Current discourse among scholars and practitioners of international affairs focuses heavily on multilateral institutions such as the European Union (EU), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and Mercosur. Sixty years ago, these liberal institutions were lofty aspirations; today, these generally revered institutions often epitomize what many consider to be the peak of progress in regional cooperation. Yet, in their book, Region-Making and Cross-Border Cooperation: New Evidence from Four Continents, editors Elisabetta Nadalutti and Otto Kallscheuer make a compelling case that the modern focus on these “macro” institutions negates critical considerations of sub-national cross-border cooperation and sub-regionalism. Oftentimes, formal organizations may not even exist to accomplish sub-regional tasks. Even local actors such as regional governments or communities may imply coordinate on such issues as melting glaciers to local migratory patterns and enforcement. They approach this subject not by disparaging the role of large regional institutions, but rather by sharing the underreported stories of sub-national relationships that have made meaningful strides towards facilitating cooperation within countries. This unique take on regionalism compiles various academic accounts detailing the importance of cooperation at the micro-level (either locally or bilaterally), and focuses on local actors as a means of solving global disputes. Ultimately, the impressive variety and strength of each article’s case for leaning into the study of smaller regional institutions outweighs the structural disjointedness that may give some readers pause.
The below seeks to give the flavor of Nadalutti and Kallscheuer’s argument, as any justified account of their work can only be achieved by reading the book in full. They declare that their book aims to address and provide solutions for the weaknesses in the contemporary regionalism and regionalization literature (Nadalutti and Kallscheuer 1). The book is a collection of case studies that seek to give voice to various scholars in order to express the foundation of this seldom recognized scholarly perspective. Nadalutti and Kallscheuer believe that this compilation of essays can successfully “advance our understanding of how regions function and are made” (4). To refine the way we approach the discussion of regionalism more broadly, the authors choose articles that are humanistic in scope and address activities of border cooperation through a unique theoretical approach (163). They tackle topics from the European Union to comparing the China-Laos and China-Myanmar borders.
Though a difficult text to succinctly summarize, Region-Making and Cross-Border Cooperation is best understood by exploring its various authors’ backgrounds. In addition to both editors, each of the eleven other contributors come from predominantly academic backgrounds. This writer profile logically connects to the theoretical argument, yet the book would have benefitted from the inclusion of authors more directly involved in micro-regionalism, such as practitioners who themselves serve as members of regional and micro-regional organizations and institutions. Fortunately, the authors included represent seven different countries’ academic schools of thought so their general perspective does vary within the purely scholarly context. Perspectives span from cooperation on addressing erosion in southeastern Ghana to the study of the establishment of a special economic zone on the Iskandar-Malaysia border. Each author explains the diverse actors and relationships that characterize the important daily function of sub-regional decision making.
Nonetheless, their writing styles are, at times, painfully verbose. One sentence from James Wesley Scott’s article demonstrates this sort of language: “A reflective politics of cooperation would be based on an understanding of the EU’s international actorness as a learning and adaptation process, and would eschew static metanarratives of civilisational antagonism, national interest and geographic determinism” (115). The book, as a whole, is plagued with such lofty sentence structures to such an extent that practitioners may fail to clearly and effectively recognize the dynamic arguments laid out in each chapter.
This book’s audience book appears to be scholars seeking to refine their intellectual perspectives on a very specific topic in international affairs. While the book markets itself to a student audience, and while there are undoubtedly students who would benefit greatly from such a well put together work on regionalism, few students will find the book’s organization and diction accessible. For the average reader, trying to actively synthesize the content of the case studies is quite challenging, and I would have preferred greater contributions from the author, beyond just the introduction and conclusion chapters, to connect the essays together. Short introduction and conclusion sections before and after each case study explicitly declaring why the authors included the articles and how they built on previous ones would benefit the book’s overall clarity. The introduction and conclusion explained much of the author’s rationale in organizing the essays, but this insight is lacking throughout the rest of the book.
On the other hand, Region-Making and Cross-Border Cooperation does quite successfully integrate the fields of politics, sociology, geography, and economics in a genuinely interdisciplinary matter. The book is intentionally structured such that each essay can stand alone and, therefore, the reader is burdened with the responsibility or creating and drawing the overall conclusions of the essays as a collective. Therefore, scholars within a variety of fields may find value in this book, as long they have ample background and familiarity with regionalism.
In an era in which the European Union appears to be crumbling due to a lack of common mission, the dedication of Region-Making and Cross-Border Cooperation to finding what grounds local cross-national communication is a necessary endeavor. The dialogue surrounding how we talk about regions and their corresponding institutions needs to focus on the more local levels of cooperation. Region-Making and Cross-Border Cooperation may not be a clean-cut reading experience, but those who are willing to grapple with the collection of diverse essays will be pleased by the effort Nadalutti and Kallscheuer dedicated to compiling a survey on a field of study that will only become more relevant in the future.
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Bobby Vogel is an undergraduate student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.
Nadalutti, Elisabetta and Otto Kallscheuer. 2018. Region-Making and Cross-Border Cooperation. London ; New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.