Agenda setting and constructivism have established a very close relationship since the first studies on the transformation of an issue into a problem at the beginning of the 20th century. Why a problem becomes a problem is a complex process in which ideas and cognitive frames play a crucial role. Instead of studying the characteristics of actors participating in the agenda-setting process or the nature of the difficulties themselves – whether they are serious or mild, new or recurring, short-term or long-term – constructivist approaches concentrate on the framing of information as the crucial variable that explains why an issue makes it onto the political agenda. The aim of this chapter is to analyse the intimate, but very often implicit, relationship between constructivism and agenda setting. In the first section, the chapter presents the major claims and developments of constructivism with regard to the agenda-setting process in policy studies. In the second section, the chapter outlines the main controversies and shows how constructivism has tried to answer the limitations of other approaches in the analysis of the agenda-setting process. The third and final section develops a series of issues that might be addressed in possible research agendas, anticipating future developments.
Starting from a definition of constructivism and its uses in European integration, the chapter analyses the promises and limits of the approach for public policy studies at the EU level. The constructivist turn allowed for asking new questions with regard to European integration, such as, how do cognitive frames shape policies in the specific institutional context? Why do actors act as they do, beyond purely cost–benefit-based analysis, or in other words why do they define policy problems in a specific way? The answers to these questions helped to understand European integration not only as a federalist system, a functionalistic spillover project, or an intergovernmental entity whose progress is dependent on member state interests, but as a complex political system in which interests were embedded in cognitive frames. However, EU constructivist approaches slightly underestimated the power of actors to pick and choose adequate framings to defend their preferences. This limit was tackled in the most recent actor-centred perspective of constructivism which the chapter develops in more detail.