Theorising Regionalism and External Influence: A Situation-structural Approach


This paper proposes an innovative theoretical approach to the analysis of regionalism by taking the impact of extra-regional relations and the influence of external actors explicitly into account. The major motivation for this research stems from the observation of a new wave of regionalism that emerged after the end of the Cold War parallel to increasing globalisation. In contrast to expectations of mainstream integration theories, many of these recent regional integration organisations comprise less developed countries and are located in the Southern Hemisphere despite allegedly unfavourable preconditions. While regionalisms in the South have nevertheless come into existence and exhibit various degrees of success, there is evidence that institutionalised regional cooperation projects in southern regions seem to be comparatively unstable and not always entirely under control of regional actors. Against the background of this puzzling observation, this paper proposes a theoretical framework that attends to this phenomenon and aims to answer the following questions: What explains the emergence, dynamics and effectiveness of regionalism in these regions? If regional circumstances remain constant, do extra-regional relations and external actors have a decisive impact in this respect? While the European integration process has been well scrutinised, systematic and theory-driven research on regionalism outside Europe is still widely missing. By applying cooperation theory and a situation-structural approach to analyse and explain regional integration, the author argues that prevalent patterns of strong and asymmetric interdependence between regional and extra-regional actors may impact the structure of genuine regional problematic situations and put external actors in a position to (in-)directly influence the likeliness and progress of institutionalised regional cooperation. Since strong and asymmetric relations generally prevail between the developed North and the less developed South, regionalisms in the latter regions are likely to be more exposed to external influence. Central assumptions and hypotheses deduced from this theoretical model will be elucidated by brief plausibility probes on empirical examples from the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

© Johannes Muntschick 2012

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Johannes Muntschick is research fellow and lecturer at the Department of International Politics at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz. He is a PhD Candidate at the Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg.