The global political economy of regionalism: beyond European and North American conceptual cages

Ernesto Vivares and Cheryl Martens

Introduction: debates and methodological orientations

The debate concerning the political and economic nature of regionalism is extensive. Supporters and detractors of both progressive and neoliberal approaches to regionalism have long based their arguments on underlying assumptions about the outcomes ot the reciprocal and dynamic interactions between world order, regionalisms, and development. For some, this is a matter ot which theoretical perspectives are right or wrong. For others, it is a problem ot methodology. Indeed, the academic discussion crosses disciplinary boundaries and theoretical perspectives, refraining, from different angles, the form in which the research is done, in what Burgess resumes as the role of the theory in research (1982).

Few scholars would deny that social knowledge production in the International Political Economy research interconnects with existent power relations. Several authors argue that differences and struggles are inherent to the field of International Political Economy (IPE), and that diversity for the basis of its growth (Cox and Schechter 2002; Dunne, Hansen, and Wight 2013: 406). Hence, while some theorists emphasize hypothesis testing, covariation and causality as key to academic knowledge in the fields of IPE and regionalism, others argue that it is only via critical reflection and developing better interpretations of reality that we can have a better understanding ot the political economy of regionalism.

These contrasting epistemological approaches, however, share similar historical roots regarding the production ot knowledge, beyond the variety of parameters that make up their conceptual frameworks, based on the British/Pluralist, and mainstream North American IPE. For scholars in the field of IPE and regionalism, social scientific knowledge consists of a range of theoretical sources, research formats, a plurality of ideas, and any attempt to eliminate this diversity would reduce the essence of knowledge production and difference. The academic question is thus how scholars situate themselves concerning their definitions of “knowledge” and methodologies concerning regionalism, the role of theory' in research and the use of certain concepts that in turn bring specific formats of academic production (Jackson 2011). In other words, we need to evaluate whether the IPE of regionalism should focus on testing hypotheses and running correlations or also should examine the assumptions and premises that underlie the perspectives that nurture such hypotheses, to build knowledge and produce refined concepts (Dunne, Hansen, and Wight 2013).

Some main problems with the conceptual frameworks underlying dominant paradigms in the IPE of regionalism lay on their assumptions regarding the political and economic dynamics between regionalism and development in a changing the world order, as well as particular unrevised ontologies, concepts, or standard methodologies. These frameworks are often adopted and used without reviewing, analyzing, or debating their validity. However, the crises of the last 10 years have impacted on the dominant, neoliberal, and positivist models within academia. Moreover, that compels scholars to rethink the role of theory in research and how to grasp the rise of new regionalism, either benning and malign, forms of governance, and the inseperable relationship between conflicts and developments.

This chapter is concerned with identifying the dominant political and economic views behind the leading positions about regionalism, in terms ot how regional development is conceived and how these theoretical perspectives define the relationship between ideas, politics, and economics as a frame of development. Working along these lines makes it possible to identify a broader range and more eclectic approaches that can logically grasp and integrate diverse dimensions of development and regionalism. It also facilitates the contextual comprehension of divergent regionalist projects, modes, and levels of integration, as well as cooperation looking at a broader range of aspects, such as agency—structure, formal- and informal development, conflict and well-being, (Dunne, Hansen, and Wight 2013; Lake 2013; Payne and Phillips 2010; Sil and Katzenstein 2010). These lines broaden the vision concerning what we understand by critical political economy and the study of how reality is produced and how it has come to be so.

What we understand as “development,” for example, can thus be analyzed as based on normative and socio-historical and geographical assumptions, configurations of inseparable dynamic among ideas, politics, and economics, where integral issues, such as well-being and conflict, can be understood as taking place in a given historical context within a specific world order and geographical configurations. Yes, there is much that can be said in support of, or against the intellectual history of 1PE, as outlined by Eric Helleiner in this handbook.

What leads our discussion is a critical and pragmatic analytical search tor interpretations and approaches that allow us to bridge the gap between theories and methodology, and between mainstream IPE perspectives and regionalist research approaches. Therefore, we aim to examine how we might approach IPE regionalism research, ontologically and epistemologically, in a way that avoids the bias of the dominant Anglo-Saxon and Western mainstream approaches (Acharya 2011; Dunne, Hansen, and Wight 2013; Jackson 2011)

We contend that dominant regionalist approaches to rest, by and large, upon theoretical- methodological positions of different academic networks concerning definitions of world order, regionalism, and development. This chapter argues in favor of the concept that diversity, differences, and even confusion are part and parcel of analyzing the relationship between regionalism and the whole, and how the role ot theory in research is defined (Burgess 1982; Jackson 2011).

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