Content

Carmen Gebhard, Epilogue in:

Carmen Gebhard

Unravelling the Baltic Sea Conundrum, page 228 - 230

Regionalism and European Integration Revisited

1. Edition 2008, ISBN print: 978-3-8329-4084-3, ISBN online: 978-3-8452-1239-5 https://doi.org/10.5771/9783845212395

Series: Nomos Universitätsschriften - Politik, vol. 164

Bibliographic information
228 Epilogue Anything more to say about the theoretical incorporation of Baltic Sea Regionalism? This study has led the reader through an extensive process of theoretical abstraction and consideration, crossing various fields in political theory and trying to consider a wide array of different approaches and theoretical traditions. At this point, I am not planning to return to the single arguments in detail. Even less so, would it be appropriate (or viable indeed) to give a specific comment and outlook for each of the numerous models and approaches discussed earlier herein. However, there still seems to be room for a few critical comments, which might stimulate further discussion and research interest in these respects. By way of conclusion, I would like to turn once again to one of the most frequent theoretical models employed in the wider field of Baltic Sea Regionalism, which is, Social Constructivism. In the years following the end of the Cold War, hence the years, in which the phenomenon of “New Regionalism” emerged in Northern Europe, Social Constructivist contributions, literally flooded the field. As a result, arguing on Constructivist grounds has long since become a question of bon ton in Baltic Sea Regionalism studies. The defensive tone of early Constructivist contributions has even created the impression that only a Contructivist could be a ‘good’ Baltic Sea analyst. The region and its distinct structural development has indeed offered a veritable laboratory for theoretical excursions of any kind, and given the value-laden character of much political discourse in the BSR, it might well have been a veritable repository for Constructivist experiments. The Constructivist claim that everything in politics and society is (discursively) constructed, and thus also many elements within the complex of Baltic Sea Regionalism (most significantly, the region itself) has been proliferated in many different contexts of the Baltic Sea debate, but with consistent sophisticated eloquence and bold creativity. In fact, Constructivists have been among the most productive region ‘constructors,’ in the sense that they contributed abundantly to the process of ‘talking the region into existence.’ Constructivists were often inclined to infer a major constructive process or discursive region-building element where there was nothing more than an accidental misstatement, or simply, a bad uninspired speech. The polemic assertion that Constructivist scholars themselves have been more ‘constructive’ and virtually activist than any other allegedly eager ‘region-builder’ on the political scene would certainly be countered by some, pointing at the existing Constructivist claim that indeed, scholars, analysts and policy consultants are wellknown and established elements in the purported process of region-building. While for some individuals in the Constructivist camp that really have these informal affiliations with regional actors or activists this might certainly apply, the large amount of ‘outsiders’ in this regard must not be neglected. Many analysts that have published abundantly on the Baltic Sea actually operate from remote places, and just as myself, have no influence on or whatsoever role in the ‘real’ political process of regionbuilding. This large group of fervent ‘Constructivist outsiders’ (in terms of both their physical position and functional role in the process) have, turned the region into some sort of playground for reflectivist experiments and the literal ‘construction’ of elements of regionness that in essence, find little to null empirical evidence. The numerous problems about this sort of self-reproducing (allegedly empirical) research have been 229 extensively discussed in the introductory part of this study and have then been taken up again in the respective theoretical chapters. However, in short, the criticism is about declared constructivist studies that often end up in a maelstrom of self-affirmative theoretical constructs that have little empirical relevance or even legitimacy. Social Constructivists often just add alleged ‘empirical’ elements to their highly hypothetical monologues apparently expecting to create the impression of serious empiricist involvement that could help them to foil the permanent denunciations by realist and rationalist colleagues. I will not miss the chance of giving a concrete example. Constructivists have recurrently claimed that a main constitutive factor in the process of establishing the Baltic Sea area as a ‘region’ has been the tactical employment of argumentative strategies such as, most prominently, the so-called history tool. In line with this argumentation, alleged region builders (individuals or collective actors, officials or non-officials that are thought to be keen to establish or ‘construct’ a region) intentionally “write or speak the region into existence” by discursively availing themselves of so-called ‘raw material’ (i.e. any kind of argumentative substance that qualifies for the discursive construction of a region). A very common aspect that has been repeatedly ‘identified’ by many Constructivist analysts is, for example, the ‘Hanseatic’ argument. Region builders are said to employ this historical reference in a way that it serves them to ‘sell’ their regionalist ambitions under very different circumstances, and hence, under ‘false’ pretences. What sounds quite legitimate at first, does, in many cases, lack sufficient empirical evidence that would allow the analyst to actually infer a broader mechanism or phenomenon. While this has been done repeatedly and with few indications of honest self-criticism, hardly any exponent of the approach has ever set out to verify this claim in reference to a more comprehensive set of empirical data. Constructivists have produced very bold claims about the ‘social origins’ of Baltic Sea Regionalism. However, there have so far been no major attempts to produce quantifiable material to test these assertions on a larger scale. This study in turn has sought to compensate this lack of systematically gathered material. I would like to be brief on the respective outcomes. A comprehensive assessment of several regional organisations in the BSR and of their respective argumentative foundations has shown that about 28 out of 30 examples have never in the course of their existence, seen the employment of any sort of ‘constructed’ or ‘constructive’ element in political or social discourse. Most associations and initiatives founded their regionalist activities directly on nothing but ‘raw material’, conceivable challenges, apparent threats and environmental concerns. Very few of them rely on the ‘history argument’ or other argumentative tools that would stimulate the proliferation of certain spatial imaginations. What can be added to this evidence is that in essence, regions should not be thought to be (exclusively) ‘spoken into existence.’ If the pregiven physical and normative foundations do not allow for a comprehensive regionness, discourse cannot ‘construct’ any material entity whatsoever. Regional entities merge on the basis of certain pre-given empirical conditions. Discourse may be supportive of such activities or intents but it cannot assume any major (or even decisive) constructive function. The criticism about the production of analytical claims without sufficient empirical evidence could in some variation certainly be extended to many other theoretical approaches. Whether drawing upon a distant sociological approach can put things right, might be arguable. Parsons’ model certainly lacks empirical measurability no less than Social Constructivism does. However, I leave the latter standing here alone 230 since its numerous exponents operating in the field of Baltic Sea Studies have been so particularly keen to expose themselves in a way that has no parallel in terms of selfconfidence, which in essence, is not yet a flaw, and very often, arrogance, which is a flaw in any case.

Chapter Preview

References

Zusammenfassung

Seit 1989 ist es im Ostseeraum zu einer explosionsartigen Entstehung einer Vielzahl von regionalen Initiativen und Zusammenschlüssen gekommen. Der Ostseeraum weist bis heute eine europaweit einzigartig hohe Konzentration an kooperativen regionalen Strukturen auf. Diese bilden gemeinsam ein enges Netzwerk von Vereinigungen, die unter dem Überbegriff der "Ostseezusammenarbeit’ interagieren.

Diese Studie analysiert die Hintergründe dieses regionalen Phänomens oder so genannten „Ostsee-Rätsels“ auf Basis eines Vergleichs zwischen den Regionalpolitiken zweier staatlicher Schlüsselakteure, Schweden und Finnland, wobei der europäische Integrationsprozess als übergeordneter Bezugsrahmen für die Untersuchung dient.