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Political Science in Europe

Building Blocks for a Qualitative Research Agenda on EU Politicization: Ideas, Frames, Discourse, and Sequencing

Contentious Politics
European Politics
Political Competition
Qualitative Comparative Analysis
Frank Wendler
Universität Hamburg
Frank Wendler
Universität Hamburg
Achim Hurrelmann
Carleton University

The politicization of European Union governance – defined as an increase in salience and public contestation of decision-making – has become one of the major topics in European integration research. However, explanatory research that seeks to identify the causal factors that drive politicization and shape its political significance remains in its infancy. The literature is dominated by rationalist approaches that emphasize material factors such as authority transfers to the EU or distributive effects of European policies as triggers of politicization. Yet these approaches fail to adequately theorize the justificatory motivations of political mobilization, and thus ignore that fact that politicization is, at its core, a discursive phenomenon. The standard quantitative indicators for politicization, while useful for the comparative mapping of cases, are unconvincing in their ability to demonstrate the degree to which contestation is disruptive for existing institutions and policies of the EU. This paper argues that qualitative research frameworks and measurement tools must be integrated more systematically into existing explanatory accounts to address these shortcomings. In order to demonstrate the potential of this approach, we review four core topics of qualitative research on EU politicization – ideas, frames, discourse, and sequencing – that constitute building blocks for a revised research agenda on politicization. Theoretical models such as discursive institutionalism, post-functionalism and Europeanization theory can help us to integrate these building blocks into an eventual theory of EU politicization.
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