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Volume 5, 2021/1, Feb 11, 12 pages  ♦  pdf format

Sabine Riedel


Discourse Analysis, Integration Theories and Ordoliberalism offer Insight and Orientation

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  • Discourse analysis examines rules of participation, control and governance
  • Functionalism – neofunctionalism: Compet-ing integration concepts for Europe since 1945
  • Ordoliberalism: The interdependence of state and economic order
  • Summary

The 12 pages include:
Analysis, summary, 6 figures and excerpts, 69 references (linked).


The reporting on the (post) Brexit negotiations 2019-2020 is a textbook example of how the media increasingly steer social discourses and influence political decision-making processes that actually belong in the hands of the sovereign, the citizens. Foucault’s discourse analysis makes media tech-niques aware to recognise what has not been said, to question doctrines and to form one’s own judgement. This makes it clear that the withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) means more to the European Union (EU) than the loss of a member. It is about the sovereignty to interpret “Europe” and about the direction European integration should take. 

The ambiguity of the European movement no longer has any place in this discourse and the narrative of a “natural” “spill-over” (neofunctionalism) of powers to Brussels thus becomes the only truth. The functionalist theory, which is based on co-operation between sovereign states, should no longer apply to European policy. Probably for this reason the national parliaments were denied the fact that Brussels had concluded other agreements with the UK in addition to the trade agreement, including on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Final-ly, the ordoliberal approach can explain the dissent in the negotiations: the EU leaders place the sov-ereignty of the internal market above that of states.

“Three major systems of exclusion hit the discourse: the forbidden word, the exclusion of madness, the will to truth.“

(Michel Foucault: Die Ordnung des Diskurses, 2.12.1970; dt. 2019: 16, Translation: S.R.).

Since Foucault’s discourse analysis has been received in Germany or in the German-speaking countries, social scientists have adapted and further developed this theoretical approach to their respective sub-disciplines (Keller u.a. 2011). Alt-hough all the authors refer to Michel Foucault, quite a few have moved away from his original core points. 

Some regard discourse analysis to-day as a useful set of methods of empirical social research for analysing the content of debates (Diaz-Bone 2006). Others use it as a “political concept” to not only examine discourses critically, but to initiate them and influence their course themselves (Jäger/Jäger 2007: 37). In view of this variety of interpretations, it makes sense to return to the original and present the essential elements of Foucault’s discourse analysis in this thematic framework.

As a structuralist, Foucault is interested in the “order of discourse”, which is constituted by “procedures” (Foucault 1070: 11): In brief, the author distinguishes between the external control procedures that decide on the emergence of discourses, the internal procedures for controlling contents or their interpretations, and finally the procedures for regulating access to discourses and thus limiting the actors involved. 

All three classes of procedures are manifested in various forms, some of which are selected below and ap-plied to the Brexit negotiations. This analysis is limited to discourses in the German-language media under the question of how the discourse on the withdrawal negotiations was conducted on the side of the EU and its member states.

Foucault’s theoretical approach already pro­ves to be very helpful with regard to the external control mechanisms in order to understand the progress of discourse in the years 2019-2020. Interesting in this context are two demarcations that are an important instrument of discourse control, namely the distinction between true and false and the “distinction between madness and reason” (Foucault 1970: 11 f.). In contrast to open banning or tabooing, these two instruments draw an invisible line to exclude unwelcome aspects from the discourse.  [P. 3f.]