Regions and Regionalism by Fredrik Söderbaum

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Fredrik Söderbaum is an associate professor in the School of Global Studies (SGS) at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. He is also an associate senior research fellow at the United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies (UNU-CRIS), Bruges, Belgium. Most of his publications are on the topic of regions and regionalism, African politics, and the EU’s external relations.

The prevailing diversity is a sign of both weakness and fragmentation…”
 
“The policy debate is plagued by idealism about the benefits of regional organizations and more or less naïve assumptions about what they can achieve…”
 
The socially constructed nature of regions implies that they are politically contested, and there are nearly always a multitude of strategies and ideas about a particular region which merge, mingle, and clash…”
 
The role of procedures, symbols, ‘summitry,’ and other discursive practices of regionalism in Asia, Europe, and North and Latin America suggests a very large potential for intriguing comparison and theory development…”

Over the last two decades there has been a veritable explosion of research and policy discussion on regional integration and regionalism all over the world. Some of the most influential thinkers in the field emphasize that regions and regionalism are now central to global politics. For instance, Peter Katzenstein rejects the “purportedly stubborn persistence of the nation-state or the inevitable march of globalization,” arguing that we are approaching a “world of regions.” Similarly, Amitav Acharya examines the “emerging regional architecture of world politics,” whereas Barry Buzan and Ole Weaver speak about a “global order of strong regions.” “Regions are now everywhere across the globe and are increasingly fundamental to the functioning of all aspects of world affairs from trade to conflict management, and can even be said to now constitute world order,” Rick Fawn writes.

While there is a strong tendency in both policy and academia to acknowledge the importance of regions and regionalism, the approach of different academic specializations varies considerably, and regionalism/regional integration means different things to different people in different contexts. Such diversity could be productive. However, the prevailing diversity is a sign of both weakness and fragmentation. We are witnessing a general lack of dialogue among academic disciplines and regional specializations (European integration, Latin American, Asian, and African regionalism) as well as theoretical traditions (rationalism, institutionalism, constructivism, critical and postmodern approaches). There is also thematic fragmentation in the sense that various forms of regionalism, such as economic, security, and environmental regionalism, are only rarely related to one another. Such fragmentation undermines further generation of cumulative knowledge as well as theoretical innovation. It also leads to unproductive contestations, among both academics and policy makers, about the meaning of regionalism, its causes and effects, how it should be studied, what to compare and how, and not least, what are the costs and benefits of regionalism and regional integration… (purchase article…)

 

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