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CIAO DATE: 05/03

Ideas, Images, and Their Producers: The Case of Region-Making in Russia's North West Federal District

Andrey S. Makarychev

Copenhagen Peace Research Institute
August 2002

In May 2000, as a result of President Putin’s administrative reform, a new territorial entity was created on Europe’s eastern borders – the North West Federal District (NWFD). This new territorial unit, which eventually is supposed to join the family of Baltic / Nordic sub-national actors, is worth study for several reasons.

First, the territory of the NWFD historically was the meeting place of different trans-national experiences. For example, Ingermanland was a territorial intersection of different cultures (Russian, Izhor, etc.) and religions (Orthodoxy and Lutheranism) 1 .

Second, the NWFD is located at the intersection of three still unfinished processes: EU-building, nation-building in the three Baltic republics, and region-building at the level of the subjects of the Russian Federation. The district is also within a sphere of pronounced attention of one major non-European actor - the United States.

Third, there is a strong feeling amongst analysts that the geo-economic balance of Russia is shifting to Europe, and in particular towards the Northwest 2 . The question is not just whether Russia’s North West is a part of Europe, but what kind of encounter with Europe Russia is looking for, and what kind of Europe Russia wants to contribute to. The NWFD is becoming increasingly important for Moscow because here Russia is presented with a number of challenges. Some of these challenges relate to “hard security” concerns (such as Russia-EU and Russia-NATO relations), while others are of a more post-modernist nature (trans-border cooperation, the changing meaning of territorial arrangements, etc.).

Fourth, the provinces of the NWFD enjoy preferential treatment from most Western countries. For example, the Swedish Institute, the Eurasia Foundation, the Nordic Council and many other foreign foundations and international grant-making institutions run programs with a clear focus on Russia’s North-West territories 3 .

Yet the region-building process in the NWFD is still waiting to be tackled analytically. My paper is based on a combination of cognitivist/constructivist and institutionalist approaches to regionalism that by and large reflect two major analytical platforms that have emerged in Russian regional studies. One group of authors, who stick to a cognitivist/constructivist paradigm, equate region-building with the imagining of a new region 4 . Ideas, in this interpretation, form regimes of signification 5 which are based upon remembering and forgetting as social institutions that justify the dominating memories 6 . Other – and more traditional - scholars focus their attention on institutional factors, including existing policy making bodies, organizations and programs that shape the state of regional affairs, etc.

The gap between these two approaches could be bridged by introducing the concept of “learning regions” &-; the type of territorial actors in which cognitive capital becomes embodied in institutionalist frameworks and settings. The concept presumes that in the absence of ideas some institutions simply may not be formed at all. By the same token, through the intervention of institutions the impact of ideas can be reinforced 7 .

Another useful vision is presented in Emmanuel Adler’s theory of cognitive regions, whose borders are determined not only by geography but also by shared understandings and intellectual practices 8 . The shape of “cognitive regions” is not imposed by someone’s will, but appears as a result of voluntaristic and interactionist practices 9 .

Both approaches – learning regions and cognitive regions - in one way or another focus on the relationship between power and knowledge 10 . They seek to show that institutions are based on products of human consciousness that tend to take the form of collective understandings of reality. Both believe that the ability to generate ideas is a subtle, yet most effective, form of power. In this sense, the idea of the “pilot region”, which is currently applied to the Kaliningrad oblast, correlates well with both concepts mentioned above.

However, constructivist approaches are often criticized for being insufficiently able to prove their theoretical claim of the principal influence of ideas upon institutions and the policymaking process 11 . In this respect, it is notable that there is a long Russian tradition of treating intellectuals as pure theorists who are prone to view society simply as an experimental ground for testing their ideas 12 . In a similar way, in the West it has been said that much of today’s scholarship is either irrelevant or inaccessible to policymakers... Academicians often appear caught up in an elite culture in which labels, categories, and even the humor have meaning for ‘members only’. Their writings are filled with references to other scholars’ writings; they speak to each other rather than to a wider public... Much of what is produced is intended to gain the kind of academic identification with a theory or equation that will lead to professional advancement. Little evidence exists of a direct effort to influence public policy through scholarly writing” 13 .

My task in this paper is to show that there is a sphere at the intersection of Russia’s domestic and trans-national politics where the translation of intellectual products into policies does take place. This sphere comprises a number of region-building projects, all encompassing, in one way or another, Russia's North West territories. However, whilst ideas can inspire innovations they also require special kinds of cognitive actors, whose role is to select the most viable pieces of thought and then market them 14 .

My intention is to show the ways in which the widely spread concepts of knowledge management, epistemic communities, forward thinking and intellectual capital are projected onto Russia’s North West. It is my assumption that knowledge agents (or cognitive actors) possess what could be called “soft authority”, which is indispensable for the region-building process. The trans-national diffusion of information, ideas, interpretations, and experiences is also an important part of a region’s way of dealing with the outside world. It will be seen that the cognitive actors to be analyzed in this paper contribute to the instrumentalization of knowledge, i.e. the construction of legitimacy of policy judgements 15 .

Within the framework of my analysis, a useful distinction must be made between two types of ideas - cognitive and normative. To some extent, cognitive and normative ideas compliment each other and share some common denominators – for example, both stipulate the rationalist usage of discourse, exert influence through communication, provide constraints on policy actions, are built upon a reached consensus within a given domain, and reflect some prior social conditioning 16 . Yet they can also conflict with each other. Cognitive ideas are embodied in concepts, programs, strategies, and policy prescriptions that help decision makers chart a specific course of policy action. Normative ideas, in contrast, are images, symbols and metaphors that tend to produce a certain type of imagination and help public authorities legitimize their policy interests 17 . Normative ideas are products of human interpretation, not of expert analysis. If cognitive ideas, as a rule, are policy elite-oriented, then normative ideas are much more open to the general public and represent a kind of “dream world”, a world of illusion to be identified with 19 .


Note 1: Chistiakov, Anton. The Ethno-Cultural Situation in Ingermanland at the End of the 20th century, in: Russia and the Baltic States: Political Relations, National Identity and Social Thought in XVIII-XX Centuries. Samara, 2001. pp. 263-267. Back

Note 2: Blomberg, Jaakko. The EU’s Role in Northern Europe. In: The Baltic Sea Region. Building an Inclusive System of Security and Cooperation. The Third Annual Stockholm Conference on Baltic Sea Security and Cooperation. The Embassy of the United States of America, the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. November 19, 1988. p. 25. Back

Note 3: Back

Note 4: Cronberg, Tarja. Euroregio Karelia. In Search for a Relevant Space for Action. Paper presented at COPRI Seminar, May 2002. Back

Note 5: Lash, Scott. Discourse or Figure? Postmodernism as a ’Regime of Signification’ // Theory. Culture. Society. Vol. 5, N 2-3, June 1988. P.311. Back

Note 6: Shotter, John. The Social Construction of Remembering and Forgetting. In: Collective Remembering. Edited by David Middleton and Derek Edwards. SAGE Publications: London, Newbury Park and New Delhi, 1990. Pp. 120-131. Back

Note 7: Hasenclever, Andreas; Mayer, Peter; Rittberger, Volker. Theories of International Regimes. Cambridge University Press, 1997. P. 144. Back

Note 8: Adler, Emanuel; Barnett, Michael. Security Communities in Theoretical Perspectives, in: Security Communities. Edited by Emanuel Adler and Michael Barnett. Cambridge University Press, 1998. P.44. Back

Note 9: Palan, Ronen. A World of their Making: an Evaluation of the Constructivist Critique in International Relations // Review of International Studies. N 26, 2000. P.587. Back

Note 10: Price, Richard and Reus-Smith, Christian. Dangerous Liaisons? Critical International Theory and Constructivism // European Journal of International Relations. Vol. 4 (3), 1998. P. 269. Back

Note 11: Milliken, Jennifer. The Study of Discourse in International Relations: A Critique of Research and Methods // European Journal of International Relations. Vol. 5(2), 1999. P.227. Back

Note 12: Intelligentsia i vlast (Intellectuals and Power), at Back

Note 13: Newsom, David. Foreign Policy and Academia // Foreign Policy. N 101, Winter 1995-96. Pp. 62-63. Back

Note 14: Laffey, Mark and Weldes, Jutta. Beyond Belief. Ideas and Symbolic Technologies in the Study of International Relations // European Journal of International Relations. Vol. 3, N 2, June 1997. Pp. 193-238. Back

Note 15: Stone, Diane. Think Global, Act Local or Think Local, Act Global? Knowledge Production in the Global Agora. Paper prepared for Reshaping Globalization: Multilateral Dialogues and New Policy Initiatives, Central European University Conference. Budapest, October 17th, 2001. Pp.2-14. Back

Note 16: Haas, Peter. Introduction: epistemic communities and international policy coordination, in: Knowledge, Power, and International Policy Coordination. Edited by Peter M.Haas. University of South California Press, 1992. Pp. 23-25. Back

Note 17: Arnum, Hans. Ideas and Institutions in the European Union. The Case of Social Regulation and Its Complex Decision-Making. Copenhagen Political Studies Press, CORE. Copenhagen, 1999. Pp. 68-75. Back

Note 18: Kertzer, David. Ritual, Politics, and Power. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1988. P.5. Back