Polity-Construction or How the European Union is (De-)Legitimised: A Discursive Political Sociology Perspective

Paper presented by Amelie Kutter at the 28th Council for European Studies conference in Lisbon/ISCE on 29 June, 2022

Pushed by recent crises, European integration has become contested. EU scholars consider this situation to mark an end to the ‘permissive consensus’ (Lindberg & Scheingold, 1970), which was seen to carry European elites’ integration projects after WWII, and herald a ‘postfunctionalist’ era, in which EU decision making is constrained by politicization (Hooghe & Marks, 2009). This paper seeks to contribute to the debate and stimulate re-flection on how we conceive of legitimacy in postnational settings and how the EU’s legitimacy might be gained or lost.

The paper introduces a ‘discursive political sociology perspective’ that combines the theory of meaning-constitution developed in linguistically informed discourse studies with Bour-dieusian political sociology and the political theory of polity-building. It shifts attention from outcome (legitimacy) to process (legitimation) and from identification with existing EU institutions to discourse practices that only establish the means of communicating and cognizing EU politics in its potential and postnational character. It argues that such prac-tices emerge when speakers, in the course of debating EU politics, construct political au-thority and political association beyond the state, translating terms that were forged dur-ing EU negotiations into diverse domestic debates. This argument is developed in three steps, each illustrated by examples from a larger-scale discourse analysis of French and Polish debates on EU institutional reform (Kutter, 2020). From this illustrated theoretical discussion of legitimation in postnational settings, a grid is developed for analyzing polity-construction in the diverse settings of EU-related political communication.