When discussing regionalism, the usual notion of the concept might refer to the geographical features of regions. It is easy to refer to regions based on geological similarities and geographical proximities. However, if we define regions based on such a basic level of depth, then we would be ignoring the political, economic, and cultural properties of the locations on the globe. This opens up new criteria for a region’s boundaries.

Regions can be defined from a political point of view since it concerns the political borders of territory that sovereign states have, and of the relationships that states have with other countries in close proximity. This lets us see regions as political systems in a sense, as the definition of a particular region now largely depends on the conscious political decision surrounding it. Of course, political systems are not without social structures and social systems. On top of all this, geographical characteristics of regions cannot be separated completely when describing other types of regions. Regions are, therefore, areas in the globe with their own distinct and definitive characteristics.

From this point of view, regionalism is a political ideology. This political ideology involves political and social systems. Political decisions might not always follow geographical and other characteristics. This can mean that regionalism can involve systems that are formed with one or more regions of other types, or even of multiple political regions. Where politics is involved, the economy and culture are not far behind.

Some examples will help to clarify what all of this means. Regions such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) are considered to be supper regions because they are organizations (i.e. political systems) formed from countries from different regions. Similarly, the Visegrad Group, the Shanghai Group, the Baltic Council of Ministers, or the Mercosur, are considered to be microregions or subregions, since these organizations are formed from countries while remaining within a smaller part of another region. This ultimately means that different types of regions can intersect and coexist and one region can encompass multiple other types of regions. Different terms have been used to differentiate among these regions’ functions and purposes, such as economic blocs, nuclear blocs, military alliances, security blocs, trade blocs, etc.(Väyrynen, 2003)(Denhardt, 1971).

The idea of regionalism has evolved from that of the pre-Cold War era. Previously, regions were a closed system, involving relaxed interactions among the countries within the system, but strict interactions with countries that were outside those systems. The focus was less on trade and more on security. After the cold war, the focus shifted in reverse. With more focus on trade, regionalism became involved with systems that were more relaxed and open. This can be seen as a first step towards lessening the need for a system such as a region, to begin with. One of the end goals can be seen as the entire globe being one massive system of an open market. This trend of new and existing regions towards that direction has been termed as the new regionalism(Hettne B., 2005)(Hettne & Söderbaum, 2000).

This simplistic view may obscure some of the nuanced details, but can serve as an introduction to the concept.


Denhardt, R. B. (1971, December 1). The Organization as a Political System. Western Political Quarterly, 24(4), 675-686. doi:10.1177/106591297102400404

Hettne, B. (2005). Beyond the ‘New’ Regionalism. New Political Economy, 10(4), 543-571. doi:10.1080=13563460500344484

Hettne, B., & Söderbaum, F. (2000, December). Theorizing the Rising of Regionness. New Political Economy, 5(3), 457-473.

Väyrynen, R. (2003). Regionalism: Old and New. International Studies Review, 25-51.