectives and some of the other critical perspectives covered in this chapter.


A variety of post-structural (sometimes called ‘post-modern’) approaches have engaged with the EU as object of study. Drawing on such thinkers as Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, and Jacques Derrida, they are particularly attuned to the interactions of knowledge, language, and power in the construction of social and political reality. Post-structural accounts overlap considerably with the foregoing approaches but they are distinct in certain respects.

(p. 81) Like social constructivists, post-structuralists reject positivist ontologies, but are sceptical of the attempts of some such approaches to reconcile themselves with a positivist epistemology (see Table 4.1). Like CPE and feminist approaches, they are acutely aware of power relations, but are often cautious about giving undue import to any one key structural factor, such as social class or gender, in determining such relations. Like critical social theory, they are critical of methodological nationalism, but may equally point to the ethical problems inherent in their ‘cosmopolitan outlook’.

From a post-structural perspective, ‘critique is not that which seeks out resolution, reconciliation or the smoothing out of difficulty, but rather that which discomforts and unsettles one’s sense of certainty’ (Amoore 2008: 274). In other words, ‘post-structural scholars are seeking to “denaturalize” stories about European integration which are spoken as common sense’ (Manners 2007: 87). The attempt to unsettle a sense of certainty or ‘common sense’ in relation to the EU has been the uniting theme of post-structural analysis. Its contribution is focused on highlighting the often-concealed work that is done by discourse, language, knowledge, and power in constituting a variety of ‘European’ or EU realities and identities.

Post-Structuralist Work on the EU

Post-structuralist work has not been limited to a particular facet of the EU, but has been deployed to consider broad themes of identity, governance, and political economy. However, much post-structural work on the EU emanates from the field of IR and reflects an increasing critical interest in the EU as an actor or presence in world politics and as an ostensible ‘area of freedom, security and justice’ (see, respectively, Chapters 25 and 23).

Among the first to draw on the work of post-structural thought in EU studies, Diez (1999) appealed to the mainstream to account for the ways in which discourses on the EU shape or constitute the EU’s reality. He pointed to the ‘performativity’ of language in relation to the EU. By way of illustration he noted how, in a relatively Eurosceptic Britain of the 1960s, the European Economic Community (EEC) was often referred to as the ‘common market’, whereas in relatively pro-European Germany it was referred to as the ‘Community’. His point is that the language used in these different contexts was not simply the consequence of different pre-existing feelings towards Europe; rather, it was also constitutive of those very feelings.

Subsequently, Diez (2005) developed a critique of the notion that the EU is a cosmopolitan ‘normative power’ (Manners—see ‘Critical Social Theory’ above), highlighting the ways in which such a portrayal of the EU might in some respects cast the EU as superior to various ‘others’ in world politics and blind us to some of its less virtuous policies (see also Merlingen 2007). Parker and Rosamond (2013) have also offered a critique of this concept, arguing in particular that the ‘post-Westphalian’ or cosmopolitan reality that was celebrated by Manners might have overcome certain exclusionary effects of nationalism, but the EU’s manifestation as a ‘market’ project might have had other exclusionary consequences (see also ‘Critical Political Economy’ above). Such work can be situated within a post-structural critique of critical social theory, particularly its celebration of a cosmopolitan Europe/EU (Parker 2009a).

Several post-structural scholars in the sub-field of critical security studies have problematized the relationship between the ‘European’ ideals of liberty and security, (p. 82) highlighting the paradoxes, even hypocrisies, at the heart of many EU practices and policies (see also Chapter 23, ‘Critiquing the AFSJ’). Among other things (with reference to post-9/11 policy on terrorism (De Goede 2008) and immigration policy (Huysmans 2006; Van Munster 2009), they have drawn attention to the ways in which security, enacted with the stated purpose of preserving liberty, has paradoxically undermined that liberty in certain respects for both EU ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. The concept of ‘the border’ is frequently unsettled in such accounts. A range of scholars have articulated the ways in which the EU’s practices and policies—in relation, for instance, to free movement, counterterrorism, and immigration control—have ‘multiplied’ borders within and beyond EU space (Vaughan-Williams 2008). Recently, scholars have also deployed post-structural philosophy to consider the broader ethical implications of EU responses to the so-called migration crisis (Vaughan-Williams 2015; see also Chapter 11).

Drawing together some of the themes discussed above, Walters and Haahr (2005) deployed Foucault’s notion of ‘governmentality’—an interest in the particular rationalities that lie behind governmental practices—to explore the ways in which various ideas and practices have constituted Europe as an entity in very particular ways and its forms of government. In so doing, they, among other things, challenged histories of integration that suggested a linear progress, pointing to the alternatives that did not become part of the historical legacy of European integration. For example, with reference to the early days of integration, they noted how proposals to place under public ownership the coal and steel industries—which were central to the early steps in European integration—were ultimately not pursued and, instead, Monnet and Schuman’s particular ideas prevailed (see Chapter 5) (Walters and Haahr 2005: 15).

Parker (2012a, 2013) deployed Foucault’s work on liberalism to point to some important tensions or ambiguities within EU governance. Considering which identities the EU as governing actor seeks either to promote or to exclude, and drawing together some of the themes of interest to both a CPE and a critical security studies, he highlighted the ways in which the EU has, through its governing logics, discourses, and collective knowledge, attempted to constitute individuals as variously post-national market actors or ‘entrepreneurs’ and post-national political actors or ‘citizens’. This work points to the potentially exclusionary effects of both of these agendas. However, in line with Foucault’s interest in political resistance, Parker (2012a, 2013) noted that the ambiguous co-existence of these two governing logics in the EU might open the possibility for practical acts of resistance and re-politicization by those excluded and marginalized by either agenda.

Post-Structuralism Assessed

Post-structural accounts have added a new dimension to scholarship on the EU by drawing attention to the important role of language and discourse in constituting the EU in particular ways. This work highlights a range of difficult questions in relation to the common-sense ideals that the EU professes to embody, such as peace, freedom, and justice. It also contributes to the broader critique of mainstream approaches and extends this to a critical engagement with some of the other critical approaches, and (p. 83) particularly a normative critical social theory. However, those approaches have themselves critiqued post-structural analyses for offering no positive normative vision or agenda (for the EU or more generally) (see Parker 2013: 172–4).


This chapter has summarized contributions that can be broadly categorized as ‘critical perspectives’. As the discussion shows, these perspectives are not only critical of mainstream theories, but, in many cases, also of each other. Importantly, though, they share an emphasis on the limits of rationalist or positivist approaches.

Several approaches discussed are normative in their intent, seeking to highlight problems with the status quo but also to suggest that ‘another Europe’ is possible. They are not interested primarily in explaining how integration has taken place or how the EU works. Instead, their purpose is to critically assess these things, pointing in various ways to the often-overlooked dynamics of power within the EU, considering both elite and marginalized voices (see Part One, ‘Theory’, Table I.1).

To adopt a critical approach is not necessarily to reject a mainstream approach, or vice versa. There may be important overlaps between these positions (see Table 4.1). Moreover, they can be understood in terms of the quite different functions that they perform. Robert Cox (1981) usefully characterized what we have here termed the mainstream as ‘problem solving theory’. Such theory views the broad structures of the social and political world as a given, in order to focus on specific problems or issues within that pre-defined world. In contrast, ‘critical theory’ challenges the fixed nature of that broader social and political world in an attempt to contemplate more fundamental changes. If we accept the importance of both of these functions, then students of the EU do not necessarily need to place themselves definitively within one or other camp.

It is, however, important to consider why these more critical perspectives have been absent for so long within mainstream studies of the EU. Both their exclusion and their gradual (re-)admittance to the mainstream can be accounted for by factors internal to political studies scholarship—a disciplinary politics—and factors related to the politics of European integration and the EU (Rosamond 2007; Whitman and Manners 2016). Recent political crises in the EU, and the increased openness of EU studies to alternative perspectives, are therefore interrelated and likely to foster continued interest in critical approaches.

Key Points

Critical of What?

  • Critical perspectives have received increasing attention in the study of EU politics in the past decade or so. Collectively, they challenge mainstream ‘positivist’ approaches to the study of the EU.

Social Constructivism

  • Social constructivism entered the debate on the EU to challenge the positivist (rationalist and materialist) assumptions on which the dominant integration theories were built.

  • In relation to the EU, social constructivism puts particular emphasis on how national positions and perceived national interests are shaped through the socialization of national actors within and with EU levels of government.

  • (p. 84) Social constructivist work on the EU has analysed the ways in which ‘European’ identities and ideas are constructed and shifting over time, and with what consequences.

Critical Political Economy

  • A broadly neo-Marxist CPE analyses the EU in the context of broader capitalist social relations, often emphasizing the role of elites in driving particular sorts of integration at the expense of subordinate classes. It is critical of a ‘liberal’ bias in much mainstream theorizing on the EU.

  • Scholars working in this tradition have drawn on Gramsci’s concept of hegemony to elucidate the ways in which economic elites have been able to push their ‘neoliberal’ agendas in the EU, often at the expense of the interests of particular classes or rival hegemonic projects.

  • Academics working in this tradition have focused their critique on ‘economic’ areas of EU policy making, such as the single market and monetary union.

Critical Social Theory

  • The critical social theory considered in this chapter can be traced to the ‘Frankfurt School’ of ‘Critical Theory’ and in particular the work of Jürgen Habermas, who is himself a frequent commentator on EU politics.

  • Critical social theory emphasizes the ways in which the EU has facilitated the emergence of a cosmopolitan European society and views this as a positive development worthy of scholarly and political support. But critical social theory is not uncritical of the status quo within the EU.

  • Theorists such as Beck and Grande have been critical of a residual ‘methodological nationalism’ within EU politics and EU scholarship. They oppose both member state nationalism and the attempt to re-invent the EU as a unified state, and advocate a ‘both–and’ EU of plural identities.

  • Habermas emphasizes the ‘neoliberal’ bias in the EU status quo in his vision of a cosmopolitan EU that resembles a federal Europe built on a social democratic constitution.

Critical Feminism

  • There is no single ‘gender theory’ or ‘feminist theory’ of the EU, but rather a broad range of perspectives. Such perspectives have often focused on the emergence of gender equality policies at EU level.

  • Critical feminists argue that dominant integration theories have done little to develop understanding of gender dynamics in the EU. They are seen to ignore the ‘male-as-norm’ problem and to be based on a simplistic view of power.

  • These concerns have acquired new significance in the context of the economic crisis, the rise of populism, and Brexit.


  • Post-structural approaches draw on the insights of a range of (often French) thinkers, including Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, and Jacques Derrida

  • Post-structural work on the EU is diverse in terms of its focus, and includes work on questions of European identity, borders, security, and political economy. There are significant overlaps between post-structuralism and the other critical approaches considered.

  • The attempt to unsettle a sense of certainty or ‘common sense’ in relation to both the EU and strands of EU scholarship has been the uniting theme of post-structural analysis.

(p. 85) Questions

  1. 1. How does social constructivism shed light on ideas and identities, and their importance to European integration?

  2. 2. How do critical political economy approaches redirect concerns about power in the EU in contrast to mainstream theories?

  3. 3. Has the EU fostered a cosmopolitan outlook in European society?

  4. 4. What insights into the EU are offered by feminist analysis?

  5. 5. What contributions have the different critical approaches added to understanding the EU?

Go to the online resources to test your understanding with multiple-choice questions.

Further Reading

For a wide-ranging review of critical perspectives on the study of the EU, see R. Whitman and I. Manners, ‘Another Theory is Possible: Dissident Voices in Theorising Europe’, Journal of Common Market Studies, 54 (2016): 3–18, which is the lead article in a special issue that is useful to complement this chapter, as well as covering other perspectives, such as neocolonialism in the EU. On teaching critial perspectives, see O. Parker, ‘Teaching (Dissident) Theory in Crisis European Union’, Journal of Common Market, 54 (2016): 37–52.

On social constructivism, see the influential collection in the special issue of the Journal of European Public Policy, 6(4) (1999), edited by T. Christiansen, K. Jørgensen, and A. Wiener. Other helpful contributions are: J. Checkel and A. Moravcsik, ‘A Constructivist Research Programme in EU Studies?’, European Union Politics, 2 (2001): 219–49 and T. Risse, ‘Social Constructivism and European Integration’, in A. Wiener, T. Börzel, and T. Risse (eds), European Integration Theory, 3rd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 128–47.

A useful overview of CPE perspectives is offered by B. van Apeldoorn and L. Horn, ‘Critical Political Economy’, in A. Wiener, T. Börzel, and T. Risse (eds), European Integration Theory, 3rd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 195–215. An accessible book-length CPE analysis is offered by M. Ryner and A. Cafruny, The European Union and Global Capitalism (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2017). On critical integration theory, see S. Bulmer and J. Joseph, ‘European Integration in Crisis? Of Supranational Integration, Hegemonic Projects and Domestic Politics’, European Journal of International Relations, 22 (2016): 725–48.

Key works in the area of critical social theory include J. Habermas, The Postnational Constellation (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2001); U. Beck and E. Grande, Cosmopolitan Europe (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007); and G. Delanty and C. Rumford, Rethinking Europe: Social Theory and the Implications of Europeanization (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2005). For a critical discussion of critical social theory work on the EU, see O. Parker, ‘Why EU, Which EU? Habermas and the Ethics of Postnational Politics in Europe’, Constellations: An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory, 16 (2009): 392–409.

On feminist/gender approaches, there are several helpful overview pieces, including: Y. Galligan’s ‘European Integration and Gender’, in A. Wiener, T. Börzel, and T. Risse (eds), European Integration Theory, 3rd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 174–94; and E. Prügl, ‘Gender and European Union Politics’, in K. E. Jørgensen, M. Pollack, and B. Rosamond (p. 86) (eds), Handbook of European Union Politics (London: SAGE Publications, 2007), 433–48. For a comprehensive overview of the EU’s impact on gender policies, see J. Kantola, Gender and the European Union (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). For a particular focus on gender and theories of European integration, see A. Kronsell, ‘Gender, Power and European Integration Theory’, Journal of European Public Policy, 12 (2005): 1022–40, complemented by the more recent J. Kantola, ‘European Integration and Disintegration: Feminist Perspectives on Inequalities and Social Justice’, Journal of Common Market Studies, 57 (Annual Review) (2019): 62–76.

Key works from a post-structuralist perspective include O. Parker, Cosmopolitan Government in Europe: Citizens and Entrepreneurs in Postnational Politics (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2013) or ‘Towards an Ambiguous “Cosmopolitics”: Citizens and Entrepreneurs in the European Project’, International Theory, 4 (2012): 198–232; and W. Walters and J. H. Haahr, Governing Europe: Discourse, Governmentality and European Integration (London: Routledge, 2005).


Visit the online resources for a selection of web links to further sources of information on EU politics