The regional roles external actors play, such as ‘China’s role in Africa’ or ‘the US role in East Asia’, have long been popular subjects of analysis in the international relations literature. Yet, the emergence and evolution of these roles remains remarkably under-theorized. While some ‘new regionalist’ scholars have discussed the dynamics of an external actor’s regional involvement by referring to the concepts of ‘penetration’ and ‘socialization’, neither concept, this article argues, is sufficiently equipped to capture how external actors come to aspire and realize their regional roles. To address this shortcoming, the article employs an interactionist role theory perspective, which draws on the work of social psychologist George Herbert Mead. In following this perspective, the article argues that external actors develop regional role aspirations as they draw on their creativity and reflexivity to overcome experienced uncertainties. To realize these aspirations, the article suggests, external actors seek to cast significant others into corresponding roles. Alter-casting, the article argues in this context, is critical for understanding the (re)constitution of an external actor’s regional role, and thus a region’s social structure.
Cooperation and Conflict – SAGE
Published: Sep 1, 2019