Discourse analysis in the study of
European foreign policy
Social constructivist discourse analysis has, since the early 1990s, become increasingly popular across the social sciences, including international relations. The aim of this chapter is to outline the possibilities for the use of discourse analysis in the study of European foreign policy. Pure rationalists often dismiss EU foreign policy as 'just words' or 'declaratory diplomacy' as it is often labelled contemptuously: 'Even in this area [the Middle East]…, although EC policies were fairly well coordinated, they were primarily declaratory and had little actual effect' (Gordon 1997: 84). According to this view, what really matters in an analysis of the effects of EU foreign policy is implicitly or explicitly seen to be the effects of clearly identifiable non-discursive practices. In general terms, the argument in this chapter is that the study of EU foreign policy lends itself well to an analysis of discourse. Because a discourse approach sees language as a material part of social reality it can analyse aspects that, in particular, rationalists, downplay. Language is seen as a rich source of analysis rather than 'just' words. Struggles over social meaning as they are played out in declaratory diplomacy are seen as just as central to international relations as they are to other domains of social life. Something happens when social meaning is produced in texts and talk. Discourse analysis is a theory and a method for analysing this. This does not, of course, rule out the study of power or of 'policy effects'.
Neither does it necessarily lead to a neglect of the study of other than discursive practices (if such a distinction is relevant). But it means that language is seen as having an important independent status. It is not just a mirror of other social practices or a smokescreen covering up what is 'really happening'. The focus in this chapter is on the research potential of discourse analysis rather than on a comparison of discourse analysis with all other possible approaches to analysing European foreign policy. The main point is that there is ample scope for the use of discourse analysis in the study of European foreign policy, and that much work remains to be carried out drawing more directly on the insights of discourse analysis.