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"New" and "Old" Regionalism Theories

(Apr. 2, 2008) Regionalism studies are those studies that focus on the middle layer of governance, between the state and the global, that emerge out of concerted processes of regional integration like the EU, the Arab League, NAFTA, CARICOM, and ASEAN. The first two theoretical explanations of this process in South America that we will discuss are New and Old Regionalism.

New Regionalism is an outgrowth of the process of globalization "based on the idea that one cannot isolate trade and economy from the rest of society…" The thesis that social development must accompany economic development for integration efforts to succeed stands in contrast to "Old" Regionalism, (also known as "first generation" regionalism, or "classic" regionalism) which was primarily seen as a process of economic integration. According to De Lombarede, this movement began to gather speed in the late 1980s and is associated with changes in Eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War.

Classic regionalism has been defined as "a theory of co-operative hegemony" and a "planned merger of national economies through cooperation" with the State as the primary reference point. This is a teleological view that believes that increased economic cooperation leads to increased political cooperation between two or more nations and that states are less likely to go to war if they have high levels of economic and commercial interdependence.

As these theories apply to Latin America, Caballero says,

"Studies of Latin American regional integration follow two strands of thought. The first, which I refer to as the ‘classic,’ interprets regionalism as a logical process: a continuum in which economic cooperation would lead to economic union and eventually to political union. The process is seen mainly as intergovernmental. The second current, the new regionalism studies, conceptualises the process as a constructed multilayered space in which different regionalising actors struggle to impose their discourse on the regional agenda."

A key difference between the two theories is who is considered a relevant actor. As mentioned, in classic regionalism the Nation-State is the preeminent actor, while new regionalism proponents hold that non-state actors like multinational corporations, non-governmental organizations, and other interested social groups, must be considered when analyzing how and why regions choose to integrate. With this claim, new regionalists also challenge the traditional theories of realpolitik in international relations by recognizing new, multidimensional actors, with varied and complex interests, on whom the threat of coercion has little effect.

The current dispute between the multinational corporation Exxon and the state of Venezuela is a good example of this issue because it challenges traditional theories of international relations. The conflict is a dispute between two fundamentally different entities; one is a for—profit corporation and the other is a nation-state; however, in today's world of international finance, both Venezuela and Exxon become legitimate actors in a dispute where violence is unable to play a decisive role. Even if Venezuela wanted to use violence to coerce Exxon's corporate management to drop its lawsuit, it would have to invade Irving, Texas in the U.S. – a third and unrelated actor – to achieve its goals. In this instance, violence cannot play a definitive role in international relations.

Interestingly though, new regionalism is about helping the nation-state reassert control in international relations. This is achieved through a controlled and careful insertion in the international market, through some type of regional alliance, with explicit social guarantees to ensure that governments retain control over the issues that most affect their citizens. By scaling back their exposure to global influences and replacing them with a relatively more manageable regional exchange, new regionalists argue that smaller states who might struggle to impose their will in international forums alone are able to increase their leverage on a local level. The new regional group becomes the agent of negotiation in future contacts with other global powers, thus allowing the smaller state to project its shared interests more effectively.

Also, Interestingly, both new and old regionalism theories of South American integration place the impetus for regional integration on foreign actors. According to Soderbaum, classical regionalism in Latin America originates from the European experience and the process of the formation of the European Union (EU), while Gamble and Payne say that new regionalism theories focus on the hegemonic role of the U.S. in Latin America as the catalyst of the current process of integration.

A criticism of these two stances is made by Caballero who notes that neither new or old regionalism are able to explain the historic attempts at regional integration before the post World War II European experience. This is a legitimate criticism especially considering the emphasis placed on the Bolivarian Pan-American movement in official literature; however, it is also important to recognize the profound effect the proposal and subsequent negotiations of the FTAA trade negotiations had as a catalyst on the current process.

The next two theories we will discuss are "Open" and "Closed" regionalism.

By Nathan Gill - Southern Affairs

Painting By Grant Wood "Sheaves of Corn" Oil on Wood Panes 1931

[1] Van Langenhov, Luk, Isabella Torta, and Ana Cristina Costea. The Ascent of Regional Integration Paper presented at the High-Level Symposium “Social Dimensions of Regional Integration Organized by UNESCO, MERCOSUR, GASPP and UNU-CRIS. United Nations University, Comparative Regional Integration Studies programme (UNU-CRIS): Montevideo 21-23 Feb. 2006.[2] De Lombarede and Luis Jorge Garay. The New Regionalism in Latin America and the Role of the U.S.: Paper presented at the International Symposium on "New Linkages in Latin America: Economic Integration and Regional Security", Session 4: Challenges for the Economic Integration in Latin America. Sophia University and the Japan Center for Area Studies: Tokyo 28 Mar. 2006: 3. [3] Pendersen, T. Cooperative Hegemony: Power, Ideas and Institutions in Regional Integration. Review of International Studies. 28. 677-696. 2002: 677.[4]Hettne, Björn. Beyond the 'New' Regionalism. New Political Economy 10. 4. 543-571. 2005: 547. [5] Carrión, Francisco. Personal Interview. Quito 28 Jan. 2008 and Romero Cevallos, José Emilio. Personal Interview. Lima 27 Feb. 2008. [6] Caballero, José. Problematising Regional Integration in Latin America: Regional Identity and the Enmeshed State—the Central American Case. UNU-CRIS Working Papers. Feb. 2007: 1. [7] For more background on this issue see Miller Llana, Sara. "Exxon fights Chávez' Venezuela for compensation in courts." Christian Science Monitor. 11 Feb. 2008. Online. 1 Apr. 2008. [8] Yeates, Nicola and Bob Deacon. Globalism, Regionalism and Social Policy: Framing the Debate. Paper Presented at the High-Level Symposium "Social Dimensions of Regionalism" International Forum on the Social Sciences – Policy Nexus. UNESCO: Montevideo 21-23 Feb. 2006. [9] Soderbaum, F. Introduction: Theories of New Regionalism. In F. Soderbaum & T. M. Shaw (Eds.), "Theories of New Regionalism: A Palgrave Reader." New York:Palgrave. 2003: 4. [10] Gamble, A., & Payne, A. The World Order Approach. In F. Soderbaum & T. M. Shaw (Eds.), "Theories of New Regionalism: A Palgrave Reader." New York: Palgrave. 2003: 54. [11] Caballero, 2007: 5. [12] The U.S. influence is made explicit in the "Comunicado de Brasilia" that states, "Se decidió intensificar la coordinación de las posiciones negociadoras de los países suramericanos en el contexto de la perspectiva de conformación del Área de Libre Comercio de las Américas (ALCA)." This is a clear recognition of the protagonistic role of the U.S., whether intentional or not, in the current integration process. This issue will be discussed at greater length later on.


  1. Nathan - As a regional planner in the U.S. since 1973, regionalism was supposedly what Councils of Government/Regional Planning Commissions were promoting. Problem was, the boundaries never seemed right. Academics were always looking for a perfect set of boundaries. I began this newsletter to consider how cross-boundary cooperation was going on. In my own region, the Northern Shenandoah Valley, I attributed progress to "regional community" being formed among the counties, cities and towns. As I view it now, its all geo-politics at different scales. A link to this post will be in the April 9, 2008 issue of Regional Community Development News. It will be on-line April 10 at Please visit, check the tools and consider a link. Tom


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