During the first week of November, the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) had the honour to host a conference on comparative regionalism in partnership with the Research College (KFG) “The Transformative Power of Europe” at the Free University Berlin.
KFG-directors Prof. Tanja Börzel and Prof. Thomas Risse together with GovInn director Prof. Lorenzo Fioramonti and senior research fellow Dr. Frank Mattheis combined forces to bring together authors of the recently published Oxford Handbook of Comparative Regionalism with experts in Africa. After two similar events of the KFG in Singapore and Rio de Janeiro, Pretoria constituted to third and last stop for the authors to engage in a global dialogue.
GovInn invited colleagues from various South African universities with a track record in studying regionalism but also African experts with practical experience in supporting regional integration. The different panels addressed regionalism from a variety of angles by looking at specific governance issues (e.g. the politics of regional migration), geographic specificities (e.g. what makes regionalism in Africa distinct?) and the broader connections between regionalism across the globe (e.g. how do interregional diffusion processes work?). The debates touched on a broad variety of issues of central relevance to Africa, including the gap between formal regional organisations and regionalising actors on the ground.
The debates were also informed by the current higher education crisis in South Africa. The roundtables witnessed debates about ways to address Eurocentrism in the study of regionalism, not by provincialising regionalisms but by combining the production of regional knowledge with a dialogue between sub-disciplines and theories.
GovInn and the KFG turned out to be well placed to congregate scholars from the wider field of comparative regionalism so as to collectively engage with crossing the boundaries of their disciplines and regions. Yet, as discussed in the closing roundtable, the eclecticism produces new challenges for methodological rigour, funding schemes and selection criteria of academic journals. The momentum generated by the growing number of scholars interested in the study of comparative regionalism generates many new questions and challenges for the field to take into account as it further institutionalises in research programmes and state of the art.
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