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The Principal-Agent Research Program in EU Studies: A Lakatosian Appraisal

Thomas Doleys

For almost a quarter century scholars have employed Principal-Agent Theory (PAT) in an effort to better understand EU politics and policy-making. Those who find value in the framework point to PAT's analytical focus. By concentrating on the behavioral dynamics associated with the delegation of authority from "principals" to "agents", PAT shines a light on the structural underpinnings of EU governance and, in so doing, provides unique insight into political processes and policy outcomes. But the application of PAT in EU studies also has its critics. Perhaps the most common criticism is that scholars too often apply PAT in a manner that is inconsistent with its core precepts. This leads to distorted analyses and faulty conclusions. This project seeks to interrogate these competing claims. We do so by way of a comprehensive appraisal of PAT in EU studies. This appraisal will be guided by standards established in Imre Lakatos' (1970) Methodology of Scientific Research Programs (MSRP). Lakatos' approach holds that theories should be judged on their ability to produce research programs that are progressive. To determine whether the PAT research program in EU studies is progressive, we ask, and endeavor to answer, two sets of questions. First, is the application of PAT in EU studies a scientific research program? Does it have the requisite elements? And second, does the application of PAT in EU studies have an identifiable developmental trajectory? If so, does the trajectory satisfy Lakatosian standards for theoretical, empirical and/or heuristic progress? If, on the other hand, it does not, what does this mean for the continuing value of the PAT research program?

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