The Post-Marxist Political Economy of EU Trade. A Discourse-Theoretical Analysis of the Construction of Political Agency in the European Parliament.
43 Pages Posted: 1 Jul 2020
Date Written: June 5, 2020
The objective of this paper is to demonstrate the value of a post-Marxist and discourse-theoretical approach to the role of ideas in political economy, via a case study of the trade politics of the European Parliament. The ontological monism of postMarxist Discourse Theory is proposed as a functional alternative to constructivism and its separation of ideas and discourse into two distinct ontological categories, which has dominated the critical EU trade policy literature thus far.
The argument is structured in two parts. The first part is theoretical in nature. It outlines the ontological differences between a constructivist and a post-Marxist approach to the study of neoliberalism in EU trade politics, and discusses the analytical advantages of the latter. Specifically, it is argued that post-Marxism facilitates a more sophisticated and nuanced analysis of political agency under neoliberalism, by emphasizing the articulated character of neoliberal policies – thereby avoiding the common pitfall of subsumption.
The empirical second part draws on the ‘logics framework’ and corpus-linguistic methods to operationalize this post-Marxist approach. It examines the discursive construction of political agency in the Parliament’s plenary debates on international trade, and finds a consensus within the Parliament regarding the importance of politicians in the governance of markets. This observation contradicts the classic Marxist account of neoliberalism as involving the decline of political agency. However, further examination shows that this consensus broke down during the controversy over the TTIP agreement (2013-2016). The replacement of an ‘economic’ by a ‘democratic antagonism’ as the dominant counterhegemonic political logic is a potential explanation for this collapse in self-confidence, which in turn has important politico-strategic implications.
Keywords: discourse, discourse theory, hegemony, political strategy, politics, Laclau, Mouffe, EU, EU trade policy, European Parliament
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