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Rational Choice and EU Politics

Pollack, Mark A. (2007) Rational Choice and EU Politics. In: UNSPECIFIED, Montreal, Canada. (Unpublished)

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    [From the introduction]. Rational choice approaches to politics did not originate in the study of the European Union (EU), nor is ‘rational choice’ as such a theory of European integration or of EU politics.1 Rational choice, like constructivism, should be understood as a broad approach to social theory, capable of generating an array of specific theories and testable hypotheses about a range of human behaviors. Over the past two decades, rational choice theories have made rapid inroads into the study of EU politics, most notably through the application of rational choice institutionalism to the study of EU decision-making. In this Chapter, I provide a brief introduction to rational choice theory, examine the application of rational choice analyses to EU politics, assess the empirical fruitfulness of such analyses and identify both internal and external challenges to the rational choice study of the EU. The chapter is organized in five parts. In the first, I briefly summarize rational choice as a ‘second-order’ theory of human behavior and discuss the development of rational choice institutionalism (RCI), which has been the most influential branch of rational choice in EU studies. This section also discusses some of the most common criticisms of rational choice as an approach to human behavior, with an emphasis on its purported methodological ‘pathologies’ and (lack of) empirical fruitfulness, and its alleged inability to theorize about endogenous preference formation or change. The second section briefly considers the range of first-order rational choice theories of European Union politics, starting with traditional integration theories and continuing through liberal intergovernmentalist, RCI and other mid-range theories of EU politics. In the third section, I address empirical applications of rational choice theories, noting the charges of methodological pathologies but also suggesting that rational choice approaches have produced progressive research programs and shed light on concrete empirical cases including the legislative, executive and judicial politics of the EU, as well as on other questions such as public opinion and Europeanization. Rational choice-inspired empirical work on the EU, I argue, has been predominantly progressive, not pathological. The fourth section examines some of the challenges to rational choice theories, including rationalism’s purported ‘ontological blindness’ to a range of empirically important issues, including most notably the issues of endogenous preference formation and change. Like Checkel’s review of constructivist theory (in this volume), I do not focus primarily on the rationalist-constructivist debate in EU studies, but I do suggest, against several recent analyses, that the rationalist-constructivist debate in EU studies has largely been a useful and pragmatic one, which has forced rationalists to confront difficult issues like endogenous preference formation and sources of change. A brief fifth section concludes.

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    Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (UNSPECIFIED)
    Subjects for non-EU documents: EU policies and themes > Policies & related activities > political affairs > general
    EU policies and themes > EU institutions & developments > institutional development/policy > decision making/policy-making
    Other > integration theory (see also researching and writing the EU in this section)
    Subjects for EU documents: UNSPECIFIED
    EU Series and Periodicals: UNSPECIFIED
    EU Annual Reports: UNSPECIFIED
    Conference: European Union Studies Association (EUSA) > Biennial Conference > 2007 (10th), May 17-19, 2007
    Depositing User: Phil Wilkin
    Official EU Document: No
    Language: English
    Date Deposited: 09 Jul 2008
    Page Range: p. 26
    Last Modified: 15 Feb 2011 17:51

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