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3 Introducing the Concept of Emergence to the Study of World Politics: Implications for Studying Regional Institutions

3 Introducing the Concept of Emergence to the Study of World Politics: Implications for Studying Regional Institutions

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THE ISSUE OF INSTITUTIONAL EMERGENCE IN EAST ASIA: AN INTRODUCTION



15



generated transformations and forms of incremental change. Critical realists emphasize that social structures cannot be regarded as fixed, but should

rather be seen as continuous processes of reproduction and/or transformation. Lawson, for instance, argues that “social items…must be understood as processes, as reproduced structures of interaction, with change

recognized not as (or not only as) an external happening, the result of an

external or exogenous shock, but as an integral part of what the system or

object in question is” (1997, 171). Given that the idea of an exclusively

East Asian grouping had already been formulated prior to the outbreak

of the Asian financial crisis in the terms set down in Mahathir’s EAEC

proposal, it is reasonable to not only consider that crisis as an external

trigger but also to account for the endogenous processes and incremental

developments that shaped the regional architecture in this specific context

(see Streeck and Thelen 2005b).

The approach advanced here points to the subtle but significant difference between change and emergence (see Lichtenstein 2014).

Institutional changes or transformations occur through significant external shifts or incremental adaptions, which means they modify certain elements of existing structure or design in order to work more effectively.

As in the case of Asian regionalism, the trigger for such modifications is

often described in terms of crises. Emergence, on the contrary, is not simply another way to characterize such changes or transformations. It refers

rather to the process of inventing something new, meaning the creation

of a distinct regional institution and the structures associated with it. The

emergence of APT as the first exclusively East Asian institution symbolizes

such innovation in regional architecture. The trigger for it is thus linked

to particular visions of and aspirations to a novel regional order. From this

it follows that regional institutions can be understood as arising from individual interactions between states that are aimed at fulfilling a common

purpose or that are associated with a shared vision.

For the second identified shortcoming, then, a critical realist approach

understands reality as a stratified and open system of emergent entities

and accounts for new, irreducible properties and mechanisms therein. This

means that, instead of adhering to a functionalist perspective, the structure

or design of a regional institution can be defined rather in terms of its own

nature. Consequently, the process by which regional institutions come

into being can be understood as regards their unique emergent properties and powers, which I aim to identify in this book. Alongside the core

purposes or goals of a regional institution that characterize it as a whole, I



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argue that it is mainly due to its unique relational organization that it can

be regarded as an emergent entity. Institutional design is in this way reformulated from an emergentist perspective that accounts for the interplay of

intentional interactions and unintended consequences.

In this regard, this work also reconsiders the reflective capacities of

social actors and their ways of interacting that are unique to forms of

emergence in the social world. Although some authors in the emergence

debate do refer to the centrality of language and communication in social

interaction (e.g. Goldspink and Kay 2007; Sawyer 2005), the distinct role

of discourse has not been adequately considered yet. The critical realist

approach developed here specifies the ways of acting and interacting in

the international system in terms of social practices, and pays particular

attention to discourse by conceptualizing it as a core mechanism at work

in social emergence. In so doing, it contributes not only to the emergence

debate in the social sciences but also to a causal reading of discourse in IR

research as well (e.g. Banta 2012).

Considering the third shortcoming that IR studies based on regionalism or institutionalism share, a critical realist approach benefits from its

emergent ontology. It provides a means by which to theorize the complex

underlying structures and relations that bring about new forms of social

order, and furthermore acknowledges the irreducibility of the latter’s

emergent properties and powers. In this connection, it promotes a clear

definition of the relationship between structure and agency. According

to critical realists, “social structures, once produced, can endure and thus

be clearly distinct from and not just instantiated by the agents which may

encounter or inhabit them” (Rivas 2010, 219).

While social structures are thus irreducible to agents and their behavior,

they do not exist independently of those agents’ conceptions of what they

are doing and of the social actions that they govern—they can, in fact, be

reproduced or transformed by the latter. They are real, however, and can

thus be understood as an emergent level of reality (see Jessop 2005; Kurki

2008). In this regard, “emergence means that although the more complex

levels of reality, for example, societies, presuppose the more basic or less

complex levels, for example, people, explanations of them are not reducible to the other” (Wight 2006, 37). Such ontological issues are key to

understanding the emergence of regional institutions in the international

system, and should be addressed in advance of dealing with epistemological questions as to how we can best study them.

In the course of developing the critical realist approach running through

this book, I also aim to refine some of the critical realist arguments to further



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advance such research in IR and the social sciences. One main concern is

that, since critical realism is preoccupied with the reproduction and transformation of social relations, it needs to be more involved with the role of

language and the production of meaning (Fairclough et al. 2004). I see here

a clear assignment for critical realism, for it to engage with discourse and

introduce a critical discourse analysis (CDA) so as to study the latter as a core

mechanism at work in the emergence of regional institutions in East Asia.

My ambitions in this book are twofold: The predominant one is to

introduce the concept of emergence as a novel perspective by which to

understand and study regional institutions. On these grounds, the critical

realist approach advanced here is essentially philosophical and theoretical in

nature. Theory is regarded as guiding research instead of being subordinate

to particular methods or ways of conducting it. In this regard, the approach

is furthermore developed in an interdisciplinary manner, as it necessarily

draws on literature from outside IR.  It brings distinct, but still compatible, theoretical frameworks into dialogue with each other so as to build a

comprehensive and multilayered reconceptualization of the emergence of

regional institutions in East Asia. Alongside IR literature, this study thus

draws on insights also from Emergentism, Complexity Theory, Sociology,

Organization and Management Studies, and Critical Discourse Studies.

An additional aspiration of the book is to analyze social emergence

using the concrete example of regional institutions in East Asia via APT

and the EAS. I acknowledge that there is already a distinguished literature

on the philosophy of science and its implications for research in IR (e.g.

Jackson 2011; Kurki 2008; Wight 2002), as well as noteworthy attempts

to develop guidelines for distinct critical realist research (e.g. Carter and

New 2004; Danermark et  al. 2002; Edwards et  al. 2014), but too few

attempts to incorporate empirical cases as a way to illustrate both have

been made to date. Explicitly this means that while studies focusing on

methodological consequences rarely demonstrate their applicability to

concrete empirical work, studies looking at specific cases often lack overt

ontological underpinnings.

With this in mind, I am aiming with this book to fill this gap by giving consideration to three interrelated components within the research

process: First, engaging in a philosophical reflection on key concepts relevant to this work by building upon critical realist emergent ontology

so as to investigate the concept of emergence (Chaps. 2 and 3). Second,

this critical realist approach consequently supports the theorizing of social

emergence in the international system throughout the research process,

by paying close attention to the associated methodological implications



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thereof (Chaps. 3 and 4). Third and finally, it applies the developed

approach to a concrete empirical case—that of institutional emergence in

East Asia (Chaps. 5 and 6).



1.4



A GUIDE TO THE STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK



The critical realist approach to institutional dynamics in East Asia advanced

here proceeds in two parts, ones whose structure follows the explanatory

logic of critical realism (see Danermark et al. 2002, 109–111). This identifies the research process as a pathway from the concrete to the abstract

and back again to the concrete. Part I seeks to develop a conceptualization of social emergence in the international system using the example of

regional institutions in East Asia. Chapter 1, here, started in the concrete

by describing the complex phenomenon of the emergence of regional

institutions in East Asia, thus being the research interest of this book.

Chapter 2 introduces critical realism as a philosophy of science and the

metatheoretical basis of this book, specifically by illustrating key concepts

and its methodological implications for the social sciences and the study

of world politics. Based on the critical realist emergent ontology, I argue

here that regional institutions can be understood as emergent entities of

the international system that arise out of their underlying relations and

mechanisms, but are not simply reducible to any of their parts.

As it is impossible to analyze the emergence of regional institutions in

East Asia in all its complexity, Chaps. 3 and 4 perform the task of relating

the concrete to the abstract. This means that, through analytical resolution, the components most relevant to this work are specified and then

described anew. In Chap. 3, I develop a social ontology of international

relations that identifies the main entities, parts, and relations that constitute the international system, specifically by looking at theory as an interdisciplinary enterprise. In this manner, I redescribe regional institutions as

forms of self-organization by states to achieve certain emergent properties

and powers. By means of retroduction, such properties and powers that

are unique to regional institutions are identified. I distinguish between two

groups of such properties, so as to uphold the difference between a regional

institution as a whole and its particular relational organization: purposive

emergent properties that are directed toward the achievement of common

goals or objectives, and the organizational emergent properties that refer

to institutional organization and operations in terms of institutional design.

As the comparison between different theories and abstractions in this

chapter also shows, emergence in social systems differs from emergence



THE ISSUE OF INSTITUTIONAL EMERGENCE IN EAST ASIA: AN INTRODUCTION



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in natural systems in considerable ways. On these grounds, Chap. 4 takes

the reflective capacities of social actors and their forms of interaction into

account. This it does by examining the relevance of language, as a central

form of social interaction, and accordingly the particular role of discourse

in forms of social emergence. As one element of social practice, I define discourse as a core mechanism that—in connection with other (non-discursive)

ones—is at work in social emergence. Given that discourse relates to the

broader context in which it is situated, I thus introduce CDA as a possible

method with which to study discourse as a mechanism of emergence. Then,

a finalized conceptualization of social emergence in the international system

using the example of regional institutions is presented.

Part II seeks to move from the abstract back to the concrete by exploring

the emergence of regional institutions in East Asia on the basis of APT and

the EAS. For this purpose, in Chaps. 5 and 6, I concretize and contextualize how discourse manifests itself in institutional emergence—that is, how it

figures in the regional institution’s purposive and organizational emergent

properties as well as how it (re)produces power relations by means of a

critical realist-informed CDA. Chapter 5 provides information on the cases,

the analytical framework, and the research process. Chapter 6 then presents and discusses the findings of the analysis according to the three main

research interests—purposive emergent properties, organizational emergent

properties, and institutional relations—and three corresponding nodal discourses—community building, openness, and complementarity. In Chap.

7, I examine the implications of rethinking regional institutions as emergent for the study of world politics, specifically by summarizing and critically

evaluating the main arguments and findings of the book.



1.5



NOTES



1. In this book, the notion of “East Asia” refers to the area encompassing

Southeast and Northeast Asia. The former thus includes the member states of

the ASEAN—namely, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar,

Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam—and the latter includes China,

Japan, and South Korea.

2. In following convention, for the academic discipline of International Relations,

capital letters are used and for international relations as the object of study of

this discipline lower case ones are used. I also use the term “world politics” to

describe the latter.

3. Critical realism provides the metatheoretical framework for this work (see Chap.

2). To clarify this at the outset, the term “realism” has entirely different meanings



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in the philosophy of science and in IR. If I refer to realism without any further

qualification, the term is being used in the philosophical sense; if used in the IR

sense, there will be a corresponding specification attached (e.g. “(IR) realism”).

4. The ideas underpinning this work were first formulated in papers presented in

the context of the ISA 53rd Annual Convention (Hoepfner 2012a) and the

2nd Joint International BISA-ISA conference (Hoepfner 2012b).

5. Prior to this, East Asian countries had only been involved in such frameworks

under a broader Asia-Pacific conceptualization of the region. The EAEC proposal was significant in that it was the first articulation of an exclusively East

Asian grouping, and prefigured the ongoing debate about inclusion and exclusion in the region. Although there were strong objections by the USA to the

proposal and concerns by Asian nations (e.g. Japan) about jeopardizing its ties

and relationship with the superpower, ASEAN leaders generally saw value in

the idea and continued working on it in informal meetings (see also, Beeson

2009; Emmers et al. 2010; Terada 2003).



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CHAPTER 2



A Critical Realist Approach to the Study

of World Politics



The creation of regional institutions has hitherto been characterized and

studied as a crucial part of regionalism in world politics (e.g. Fawcett

and Hurrell 1995; Hurrell 1995). As one of the world’s most dynamic

and diverse regions, East Asia represents a salient case of the interplay

of various such integrative processes (see Rozman 2012; Terada 2012).

Consequently, questions have been generated about whether East Asian

regional institutions matter (and if so, in what sense), if they have any

impact on international relations in the region and beyond, and to what

extent they are effective (or not).

These issues actually concern a related, underlying question: namely,

whether regional institutions have causal effects independent of their

member states. Although regional institutions are constituted by individual actors, they act to some degree upon the latter’s actions and behavior.

At the same time, it is also always individuals who are responsible for how

institutions act and what it is that they do. How can institutions, then,

simultaneously constrain their members? Further, how is it possible that

actors can modify institutions while at the same time being conditioned

by them? Can institutions in fact be said to be real entities, or are only

the individuals that constitute them real? These questions all concern the

ontological status of institutions, which is crucial to consider before even

asking how we can study them.



© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016

M. Wagner, Social Emergence in International Relations,

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-33551-3_2



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