A Critical Realist/Discursive Institutionalist Approach on Europeanization

    • Cover Porto 2017
    • Presentation speakers
      • Zoltan Grunhut, Centre for Economics and Regional Studies, Hungarian Academy of Science, Hungary


    Institutionalist approaches, as influential interpretations, strongly oriented studies on Europeanization during the early 2000s, and, though, nowadays discursive, constructivist and deconstructivist trends seem more as the mainstream, institutionalism is still not outdated in the field as it is able to absorb and integrate new ontological conceptualizations and epistemological explanations/understandings into its framework. Based on a brief overview of the institutionalist approach on Europeanization (Börzel and Risse 2003, Bulmer 2008, Featherstone and Radaelli 2003, Radaelli 2000, Risse et al. 2001, Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier 2005), the present paper aims to point out how (1) critical realism through highlighting the importance of ontological generative mechanisms and intense interrelations between structures and active agents (Bashkar et al. 1998, Danemark et al. 1997, Vandenberghe 2014), and (2) discursive interpretations by addressing actors’ constructive contributions (communicated imaginations, perceptions, identifications) to establish narratives and collective understandings (Lynggaard 2012, Schmidt 2008, Schmidt and Radaelli 2004) could enrich the original framework of institutionalism. This synthesizing attempt stresses that (1) beside the harmonization of supranational and national formal (tangible) institutions (such as regulations, strategies, action plans, etc.), and the realization of ‘EU compatible’ procedures (normatively defined policy and governance guidelines) at the domestic level, it is just as important (2) to take into consideration the informal (intangible) institutions (i.e. different cultural features like values, codes, customs, beliefs, attitudes, etc.) of the concerned national level actors (stakeholders, decision makers, project managers, beneficiaries, epistemic communities, advocacy groups, or mass population); furthermore, (3) to overcome the rigid structuralist, ‘outsider’ interpretation, and to grasp the deeper generative mechanisms of institutional adaption, it is crucial to explore how the actors themselves are discursively establishing narratives on their imaginations, perceptions and identifications regarding to the given multilevel policy framework and its domestic realization. Though this paper, based on the above elaborated conceptualization, tries to combine top-down and bottom-up aspects of the complex, multilevel EU policy and governance structures, yet it does not aim to go beyond the institutionalist frame, therefore it sees Europeanization as a normatively devised institutional project.