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The region’s premier regional organization, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has markedly expanded its membership, institutional structure and fields of cooperation in the past two decades. In the process of modernizing its existing repository of cooperative norms, the age-honored ASEAN Way, seemingly liberal cosmopolitan norms such as democracy, human rights, good governance and rule of law have increasingly found their way into the discourse on Southeast Asian regionalism. What impact do these new and largely externally propagated norms have on Southeast Asian regionalism? Did they transform ASEAN into a more people-centered regional organization? How do reformers frame these new norms and how do they adapt them to extant norms of regional cooperation? Who are the agents propagating these new norms, who resist their adoption? These and similar questions are asked with regard to the policy fields of security, environment, migration, social policy and welfare, and human rights.

ASEAN as an Actor in International Fora - Reality, Potential and Constraints

Project Director:

Prof. Dr. Joseph Weiler (New York University)

Project Co-director:Prof. Dr. Michael Ewing-Chow (National University of Singapore)
Executive Director:Dr. Tan Hsien-Li (National University of Singapore)

Principle Researchers:


Prof. Dr. Jürgen Rüland
Dr. Paruedee Nguitragool


September 2011 - December 2012 (First Phase)

May 2017 - February 2018 (second phase)

Funding:National University of Singapore (2011-2013)


The study is part of a larger research project titled Integration through Law (ITL), which is organized and led by the Center for International Law (CIL) of the National University of Singapore (NUS). The project involves about 80 researchers. The project’s objective is to study the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Asia’s premier regional organization, from a legal and institutional perspective. Triggering the project was the implementation of the ASEAN Charter in 2008, which many observers regard as a quasi-constitutional document. The Integration through Law project seeks to explore the opportunities and limits of increased rule-based regional cooperation in Southeast Asia.

The component study on ASEAN’s bargaining power in international fora is using a theory-driven approach to explore how ASEAN manages to influence negotiations in global fora as a regional actor. While the bargaining-practices of ASEAN are sufficiently studied on the regional level and within the institutions of the wider Asia-Pacific area, the same cannot be said about the role of ASEAN in global fora such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the climate change regime and the nuclear arms non-proliferation regime. The study seeks to close this gap in ASEAN studies.
Based on the research findings and empirical results, a project second stage seeks to develop an ASEAN Law and Policy Curriculum and Training Programme. Its major output will be comprehensive course packs with the objective of facilitating teaching on ASEAN at the undergraduate and graduate level and providing course modules to all multiplicators providing information on ASEAN as a regional organization.
  • Nguitragool, Paruedee & Rüland, Jürgen (2015), ASEAN as an Actor in International Fora – Reality, Potential and Constraints, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Review


Constructing Regionalism Domestically: Local Actors and Foreign Policymaking in Newly Democratized Indonesia

Project Director:Prof. Dr. Jürgen Rüland
Duration:February 2010 - October 2011

National University of Singapore and Stanford University (Lee Kong Chian Distinguished Scholarship for Southeast Asia 2010) together with the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS)

There is a dearth of studies exploring the construction of ideas on regionalism outside Europe. This project sought to make a contribution to close this gap. It examined the construction of ideas on regionalism in Indonesia, the largest member country of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Theoretically, the project drew from Amitav Acharya’s concept of “constitutive localization” which it developed further. It offers an alternative explanation to studies which argue that as a result of mimetic behaviour, social learning, and cost-benefit calculations, regional organizations across the world become increasingly similar. While this may be the case in terms of rhetoric and organizational structure, it is not necessarily the case at a normative level. The Indonesian case shows that even though foreign policy stakeholders have increasingly championed European ideas of regional integration after the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997/1998, they have skilfully amalgamated them with older local worldviews through framing, grafting, and pruning. European ideas of regional integration thereby served to modernize and re-legitimize a foreign policy agenda which seeks to establish Indonesia as a regional leader with ambitions to play a major role in global politics.

  • Rüland, Jürgen (2017), The Indonesian Way. ASEAN, Europeanization and Foreign Policy Debates in a Newly Democratizing Country, Stanford: Stanford University Press.
"Avoiding the Western-centrism trap characteristic of rationalist theories of regionalism, Jürgen Rüland cleverly builds on current constructivist theories of norm diffusion to explain how foreign policy stakeholders in Indonesia have responded to external ideational and normative pressures seeking to Europeanize ASEAN. With intelligence and nuance, he offers an essential study of comparative regionalism and Indonesia's role in the ASEAN Charter."
— Randall Schweller, Ohio State University; Editor-in-Chief, Security Studies
  • Rüland, Jürgen (2014), “Constructing Regionalism Domestically: Local Actors and Foreign Policymaking in Newly Democratized Indonesia,” Foreign Policy Analysis 10(2): 181-201.
  • Rüland, Jürgen (2014), “The limits of democratizing interest representation: ASEAN’s regional corporatism and normative challenges,” European Journal of International Relations 20(1): 237-261.
  • Rüland, Jürgen & Bechle, Karsten (2014), “Defending state-centric regionalism through mimicry and localization: regional parliamentary bodies in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Mercosur,” Journal of International Relations and Development, 17(1): 61-88.


Democratization through migration?

Project DirectorProf. Dr. Jürgen Rüland
Principal ResearchersDr. Christl Kessler, Dr. Stefan Rother
Duration:October 2005 - September 2007
Funding:Foundation for Population, Migration and Environment (Switzerland)
The novelty of this project is the combination of migration studies and research on democratization. Apart from linking these two areas of study, the project also opened up new terrain within these two research fields, which have only been treated insufficiently or not at all. There were for example no studies, which examined the impact of migration on the political culture of the immigrant’s home society, while in democratization research the external factors of political transition have been neglected. The project assumed that the migrants who experience democratic political systems and cultures in their host countries would change their political attitudes and political behavior and would become drivers of democratization after they returned home.

The connection between democracy and migration has been examined with a standardized survey in cooperation with Social Weather Stations, a leading Philippine polling institute, together with a qualitative survey in cooperation with the University of the Philippines. Project results did not fully confirm our initial propositions, but brought additional insights instead: rather than the political system of the destination countries, the political space granted for migrant engagement facilitated the politicization of migrants both at home and abroad.


  • Kessler, Christl & Rother, Stefan (2016)Democratization through Migration? Remittances and Participation of Philippine Return Migrants. Lanham: Lexington Books.
"Much has been written about the economic effects of international migration but less is known about its political impact. In this highly original work the authors gauge the relationship between migration and democratization in the Philippines and their findings are original and quite surprising. The relationship is more tenuous and nuanced than we might expect. But the subject is vast and this work marks the beginning of what will become a growth field focused on migration and political development. I highly recommend this book."
— James F. Hollifield, Southern Methodist University
"Throughout the book Kessler and Rother provide a wealth of data and analysis that will be helpful to students and scholars of migration and democratization. They have also done an admirable job in answering the call for more detailed case studies that can inform these larger debates."
— M. Scott Solomon, University of South Florida (Read Full Review here)
“This book presents a convincing narrative on the political socialization of Filipino migrant workers in both democratic and authoritarian host countries, and the extent and ways by which such socialization affects the workers’ attitudes towards politics in their home country. It is convincing because it nuances what is obviously a complex nexus: migration and politics. The main strength of the book lies in the mixed quantitative-qualitative research methodology employed by the authors.”
— Carmel V. Abao, Ateneo de Manila University


Asian-European Interregional Dialogues on Human Rights: ASEAN-EU relations and ASEM 

PhD candidate:Maria-Gabriela Manea
Duration:September 2005 - August 2007
Funding:Konrad Adenauer Stiftung


“Asian-European Interregional Dialogues on Human Rights: ASEAN-EU Relations and ASEM” is the working title of Gabriela Manea's doctoral dissertation. Theoretically, the thesis rests on a social constructivist framework accounting for collective identity, region-building through inter-regionalism and human rights norms diffusion. The main argument is that the EU-ASEAN and ASEM interregional dialogues on human rights have opened up a process of intra-regional communication on human rights in Southeast Asia that fosters ASEAN’s regional identity construction. The study thus looks into “interactions” and “discourses” on human rights, which are simultaneously embedded in several layers of the international system (global, inter- and intraregional, domestic), as part of and in relation to the constitution of ASEAN’s regional identity. Interactive and discursive fields correspond to micro and macro-structures of collective identity building. State and non-state actors as well as official and societal contributions to inter- and intraregional dialogues on human rights are the focus of an in-depth analysis of “modes” of interaction and of discourse analysis that includes newspapers, policy documents, interviews and scholarly texts.


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