A PhD dissertation proposal on “Brexit” and the clash between Europeanisation” and national identity in twenty-first century Europe- A Constructivist view

Published: 2017/12/21 Number of words: 2370

“Brexit” and the clash between Europeanisation” and national identity in twenty-first century Europe


Rationale behind the dissertation

This dissertation would look at the way in which the process of “Europeanisation” directed by the European Union elite has clashed with the new articulations of the concept of national identity in 21st century Europe (Dunt, 2016, p. 119; Gowland, 2016, p. 50). This dissertation will argue that “Brexit” is a socially-constructed phenomenon that is underscored by the clash between the functionalist facet of “Europeanisation” and the primordialist concept of nationhood (Connolly, 2013, p. 94). “Brexit” is seen by the Leave camp (and, in an increasing manner, by the British political establishment) as an opportunity for national renewal. The identitarian considerations derived from this assertion are underpinned by the reformulation of the concept of the nation-state and the reinstatement of the traditional values associated to the idea of “Britishness”  (Hannan, 2017, p. 11; Ford and Goodwin, 2014, p. 80). These considerations indicate the primacy of social and political factors over economic concerns. According to the identitarian view that guides “Brexit” breaking free from the shackles of the European Union is a process that cannot be examined according to a functionalist criterion. Using a Constructivist theoretical platform, this dissertation will look at the example of “Brexit” in order to examine the manner in which identitarian tendencies are marring the spectrum of “Europeanisation,” by projecting narratives that are centred around the primacy of the nation-state (Bootle, 2016, p. 88; Liddle, 2014, p. 72). “Europeanisation” is a socially constructed mechanism based on the delivery of effective forms of governance for the European continent in the realm of economic and, to some extent, political integration (Zahariadis, 2008, p. 221).

The Constructivist theoretical blueprint emphasises the socially constructed nature of the narrative that sustains the legitimacy of a particular political and economic system (Zehfuss, 2002, p. 63). In this context, the narrative of national identity had a significant impact on the “Brexit” project and the rise of populist movements across Europe (Charter, 2012, p. 33). Using Constructivist theory, this dissertation will argue that “Brexit,” along with other manifestations of populism in Europe, is based on a Gemeinschaft construction of society, which highlights the shared social bonds, norms, values and morals held by members of a particular national group (Zehfuss, 2002, p. 69). This socially-constructed view of “national identity,” epitomised in the decision of the British electorate to exit the European Union in June 2016, clashes with the Gesellschaft approach projected by the European elites, which highlights the importance of rational calculation in aspects related to economic and political integration (Burchill (ed.), 2005, p. 70). The process of “Europeanisation” is dictated by the shared values and cultural affiliation that are part and parcel of a common European identity (MacShane, 2016, p. 31). From this standpoint, it is possible to argue that the re-emergence of the concept of “national identity,” as it transpires from Brexit and the rise of populist movements across Europe, is the manifestation of the top-down nature of European integration (Duff, 2016, p. 113; Liddle, 2014, p. 29). The identitarian narrative that has become so prominent in the European political space in recent years constitutes a rejection of the project of “Europeanisation,” which is seen as an elite-driven project that is focused on economic issues, rather than on the preservation of the specific cultural and social characteristics of each European nation (Verhofstadt, 2017, p. 40). The main argument to be put forward by this dissertation is that “Brexit” is a phenomenon that ought to be interpreted from a Constructivist perspective. This is because the emerging concept of “national democracy” that is influencing the system of government in Europe is based on the primacy of identity issues over material considerations (Zehfuss, 2002, p. 65). As such, there is an increased willingness to adopt a system of political representation that is based on a primordialist concept of citizenship. The concept of “national democracy” that emerges from the clash between the identitarian movement and the process of “Europeanisation” is aimed at rejecting some of the modernist elements attached to the civic concept of citizenship, which is highly influenced by the functionalist orientation of the process of economic and political integration directed by the European Union.


This dissertation will make use of primary data related to “Brexit” and the rise of identitarian movements across Europe, including statements produced by relevant actors and political and economic reports related to the study of these phenomena. The themes that are identified from the analysis of the primary data will be examined through the theoretical lens of Constructivism, particularly as it concerns the projection of certain narratives as instruments for the social construction of reality. Furthermore, there will be an emphasis on the way in which the concept of identity serves to entrench certain political choices (Jackson and Sorensen, 2007, p. 81). At the same time, this dissertation will also refer to the impressive array of secondary sources that exists in the areas of study that are being investigated.

This dissertation employs a qualitative methodology in order to evaluate the different variables concerning the conflation of “Brexit” with rise of identitarian movements across Europe. This dissertation will use a thematic approach, which consists in identifying the different themes that arise from the examination of the primary and secondary sources related to the subject matter (Boyatzis, 1998, p. 92). The thematic approach is a useful method for identifying certain ideas that are tacitly or explicitly incorporated within the data that is being examined (Crabtree, 1999, p. 44). It pays to highlight that the themes that emerge from the analysis of the data are coded for the purposes of examining the relationship that exists between them and the manner in which they impact on the interpretation of the subject matter under study (Creswell, 2007, p. 71). One of the most significant benefits that transpires from the use of the thematic approach is that the construction of empirical models of interpretation emerges from the data itself, rather than being the artificial response to some pre-existing theoretical template. The methodology to be used in this dissertation will emphasise the significant link that exists between the phenomenological facet of qualitative research and the thematic approach (Boyatzis, 1998, p. 98). The perceptual connotations that are attached to the subject matter that is being investigated are of paramount important for the purposes of ascertaining the salience of the themes that are being identified (Wendt, 1992, p. 393). This is an important facet of the methodology to be used in this dissertation. The issues that will be investigated have a great deal of subjectivity attached to them. The evolving nature of these issues entails that the methodology to be employed has to be able to identify the relevant discoursive aspects pertaining to “Brexit,” the identitarian movement and the process of “Europeanisation” (Risse, 2010, p. 32). The fluid nature of the subject of “Brexit” and the concept of national identity in twenty-first century Europe means that the study of the themes identified in the examination of the data will have to employ an inductive approach (Kaufman, 2013, p. 134; Creswell, 2007, p. 60). An inductive orientation to the study of the clash between identitarian undercurrents and the concept of “Europeanisation” will facilitate the identification of the most relevant aspects concerning “Brexit,” without being committed to a strict taxonomical blueprint (Crabtree, 1999, p. 97).

Research aims and questions

The main research hypothesis that will guide the writing of the dissertation is that “Brexit” is a phenomenon that exemplifies in an eloquent manner the clash between the narrative of national identity and the top-down approach to “Europeanisation” instigated by the European Union elite. The research to be carried out in order to investigate this hypothesis will be supplemented by the following research questions. First, what are the specific social, cultural and political elements that inform the “Brexit” narrative and in which way are these differentiated from other identitarian discourses taking place elsewhere in Europe? This research question will be answered by making reference to the will of British electorate to extricate itself from the political aspects of the project of European integration.  Second, is “Brexit” the result of rational calculation or the ultimate outcome of a social narrative based on the ontological differentiation between the United Kingdom and the European continent? This research question will be answered by making reference to the discoursive instruments propagated by large segments of the British media and the political establishment in the last twenty years in order to justify the process of disentanglement from the European political project. Third, is “Brexit” indicative of the emergence of a new conception of right-wing politics, based on the idea of a national democracy that is configured according to an indigenous rather than an universalist criterion? This research question will be answered by evaluating the different ways in which right-wing populist movements across Europe react to the process of “Europeanisation” imposed by the European Union.

This dissertation has three main objectives. The first aim of the dissertation is to identify the main factors that drive the clash between “Europeanisation” and the identitarian movement across Europe. In order to do so, this dissertation will examine the main aims of the project of economic and political integration in Europe and the main grievances voiced out by the segments of society willing to see a return to more traditionalist forms of nationhood. The second aim of the dissertation is to establish the main reasons behind the vote to leave the European Union in June 2016. This objective will be fulfilled by examining the social narrative projected by the Leave campaign and the main themes related to the emergence of an identitarian movement in the United Kingdom. The third aim of the dissertation is to explore the mechanisms that sustain the clash between the process of “Europeanisation” and the rise of populist identitarian movements across Europe. In this context, there will be an analysis of the economic, social and cultural disjunctures that were brought forth by the age of globalisation and the process of integration propagated by the European Union.

Chapter outline  

The first chapter of the dissertation will tackle the main aspects related to “Brexit” and the process of “Europeanisation” instigated by the European elites. This chapter will also outline the main facets of the concept of national identity in twenty-first century Europe. Chapter two will introduce a literature review of the subjects that are being examined, identifying the gaps that are prevalent in the scholarly research regarding the clash between “Europeanisation” and “national identity.” The literature review will also outline the main tenets of Constructivism as well as the historical and political circumstances that led to the vote to exit the European Union in June 2016. The third chapter of the dissertation will delve into the narrative construction of “Brexit,” looking at the propagation of Eurosceptic rhetorical instruments on large segments of the British media and the political establishment since the signing of the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992. Chapter four will analyse the way in which the social narrative propagated by “Brexit” is associated to the rise of an identitarian movement across Europe. This section of the dissertation will examine in which manner this state of affairs has been facilitated by the push for economic and political integration on the part of the European elites. The fifth chapter of the dissertation will tackle the idea of “national democracy,” as a social construct that could end up dictating the tone of right-wing politics in twenty-first century Europe. This section of the dissertation will highlight the idea that the negative impact of the age of globalisation and the process of “Europeanisation” amongst the lower middle class across Europe could prompt the national elites to recalibrate the concept of democracy according to a less inclusive criterion. Chapter six will summarise the findings of the dissertation and outline the main implications of “Brexit” in the context of the clash between populist identitarianism and “Europeanisation” in twenty-first century Europe.



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Burchill, S. (ed.) (2005) Theories of International Relations, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke and New York

Charter, D. (2012) Au Revoir, Europe: What if Britain left the EU? Biteback Publishing, London

Connolly, B. (2013) The Rotten Heart of Europe: Dirty War for Europe’s Money, Faber & Faber, New York

Crabtree, B (1999) Doing Qualitative Research, Sage, Newbury Park, CA

Creswell, J. (2007) Qualitative Inquiry & Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA

Duff, A. (2016) After Brexit: a new association agreement between Britain and Europe, Policy Network, London

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Verhofstadt, G.  (2017) Europe’s Last Chance: Why the European States Must Form a More Perfect Union, Basic Books, New York

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Zehfuss, M. (2002) Constructivism in International Relations: The Politics of Reality, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

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