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Revisiting regional integration theory: the state and normative elites in Central American regionalisation

By José Caballero


The thesis develops a Central Americanised model of regional integration by building on neofunctionalist concepts through the use of a constructivist approach. Distortions, strategic modification and stagnation phases of integration in that region are conventionally attributed, often implicitly, to the “unwillingness” of the governments. The problem with this approach, however, is that it neglects the role of what I identify as Normative Elites in the process. In order to overcome this limitation, the thesis formulates the concept of Social Will, conceptualised as the interplay of the ideas, identity and interest of the Central American normative elites—and it refers to the predisposition or disinclination of these elites to support the integration process. The formulation of social will leads the analysis to re-conceptualise the interaction between the state and normative elites. This reconsideration necessitates the elaboration of modified models of socialisation and norm diffusion—which I label Ideational Drive and Circumscribed-Statist respectively—to reflect certain Central American specificities. Empirically, the thesis assesses the existence and role of both political will and social will in Central America by using discourse analysis of a series of interviews and detailed readings of published position documents. Regarding political will, it identifies a latent integrative strategy and a significant ideational convergence among the participants in the study. It concludes that indeed in that region there is a fair degree of political will. This conclusion is partially supported by the uncovering of Constitutional Regionalism, or the constitutional bestowals of special citizenship status on nationals of other Central American countries, and the inclusion of specific constitutional provisions conducive to integration. \ud The thesis contemplates the existence of social will at two points: the reactivation of the Central American integration process during the 1990s, and in the 2005-08 period. In the first instance, the thesis identifies the leading role that normative elites, through economic groups, played in the reactivation of the process. In that sense, it argues that at that time there existed a degree of social will. In the second instance, the thesis identifies discursive differences among normative elites. One discourse conceives of the region from a Central Americanist view striving for the development of the region and crucially, its people. The other discourse is Instrumentalist aiming at improving the region’s competitive positioning in the global economy. This ideational incongruence signals a limited degree of social will. The thesis concludes by arguing that partial social will delimits and imposes meaning on the spaces wherein the political will could thrive. Hence the process experiences distortions, strategic modifications and stagnant phases

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