Weatherhead Research Cluster on Regions in a Multipolar World

What brings together the cluster’s faculty participants, heterogeneous in disciplinary background and expertise, is a shared curiosity about the organization of the international system at a time of transition. The near-consensus view in academe, government, and the think tanks is that the post-Cold War unipolar moment under the tutelage of the United States is in the process of yielding to a multipolar world where leverage and leadership will be more widely distributed. The current scene is defined not solely by the prospect of a US retreat but also by the rise of Chinese influence and demands from the Global South as a whole for the needs of developing nations to be better served.

To say that multipolarity in some fashion is the wave of the future, though, raises the questions of how, exactly, roles might be allocated in it and how problems that transcend national borders are to be tackled. Aggregations defined by spatial adjacency—world regions—have often been pegged as crucial pieces of the puzzle. Recent decades, it has been observed, witness “a global proliferation of region building.” Although few would go far as to claim that regions and regionalism monopolize the scene, “regions are now everywhere across the globe and are increasingly fundamental to the functioning of all aspects of world affairs, from trade to conflict management.” Leading states pay more heed to regional realities, and advocates of systemic change routinely tie those realities to the coveted multipolarity.

World regions lie at the heart of our collaboration. Our aim is to build intellectual bridges between the study of regions, the evolution of the world system, and shared dilemmas of governance. The knot of questions we put forward is more than any one of us could pursue on our own:

  • Is a “world of regions,” as it is sometimes phrased, indeed coming into being?
  • What factors account for the variation in regional relations from one part of the world to another, and over time in particular areas?
  • As the world becomes less US-centric, how can we expect the exercise of power in and over world regions to figure in the emergence of a multipolar global order?
  • What difference will developments at regional level, and linkages with system dynamics, make for the aggregate capacity to address urgent problems of transnational and global scope?

The Weatherhead Research Cluster on Regions in a Multipolar World is chaired by Professors Timothy Colton and Arne Westad.

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