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The Institutional Identity of Regional Organizations, Or Mercosur’s Identity Crisis


  • Fieldwork for this paper was carried out in August–September 2006 in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. I am grateful to the British Academy and the Carnegie Trust for their financial support, as well as to the government officials and academics in all three countries who shared their views with me in confidential interviews and conversations over this time. For helpful comments and encouragement, I would like to thank the editor of ISQ, the anonymous reviewers, Gian Luca Gardini, Miriam Gomes Saraiva, Andrés Malamud, Sergio Caballero Santos, Marysia Zalewski, Mustapha K. Pasha, Michael E. Smith, and Neil Mitchell. I would also like to thank the audiences at ECPR-Potsdam 2009, the Research Seminar at the University of Aberdeen in 2010, the Latin American Series at the University of Glasgow in 2010, and the Research Seminar at the University of Lancaster in 2010 for thought-provoking questions and comments.


Oelsner, Andrea. (2012) The Institutional Identity of Regional Organizations, Or Mercosur’s Identity Crisis. International Studies Quarterly, doi: 10.1111/isqu.12033© 2012 International Studies Association

In the last 15 years, the link between identity and regional institutions has received considerable academic attention, especially from EU scholars. Mostly, their focus has been on the ways in which European institutions affect, constrain, or constitute (or otherwise) state’s and individual actor’s behavior and identities. By contrast, international relations has been strikingly silent on the question of the identity of regional institutions. However, studying an institution’s identity can highlight important aspects of its “quality of life”; not least its ability to interact with other international actors and with its own constituent parts. This article argues that a clear identity is necessary for the organization to project itself internally, internationally, and temporally. The question of institutional identity—and the risks of failing to construct one—is explored by looking at the case of Mercosur, an association which, the article argues, suffers from identity crises in its three main identity dimension: political, economic and external.