The Discourse Field of EU Multilateral Negotiation: Articulating Field and Discourse Theory

Talk given at the 2020 ECPR General Conference, at the panel ‚Advancing field analysis in European integration studies‘
Field-theoretical arguments have been fruitfully used to study the formation of EU-related spaces of interaction that transgress national systems of statecraft, political competition, policy advice or education. Having started from general considerations about the formation of the European power field (Cohen, 2013; Kauppi, 2005), field studies now explore, with an advanced methodological rigor, how EU-specific credentials (or ‘capital’ in Bourdieu’s terminology) emerge, by which agents qualify for participation in the field of ‘Eurocracy’ (Georgakakis & Rowell, 2013b), develop transnational and EU-related fields of expertise (Schmidt-Wellenburg & Bernhard 2020), rise to European-global circles of power (Kauppi & Madsen, 2013), or take part in the EU-internal diplomatic field (Adler-Nissen, 2014).
This paper introduces a further line. It argues that field analyses of EU politics can benefit from an articulation of field theory with discourse theories that are situated in the social and pragmatic turn in linguistics. By focussing on the discursive constitution of field-specific cultural capital, we can grasp the selectivity of EU-related structured interaction that emerges ad hoc among professional tribes of the EU, notably when these collaborate outside established routines and fields and become entangled in a grand moment of EU institution-building. This argument is explored drawing on the example of EU Constitution process in the years 2002-2004, when the extended treaty revision procedure was applied (see also Kutter 2020).
The paper first develops the notion of ‘discourse fields’, juxtaposing the concept of ‘genre’ developed in linguistic Critical Discourse Analysis, i.e. of conventionalised language use that constitutes a specialised professional practice (Fairclough 1995), Bernstein’s concept of ‘code’, or: professional-regulative discourse (Bernstein 1990), and Bourdieu’s field and cultural capital concept (Bourdieu 1991, 2005). In an application to the Constitution process, the paper then shows that the Constitution process, including its de-legitimation, can be best understood when conceived of as a discursively constituted, self-referential, space of interaction, a ‘discourse field of multilateral negotiation’. In it, participants drew on ‘constitution speak’ as a resource of relational positioning and professional distinction. The ‘constitution speak’ neatly aligned with the doxa of European integration, i.e. the teleological reading of EU treaties, and established discourse practice. It enabled certain outcomes of negotiation rather than others not only due to its performativity, because it drew on the palpable imaginary of modern constitutionalism, but because it endowed those proficient in it with an additional argumentative anchor and professional prestige.