Research Project

Interregional Integration and its Civil Societies: Transnational Mobilisation and Participation: The Asia-Europe People’s Forum and the Asia-Europe-Meetings

(No external funding)

The increasing economic and social integration between Asia and Europe is a topic of political, societal and economic concerns. One key driver of the process of interregional integration are the Asia-Europe Meetings (ASEM). ASEM represents a soft form of international governance based on multiple mechanisms of coordination and cooperation. Its major aim is deeper economic exchange between the countries of the world regions.

So far, little attention has been paid to the forms of and potential for civil society participation within interregional integration. This is not surprising since, although not an entirely new phenomenon, interregionalism as a mechanism for integration is only beginning to be explored as a significant political and economic process. Until now we know little about how and what kind of civil societies participate in this process. We also know little about their demands, political ideas and democratic visions. This student research project is aiming to fill this gap.

Researching strategies and background of different transnational civil societies is also relevant for studies of a “global civil society” which tends to focus on the role of global or transnational civil society as a whole, neglecting differences in ideologies, political agendas, internal democracy and resources. Transnational civil society in the context of ASEM, as in many other international settings, is no homogenous block. A multitude of different organizations participate through different ways: At a minimum within the self-organized Asia-Europe People’s Forum, the trade union forum, the meetings organized by the Asia-Europe foundation or the business forum (see figure below).

The project in specific focusses on the People’s Forum and its role and position in interregional integration: Who participates at the forum? Whom are those organizations representing?  What are major demands and strategies of influence? How are networks between European and Asian organizations constructed? What is the relationship between the People’s Forum and the official ASEM infrastructure?

These research questions will be answered by using a mixed-method approach of standardized interviews with participants at the different events, website analysis, and qualitative expert interviews.

Therewith the project contributes to research and debates about a global civil society in two ways. First, the project looks at the multiple forms of civil society organizations their agendas , participation strategies, and interactions. Second, in many cases “global civil society” in reality in fact means European or American non-governmental organizations lobbying or participating in international politics, often reproducing global inequalities by excluding movements and organizations from the global South. The case of the Asia-Europe meetings presents a good opportunity to pay attention to the Asian side and take a closer look at the construction of relationships between European and Asian organizations.

Overall, the project covers five different research packages:

1. Whose civil societies? Inter-organizational linkages and their local rootedness

Main questions: What kind of organizations participate at the people’s forum? Whom are they representing? In what kind of transnational networks are they embedded in? How transnational are they?

Method: Website analysis of participating organizations, interviews

2. Constituting transnational civil society. Social, political and ideational background of participants of the AEPF and other civil society events.

Main questions: Who participates in these events (socio-economic background, political views etc.)?

Method: standardized questionnaire

3. Democratic visions of civil society: ideas and propositions for reinventing interregional democracy

Main questions: What kind of democratic ideas and alternatives are presented at the forum? How is inclusion practiced at the forum?

Method: participatory action research

4. Civil society interactions between the people‘s forum, the trade union forum, the business forum and events of the Asia Europe foundation

Main question: How do these different civil societies interact with each other and perceive each other? In how far does this impact their participatory strategies?

Method: qualitative Interviews

5. Transnational publics

Main question: Does ASEM and its counter events create a transnational public? How are the events reported in the news? What kind of frames and issues are portrayed via which news channels?

Method: content analysis of news reports, participating in press conferences, interviews with journalists

The project is conducted with the participants of the political sociology transnational seminar at the Ruhr-University. A group of students is visiting the Asia-Europe People’s Forum 10-12th of October in Milan. The research trip is financially supported by „der Gesellschaft der Freunde der Ruhr Universität“, the „Verein  zur Förderung des Instituts für Soziale Bewegungen“ and „Verein zur Förderung sozialwissenschaftlicher Praxis“.

For questions and further information please contact
or Sabrina Zajak directly.