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date: 27 March 2023



  • Nahuel OddoneNahuel OddoneInstitute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies, United Nations University


Transformation processes in the international arena have led to giving greater importance to transnational affairs, as well as greater recognition of nonstate actors and their influence on world politics. In this context, the concept of paradiplomacy was introduced to analyze the participation of local and regional governments in international relations (IR). Paradiplomacy is increasingly a subject of IR scholars’ studies. These have helped to systematize and to make visible the behavior of local and regional authorities, especially their contribution to international relations. During this process, a greater conceptualization of the term has also been constructed, overcoming the case studies and shaping an emerging formal field of research. Paradiplomacy is gaining momentum in terms of its diffusion to the extent that ideas and recommendations cross borders and spread through the academic communities through congresses, seminars, publications, and/or technical meetings. Nevertheless, the paradiplomacy research agenda may still be considered an incipient theoretical research agenda. Although important efforts have been recognized for the delimitation and conceptual systematization, it is timely to deepen the analysis at global and regional scales.


  • Diplomacy
  • International Relations Theory


When assessing subnational political mobilization across borders to strengthen territories in the global world, it is necessary to consider—probably in the first place—the transformation processes of the nation-state. Assuredly, the contributions of Keohane and Nye (1977) are fundamental to do so. They suggested that new issues on the international agenda were emerging while other nonstate actors were arising as well. It is worth highlighting that these authors did not propose a theoretical approach to international relations based on subnational stakeholders, but their analysis of emerging intergovernmental and transnational relations, in parallel to interstate relations, contributed to theorizing international projection from the subnational or substate component. Such transformation processes in the international arena have raised “the importance of transnational issues and empowered different actors to play a broader role in world politics” (Nye, 2003, p. 2).

Changes in internal politics, observed within nation-state since the end of the Cold War, have strengthened the capacities of local and regional governments, evolving from a rigid state centralization to a greater recognition of the autonomy of subnational units spearheaded by decentralization processes. At the same time, this has modified countries’ democratic quality, because responsiveness—understood as the fulfillment of the demands, interests, and expectations of the citizens—has become a fundamental variable at the different state government levels.

Subnational governments have elucidated their international projection from two perspectives: First, as a political mobilization with internal roots to address the demands of a more densified civil society, with a critical mass of citizens connected globally by information and communication technologies that demand more innovative and efficient public policies that, in some cases, require the transfer of best international practices. Second, as a “territorial” response to the fragmentation of the global economy that has forced them to chain-up productively under new schemes and logics to build dynamic comparative advantages to access global markets and participate in value chains, while they are still pursuing the reduction of the structural heterogeneity that has characterized national economies and the resolution of other asymmetries.

Paradiplomacy can also be seen as a sort of democratization of foreign policy, by considering the needs and interests of the different levels within the state. In the following sections, paradiplomacy is analyzed from five theoretical perspectives, to then draw some conclusions.

Paradiplomacy: Causes and Motivations

Since the earliest work on paradiplomacy, various causes and motives have been proposed to explain the participation of local and regional governments in the international arena (Alvarez, 2021; Alvarez & Oddone, 2022). The identification of causes has been one of the recurring efforts in the literature on paradiplomacy, so the number of causes proposed is large. However, identification has not necessarily been accurate, leading to the existence of many proposals with imprecise postulates (Totoricagüena, 2005). This section presents an effort to systematize the main proposals. For this, causes are grouped into three categories: firstly, those that respond to crises or changes in the international system; secondly, there are those related to changes in the state, as the central level of government; finally, the third group responds to causes generated by changes from the non-central governments themselves.

The main external causes are three: the globalization process, international economic crises, and interdependence. Among them, globalization is the most mentioned, although this does not imply that there is agreement regarding the role that the cause plays or played in the development of paradiplomacy. Authors such as Keating (1999), Michelmann (2007), and Marx (2008) affirmed that the globalization process is the main cause of the internationalization of local and regional authorities. García Segura (1996), Perkmann and Sum (2002), Nasyrov (2003), Tussie (2004), Aranda et al. (2010), Milani and Oliveira (2011), Díaz Abraham (2019), and Lara Pacheco (2019) gave importance to globalization but as a complementary cause to others. The second most mentioned external cause are international economic crises. It is argued that the inability of states to protect their non-central governments from the adverse economic effects of these crises forces them to seek tools to defend themselves, one of them being paradiplomacy (Duchacek, 1984; Keating & Loughlin, 1997). Due in part to the fact that studies on paradiplomacy found shelter under the debate on transnationalism of the 1970s and 1980s, the third most mentioned external cause is the interdependence. Duchacek (1984) considered that interdependence was the major cause of paradiplomacy. However, authors such as Soldatos (1990), García Segura (1996), and Lara Pacheco (2019) placed interdependence alongside other causes that diversified the agenda. The persistence of this cause is debated by Aguirre (1999), who argued that the inclusion of interdependence as a cause of paradiplomacy occurred due to the influence of Keohane and Nye’s Complex Interdependence conceptual framework.

The main causes generated by transformations from or within the state are democracy, decentralization, and economic openness. Among them, democracy is the most mentioned. Duchacek (1988) even went as far as to affirm that paradiplomacy occurs especially in democratic countries. However, this postulate was debated, first by García Segura (1996) and later by Kincaid (2003). Nonetheless, democracy continues to be a cause present in many academic works, which assign importance to it in countries where democracy was just being consolidated (Oddone, 2016; Schiavon, 2019). The second transformation of the state that is adduced as a cause of paradiplomacy is the process of devolution of powers to local and regional governments (decentralization). Although it is not a uniform position in the literature, decentralization continued to be advocated by Aranda et al. (2010), Schiavon (2008), and Wong-González (2015). The economic opening (market liberalization) is the third most mentioned internal cause. For Thompson (1990), Veggeland (1998), and Moncayo Jiménez (2003), changes in the economic management of the countries, as well as the internationalization of their markets, forced subnational governments to extend their efforts to have a solid international presence.

The third group of causes has a lesser development in the literature, but that does not mean they are less important. They refer to changes or situations generated from the subnational governments themselves, where some elements of actorness stand out in terms of internal capacities, the border factor, and separatism (protodiplomacy). From their inception, studies on international actorness focused on the internal constitution of the actor and its capacity. According to Luna Pont and Oddone (2020), paradiplomacy it is usually oriented toward low-political issues (which can affect their self-perception and presence) and seeks to bring together different interlocutors around specific issues. For this reason, it tends to have a conflictive internal dynamic around the definition of the common interest and how to pursue it in a unified way (which can hinder its cohesion, consistency, and opportunity). In turn, paradiplomacy is subject to strong institutional conditions such as the need to have political legitimacy, established competencies, professionalized structures, and financing to operate internationally, which has led to a huge heterogeneity of experiences. The second cause is related to cross-border issues. The limit, as the dividing line of the states, is under a modern tendency toward its weakening. The border factor has been present since the first works on paradiplomacy. For Breslin and Hook (2002) and Kincaid (2003), cross-border situations need to be addressed by the parties on both sides of the border, both for matters related to cooperation and coordination and conflict resolution. For Schiavon (2008), the border factor may be a necessary cause, but it is not enough to explain the emergence of paradiplomacy. Separatism is the last great endogenous causal wielded in the literature. References to it can be found in the works of Duchacek (1984), Kincaid (1990), Keating (1997), and Grydehøj (2014), among others. However, the use of paradiplomacy for independence purposes is an ambitious form of it (Lecours, 2002), and it would be the international expression that generates real problems with the state (Wolff, 2007). Therefore, the term “protodiplomacy” is reserved to conceptually separate it from other territorial internationalization activities (Duchacek, 1990).

Unlike what happens with causes, studies that focus on the motives of paradiplomacy are smaller and more consensual. The first classification of motives for paradiplomacy was formulated by Michelmann (1990), followed by Keating (1999), Kincaid (2003), and more recently Schiavon (2019). Although the motives indicated by these authors have varied, they do not differ too much; the most widely used classification at present is the one formulated by Keating. This makes it possible to identify five major drivers of paradiplomatic action (Alvarez, 2021): economic, cultural, political, altruistic, and cross-border.

Economic motives are generally presented as the most important for Michelmann (1990), Keating (2000), Gallardo Pérez (2007), and Schiavon (2019). Michelmann (1990) was the first to propose cultural motives, referring to ethnic or cultural groups. Kincaid (2003) also incorporated in this group simple cultural exchanges, such as book fairs, film or musical encounters, as well as cooperation in the teaching of a particular language or other cultural characteristic of the territory. Political motives are diverse in nature and can be a factor of conflict with the state, but not necessarily. Kincaid (2003) listed a long series of political motives that would drive paradiplomacy. However, pure political motives (without economic, cultural, cross-border, or other components) are very rare (Schiavon, 2019). Finally, Keating (1999) also argued that paradiplomacy can be politically motivated as a platform for the search for independence, which could be expanded to also incorporate the search for international recognition and legitimation (protodiplomacy). Rhi-Sausi (2008) and Lecours (2008) were among the first to mention altruistic motives, which Michelmann (2009) highlighted as decentralized cooperation projects. Michelmann (1990) had proposed environmental issues as a driving force behind paradiplomatic action; these were encompassed in the cross-border cases proposed by Kincaid (2003) as the last large motivation for territorial internationalization. Cross-border issues are of great relevance in the field of paradiplomacy (Alvarez & Oddone, 2019). As Alvarez (2016) demonstrated, cross-border issues have been key motives for the development of paradiplomatic activity.

Paradiplomacy from Five Theoretical Perspectives

The greater complexity of international relations with emerging and more plural actors, the generalization of democratic and decentralizing processes, the renaissance of territorial-based political and social dynamics, as well as new visions on development, have led to rethinking of the classic schemes of international cooperation (Romero, 2004, p. 19). This has also contributed to reframe how subnational governments interact in the global arena. In this context, several debates have been raised while interpreting the international action of non-central governments using the International Relations theory. In this global insertion of political-jurisdictional actors as new players in the post–Cold War era, the idea of an omnipotent nation-state loses validity, making it necessary to formulate new paradigms in international relations through the appreciation of new supranational and subnational geographic scales, as well as the emergence of new conflicts derived from the interweaving and overlapping of stakeholders, spaces, competencies, and processes, both local and transnational.

In terms of subnational international relations (Maira, 2010), there is abundant literature that has not been systematized from a theoretical framework perspective (Luna Pont, 2010). Nevertheless, following the theoretical approaches of García Segura (1992, 1993), Aldecoa and Keating (2001), Cornago (2001, 2010), Kincaid (2003), Martín López and Oddone (2010), Luna Pont (2010), Maira (2010), Alvarez (2016), Oddone (2016), and Alvarez and Oddone (2022), five major theoretical frameworks can be identified: (a) the perspective of the international actor, (b) the perspective of foreign policy and decision-making processes, (c) the perspective of territorial development, (d) the perspective of regional integration, and (e) the perspective of governance approaches (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Paradiplomacy from five theoretical perspectives.

Source: Oddone (2016).

From the Perspective of the International Actor

Caterina García Segura (1993) asked still prevailing questions:

Who manages to exert its influence in the international sphere? Who are the actors of the international system? Which has been a constant in the evolution theory of the discipline of international relations. The question has been, and continues to be, key in the theoretical debate, since the different approaches to the study of international relations derive from the answers given to these questions. (p. 14)

Historically, the predominance of state-centric visions centered on the Westphalian model has limited the nature and orientation of international politics. However, with the emergence of transnational perspectives in the 1970s, a process of recognition of new international actors and diversification of their channels of relationship began, given the growing interdependence observed in the international system. German Karl Kaiser, considered as one of the fathers of transnationalism along with Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye, indicated that the state-centric model had never existed in its pure state in history (except in the 18th and 19th centuries, when the international situation approached such a scheme) and criticized the neglect that specialists had had regarding interactions across borders, the degrees of interpenetration and interdependence, and the importance of nonstate actors (Kaiser, 1969). From this perspective, the concept of international politics based on realism does not reflect the complexity of the international system. The model that best explains the relationships and dynamics of international society is that of multinational politics, which includes the processes in which public bureaucracies distribute values in decision-making frameworks that are interpenetrated across national borders (Kaiser, 1969). Based on this interpretation, Kaiser structured three models: multi-bureaucratic decision-making, integration, and transnational politics.

At that time, international studies began to consider the so-called new international actors, mainly from the gravitation of multinational companies, the emergence of new international organizations and nongovernmental organizations, as well as the emergence of transnational social movements (Mansbach et al., 1976). The complexity was such that the most traditional conceptions were no longer able to explain the emergence, development, and intensity of international relations from the perspective of interstate relations only. Complex Interdependence thus questioned the model of the nation-state as a unitary actor of realpolitik. This generated an increasing number and type of international actors, an international agenda without hierarchies or with a more diffuse hierarchy in world politics from which multiple relationship channels emerged that could be interstate, transgovernmental, or transnational. Within this new international agenda, on the one hand, the use of military force tended to be increasingly devalued and, on the other hand, the importance of economic factors in the international system increased (Keohane & Nye, 1977).

Together with the conception of public bureaucracies by Kaiser (1969) and the recognition of transgovernmental channels by Keohane and Nye (1977), understood as the networks of relations between government bureaucracies in charge of similar tasks, assessments on the actors were introduced regarding domestic governments. From these lines of research, at large, studies on the international action of subnational governments would begin. It is worth mentioning that Keohane and Nye did not address this issue specifically but contributed indirectly with their studies to the opening of this new perspective in the disciplinary field of international relations. It is important to mention that recent works maintain interdependency as one of the main roots of paradiplomacy (Schiavon, 2019; Torrijos, 2000).

If, in the more traditional approaches, the actor category is defined from a formal, legal criterion, in the subsequent approaches to transnationalism, the justification is functional—based on the process by which the subnational entity gathers the capacity to mobilize resources to achieve objectives and exert influence in the international system (Russell, 2010, p. 84). Consequently, autonomy happens—in a certain way—to sovereignty as a category of analysis and the ability or capacity of subnational entities to provoke outcomes in world politics is valued (García Segura, 1992, 1993; Luna Pont, 2010). García Segura (1993) emphasized that Keohane and Nye already insisted “on the importance of capacity or ability versus the definition or qualification of sovereign entity: when non-state entities are capable of affecting the course of international events, they become actors and, therefore, enter into competition with the Nation-State” (García Segura, 1993, p. 16). This has happened, for example, with certain actors of international terrorism and organized crime that do not respond to any state.

Chadwick Alger played a fundamental role positioning the orientation of international research from a local perspective, focusing on cities, particularly those with an industrial profile, as “units of approximation of world politics.” For Alger (1977), cities play an important role in global politics because they are the creative nuclei of new technologies and culture that expand from them. Cities are also nodes of international systems that facilitate interconnection, and headquarters from where the idea of control is exercised.

Ivo Duchacek joined this debate focusing on the federal states. He proposed to appraise the multiple voices heard in the international arena, among which he paid particular attention to subnational governmental actors, which would later be considered among the drillers of state sovereignty.1 The fragmentation of the nation-state soon became an issue addressed from the multiple currents of international relations, given the geographical dispersion of economic activities typical of globalization. The decentralization processes in many countries, and the delegation from sovereignty to supranational institutions within the framework of the new regionalism, questioned the role of the state based on what some understood as the end of the nation-state (Ohmae, 1997), the generation of a network state (Castells, 1998) and regions-state (Ohmae, 2005), or on the emergence of global cities (Sassen, 1991), the liberal cities (Harvey, 2010) and the city-regions (Calzada & Björk, 2014), or even non-territorial regions (Ruggie, 1993).

In this context, subnational units become the object of study as a relevant actor in international politics, confronting themselves with the emergence of new approaches and theories that address territoriality from a modern perspective. As a result, different studies refer to changes or situations generated from the non-central governments themselves, where some elements of actorness stand out (Alvarez & Oddone, 2022).

From its inception, studies on international actorness focused on the internal constitution of the actor and its capacity (Table 1). The fact that the literature on actorness has focused on the study of the performance of the European Union and some international organizations, especially within the United Nations system, represents a challenge when using this category to address other international actors. In the case of non-central governments, it is necessary to consider their distinctive characteristics when considering their actorness. This approach has been applied to non-central governments (Luna Pont & Oddone, 2020), highlighting that self-perception and internal cohesion affect the autonomous capacity of the unit to behave actively and deliberately in relation to other actors in the international system.

Table 1. Characteristics of Actorness






Credentials, qualifications


Coherence of values, preferences, procedures, and policies in the rules of the game and outputs


Instrument availability and usability; mechanisms, deployable resources, strategies


Commitment to the agreed position and its implementation


De jure and de facto authority; political circumstances



International perceptions; political circumstances



Source: Prepared by Luna Pont and Oddone (2020).

From Foreign Policy and Decision-Making Processes

As in the perspective of the international actor, initially in the more traditional conceptions of foreign policy, approaches focused on the national state and the exhaustive division between internal and external affairs have predominated.

While analyses of international relations focus on the processes of global interaction involving at least two different units within the international system, foreign policy studies refer to those actions that take place in a given country and that address its external environment.

(Van Klaveren, 1984, pp. 15–16)

Even within the variables that affect foreign policy behavior, the most well-known and used classification is that which distinguishes between external and internal factors (Van Klaveren, 1984).

There are three major issues that define and differentiate foreign policy: (a) international agenda, that is, specific interests that countries pursue in their external actions; (b) objectives, the position that the country wants to achieve or the state of affairs that it intends to accomplish through the satisfaction of its interests; and (c) style that characterizes the formulation and application of that policy that refers to the active or passive nature of the state.2

From the realist current understanding, foreign policy is a prerogative of central governments and expresses the national interest.3 Even the power politics approach considers the actions of other nations as the main conditioning factors of decisions regarding foreign policy of a certain country. But the bureaucratic and organizational models fragmented the traditional unified rational actor model. These approaches, which tended to fragment the uniqueness of foreign policy, favored an outlook on the study of subnational units and their influence on domestic foreign policy. Approaches such as the Double-Ended Diplomacy emerged (Evans et al., 1993; Putnam, 1998), or that of the Second Image Reversed (Gourevitch, 1996). In the Second Image Reversed approach, Peter Gourevitch (1996) sought to revoke the static interpretation of the second Waltzian image by reviewing the international origins of domestic politics.4 “The international system is not only a consequence of domestic politics and structures, but a cause of them” (Gourevitch, 1996, pp. 23–24). Therefore, “international relations and domestic politics are so interrelated that they should be analysed simultaneously, as a whole” (Gourevitch, 1996, p. 67).

It is in this context that Duchacek (1970, 1986) and Michelmann and Soldatos (1990) introduced the systematic study of the linkages between federalism and foreign policy. The new interpretation of federalism also implies moving away from its classical conceptions, in which the compositional units of the state renounced their ability to act in foreign policy because the central government exercises such representation. Thus, a fragmentation or segmentation of foreign policy is observed, in which the different public powers (executive, legislative, and judicial) participate at their multiple levels, as well as a growing group of nonstate actors. This has challenged the flexibility of diplomacy.

Within this debate on diplomacy, its decision processes, and its development in federal states, paradiplomacy begins to be interpreted as a democratization of foreign policy, by considering the needs and interests of the different levels within the state. Stéphane Paquin emphasized that one can speak of paradiplomacy only when the mandate is granted to official representatives by a sub-state government to negotiate with international actors (Paquin, 2004). For Lecours (2002), there are four structures or conditions that determine the international policy of subnational units in federal states: (a) the institutional framework, that is, the prerogatives that the central government grants to subnational governments; (b) the form and type of relationships between subnational governments and the central government (degree of conflict or cooperation between the parties); (c) the representativeness of subnational governments in federal institutions (it is worth scanning both formal and informal representativeness); and (d) the link between the national agenda and the interests of subnational units. Cornago (2010) has underlined that decentralization processes are affecting the foreign policy regime, understood as “the set of principles, rules and norms that, formally recognized or not, establish the limit of the politically permissible options for a government in its foreign policy” (Kegley, 1987, p. 247) and from the perspective that

constitutional structures and internal political relations not only help determining the processes through which foreign action emerges, they can also materially affect the substance itself of these policies and the capacity available in governments to achieve their objectives in the international system.

(Cornago, 2010, p. 119)

From the Perspective of Territorial Development

Stemming from the convergence of disciplines such as international political economy (IPE), new economic geography, economic development, and urban studies, in the mid-1980s a new line of research on the territorialization of the economy allowed a broader discussion on the relationship between economy, development, and territory (Fujita et al., 1999).

Territory recovers a central function in the global society-market link, explaining the changes generated by the state, the decentralization processes, and the capacities of subnational actors and their possible articulations, at the national, transnational, inter-regional, and international levels to provide a “local response to globalization.” IPE, without having subnational international actions as its central concern, analyzes the phenomenon in terms of agents seeking to maximize their utility, benefits, or satisfaction in a context built from constraints and incentives resulting from globalization. In such a way, changes in transnational economic exchange systems correspond to new forms of internationalized territorial management.

The internationalization of capital and subsequent transnationalization had a geographical impact, modifying the national scales of accumulation and state regulations. The emergence of new urban centers and the displacement from the countryside to cities also changed urban-rural processes. Finally, this contributed to the growing importance of certain border areas as key nodes for physical or commercial integration, or for possessing or counting on strategic natural resources.

The demilitarization of borders and the demystification and decline of the ideology of national sovereignty; the decline of the policies of regional development, population and internal integration at all costs of the national territories; the relocation of production actors, and the redefinition of spatial relationships through new technological alternatives for production, circulation and communication; are providing testimony that a whole way of conceiving territorial management has won.

Territory is no longer just an element of containment and delimitation of the countries; socioeconomic interactions in expanded spaces create scenarios and new dimensions of economic development and build—in turn—new territorial configurations at a transnational level that pierce sovereignty (Krasner, 2001) in a process of scaling of territory (Jessop, 2002) or scale-jumping (Smith, 1993), of interdependence (Keohane & Nye, 1977), or of glocal dynamics (Robertson & White, 2004).

This constitutes a redefinition of the scale in which the dynamics of capital and a new territorial design is carried out, which has been called glocalization, a combined process of globalization and local territorial reconfiguration (a local geography of capital). Simultaneous deterritorialization and reterritorialization processes have affected the relations between cities and states as interrelated modes of socioeconomic, political, and geographic organization (where both are essential forms of territorialization of capital). For Ciccolella (1997), these changes correspond to the processes of reterritorialization rather than deterritorialization. The processes of territorial mutation observed can be understood as

processes of reterritorialization, territorial refunctionalization, new borders or new territoriality, induced by the new capitalist order, rather than speaking of deterritorialization or extraterritoriality. (. . .) the territorial dimension and the particularities of each territory have gained in richness and intensity of content, while what has been summed up to its minimum expression is the distance or the space-time dimension.

Summing up, the restructuring of the accumulation process, the new spaces of production and consumption, and the new spatial policies emerge from the local/global interface. Processes together lead to a redefinition of the place of the locality, which becomes a space of regulation and institutional organization increasingly disconnected from the territorial matrices of the interstate system and sustained by a new rhetoric regarding the local sphere. The concept of space as a geographical support in which socioeconomic activities take place usually implies the idea of homogeneity. Within the space, issues relate to distance, transportation costs, agglomeration, or the growth polarization. From the perspective of local and regional development, the concept of territory matters, which includes heterogeneity, specific environmental characteristics, and social actors, as well as the existence of or access to strategic resources for productive and business development (Alburquerque, 1995).

Although the world economy does not impact in a homogeneous way all territories, in most of them some element or specific effect can be recognized as a result of the process of local reconfiguration after the impact of globalization. Deterritorialization and reterritorialization would thus be the result of the movement of transnational capital, of the “natural” generation of new spaces of accumulation, production, and consumption, and of public policies designed to attract that capital or mitigate its absence. Consequently, the understanding and interpretation of the place are always subject to local and global dynamics that are not necessarily exclusionary. Outcomes of paradiplomatic action still have a certain concentration in the national capital cities or the provinces or departments, or in those positioned in strategic corridors or near important infrastructure assets.

Local and global spheres are not mutually exclusive; the local should be understood only as an aspect of the global. “It makes no sense to define the global as if it necessarily excludes the local” (Robertson & White, 2004, p. 23). The local dimension is the environment where the global is lived. “Globalization also means rapprochement and mutual encounter of local cultures, which must be redefined within the framework of this clash of localities” (Beck, 1977, p. 79). Local governments are interconnected by flows, which have generated changes in their profile but, above all, have changed their public policies. This means

that places can no longer be regarded as closed, self-sufficient entities. For there to be interconnection, dense places of activity are needed, rich in identity and culture, but also available to open up to the outside (. . .). Everything depends on the vitality of the local. That is, the role that the local economy, but also of local society—institutions, third sector, volunteering, and cultural associations and for the new rights—know how to develop to build economy and territory. All local subjects must be involved.

(Bonomi, 2004, p. 72)

Glocalization would be, then, the globalization of one’s own, of the territory, of the adjustable concept of the local.

The concept of glocalization has the advantage of paying attention to the conception of the place and to the sociocultural and anthropological differences with respect to the idea of time and its homogenization given the global condition of some processes.5 Glocalization is a social phenomenon, collective but at the same time individual, that modifies the relations between the citizen and his/her community, between the community and its institutions, between local government and central government, between the different mechanisms of global, national, or local inclusion. Even glocalization modifies the relationship between citizen and social contract in the dahrendoffnian sense that each society writes and rewrites the social contract of its generation. As Robertson and White (2004) have argued: “today the form of globalization is reflexively reshaping (. . .) in such a way as to accentuate glocalization projects as a constitutive characteristic of contemporary globalization” (p. 32). In general terms, glocalization would have been institutionally reflected in an increase of power and the role of the substate authorities in the management of economic and social development of the territories under their jurisdiction.

As a result of the glocal debates, the so-called endogenous perspective that pursues changes in the theoretical foundations of development has taken shape. The vision of endogenous development is based on the need to delineate a policy of creating specific resources and capacities at the territorial level, emphasizing bottom-up processes. The strengthening of the proximity convergence system is expressed in the capacity of local or regional governments to lead and strategically guide the convergence between the different levels based on strategic territorial planning and the development of local capacities and public responsibilities. For Brenner (1999, 2004), it could be said that the denationalization of the economy and the consequent reconfiguration of urban hierarchies do not eliminate the role of the state as a form of territorialization of capital, but what it produces is a denationalization of its structure, privileging the levels of regulation and circulation of subnational and supranational capital.

The growing importance of cities and regions as levers of different interests has stimulated the study of the forms and mechanisms of territorial articulation, understood in terms of the structuring of actors, groups, and institutions in favor of development. In more specific terms, this debate has been received more broadly in the constructs of governance and urban governance (Jessop, 1995; Le Gales, 1998). Governance of urban systems in the form of a network is understood as a territorialized regulation, in which the whole of civil society participates from its representatives and social interest groups. To do so, different platforms for participation and consultation of the different actors, such as participatory budgets, are essential. In economic terms, local authorities increasingly act as entrepreneurial agents to improve local advantages, productive capacities and the generation of value chains in their territorial jurisdictions as competitive nodes of the global economy, through different strategies such as territorial marketing, public-private partnerships, network action, strategic planning, and inter-institutional cooperation.

Territorial marketing is one of the subnational foreign action strategies most used for the construction of local development. From this perspective, the spread of paradiplomacy is one of the many aspects of the rescaling process. That is, of a reconfiguration of the hierarchy of geographic space based on the social and institutional structures of a given system (Brenner, 2004). Following Brenner, the rescaling process does not imply an erosion or reduction of the role of the state, but rather the definition by the state of a new form “more polycentric, multiscale and not isomorphic” (Brenner, 2004, p. 24).

From the Perspective of Regional Integration

In the study of regional integration processes, a propitious space has been found for the consideration of the dynamics of subnational actors.

The magnitude of the integrationist phenomenon has hidden a second trend during the initial years of the post-Cold War, which has not been less significant, the strengthening of the interior spaces of the national State, those that under the denomination of regions, autonomous communities, provinces or states constitute the subnational sphere.

(Maira, 2006, p. 84)

For Fulvio Attinà (2003, p. 35), “the contemporary world system is the first international system that knows processes of political organization at the macro-systemic level and at the micro-systemic or regional level.” New forms of multilevel governance are thus emerging, revealing the structural link between subnational regionalism and the new supranational regionalism.

Economic integration within the framework of globalization would be proof of the beginning of a change in the Westphalian system based on rigid state will and sovereignty, evolving to another one based on new commercial or virtual states (Rosecrance, 1986, 1996–1997); in new loyalties and centers of power such as regions (Ohmae, 1997); with new problems (Zacher, 1992); with different levels of decision-making will that can be reflected in a new superimposed supranational structure (Strange, 1993) that can become a kind of neo-medievalism (Marks, 1997); and/or with intermediate organisms that stand between individuals and globality.6 Although the nation-states retain primacy, they are no longer the sole and hegemonic actors in international relations; thus, new territorial instances, at the supranational and substate level, begin to gain strength, gradually achieving their own role on the international scene. Some authors have spoken of the crisis of the Westphalian model (Zacher, 1992), of overcoming the Westphalian model (Berenzin, 2003), and others have been encouraged to identify the international scenario as post-Westphalian (Vigevani et al., 2004).

For Rosecrance (1986),

One of the most surprising facts of historical evolution during the last two hundred years has been the persistent and anachronistic influence of the Westphalian territorial system (. . .) despite the fact that the territorial State has ceased to retain the sovereignty in a practical sense. That conception, in which each State unit acted as an isolated, self-sufficient, and autonomous atom has been linked to recent history, but it is not likely that it can be maintained for much longer. The Nation-State no longer monopolizes government activity since its sovereignty has eroded relatively upwards and downwards, it has taken shape in new institutions and in new public policies housed at different decision-making levels. In general, the levels of organization and decision-making have multiplied and developed in a “horizontal” sense and in the form of “network” work reaching the spread of the idea of a “network State.” (p. 213)

In the words of Castells (1998),

the network State is characterized by sharing the authority (that is, the institutional capacity to impose a decision) throughout a network of institutions. A network, by definition, does not have a centre, but rather nodes of different dimensions and with inter-nodal relationships that are frequently asymmetric. But ultimately, all nodes are necessary for the existence of the network (. . .). The network State is the State of the information age, the political form that allows the daily management of the tension between the local and the global. (p. 11)

Inspired by the European experience, the initial theories of integration focused on the motivations that encouraged national states to go through a process of regional integration, as well as the forms and schemes that this could adopt. Neofunctionalism made it possible to broaden the spectrum of analysis by introducing a pluralistic conception of society, made up of competing interests that coexist through institutional arrangements, thus giving relative recognition to top-down and bottom-up dynamics within the processes of regional integration. By recognizing a multiplicity of interests, Neofunctionalism contributes to the understanding of how subnational governments position themselves in the dynamics of integration.

Given that the decision to participate in a regional integration process falls exclusively within the power of the national state, subnational governments soon concentrated their efforts on building different forms of influence, formal and informal, which—in some cases—managed to synthesize them in institutional channels (Martín López & Oddone, 2010). Studies on the link between domestic politics and community decision-making processes (Bulmer, 1993) also contributed to the representation of domestic sources such as interest groups, parliamentary bodies, political parties, and subnational governments; and fostered the attention to policy decision making, based on its actors, levels of authority, and results. Governance capacity would not be based on a strong and clearly defined nucleus of institutions placed in a territory, but on political processes and activities that emanate from the integration between various subjects and at different levels. As a result of these studies, the governance approach that was imposed when analyzing the European process was quickly transferred to other integration processes with particular emphasis on the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR), the Andean Community (CAN), the Central American Integration System (SICA), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and also in Africa (Asiwaju, 1994), where many research works discuss institutional isomorphism and the possibilities of adapting the European institutional framework to other regional contexts.

The concern for governance deepened the role of European institutions, in aspects of community law as well as in the political structures and in the motivations of the actors, encouraging the development of neo-institutionalist perspectives such as those of Majone (1993). Bulmer (1993) wondered:

What is the best way to analyse governance of the European Union? What are the characteristics of the political processes associated with the different activities carried out by the European Union? What are the fundamental attributes of their collective policies? Or are there individual policies characterized by the logic of policies beyond the unifying dynamics of the European Union? (p. 351)

Giandomenico Majone (2013) emphasized the importance of interstate cooperation to strengthen regional integration processes whenever optimal government structures are designed for each level of integration that is being built (Majone, 2013, pp. 292 and 293). The importance this approach has gained, particularly from multilevel governance, has justified its analysis as its own perspective in the study of subnational international relations.

From a Governance Perspective

The governance approach has reinforced the interpretation that central states no longer have a monopoly on global issues but instead share them with other actors, creating a more complex but less rigid and hierarchical relational system. This system creates opportunities and tensions between the different actors involved. The governance approach allows portraying a panorama in which the states, and their levels of government, appear insufficient to lead societies, in which the social, economic, and civic sectors enter the scene with more force than before. Whether it is assumed that this reality reflects the weakening of the state and the strengthening of society, there is a change in their corresponding roles and functions (Aguilar, 2006). Governance, in a broad sense, implies “the authoritarian allocation of resources and the exercise of control and coordination, where government actors are not necessarily the only or the most important participants” (Bulkeley, 2005, p. 877). Effective governance requires establishing a widely accepted framework that institutionalizes interaction between interest groups, negotiates conflicting interests, and mitigates conflicts, thus determining the way in which decision-making and agreements for exercising power will be carried out (Brenner, 2010). This fragmentation of decisions and interests, influenced by bureaucratic and organizational studies, has contributed to the development of a series of studies that strengthen the role of paradiplomacy.

The word “governance” derives from ancient Greek and was used in the field of navigation as the action of guiding ships. Since its entry into international relations (Rosenau & Czempiel, 2000), it has been used in many ways, but initially “to differentiate the governance process from that of government or governability, that is, in relation to those actions that require an institutional legitimation of a formal type, hierarchical organizations and in the presence of the State” (Rosenau, 2000, p. 15). Governance refers to the interaction between the state at its multiple levels and society (local or transnational), and its multiple forms of coordination to make public action possible. For Benz and Eberlein (1998, 1999), governance consists in the direction and coordination of interdependent actors based on different systems of institutionalized rules. Governance thus refers to a new style of governing, a non-hierarchical coordination modality, characterized by a greater degree of cooperation, interaction, and decision-making between the state and nonstate actors within national and/or international public-private, local networks.

For Aguilar (2006), governance is shown as a process by which actors of a given society decide their objectives of coexistence—fundamental and circumstantial—and the ways of coordinating to achieve them: their sense of direction and their management capacity. The result of governance may or may not be the creation of formal institutions, but the important thing is that society feels satisfied with the results achieved in different negotiations; and that through participatory processes, it learns to govern itself, moving from a “rigid” government structure to a more “flexible” governance structure, structure that has been strengthened from the ongoing decentralization processes in different countries. In this way, there is a sort of relocation and disaggregation of government authority to other levels in both a vertical and a horizontal dimension, which is why some speak of horizontal governance and vertical governance.7 At both levels of governance, local governments have a fundamental role, given their proximity to the citizens. In the vertical dimension, they are characterized by being the level of origin (demands toward higher structures such as provincial or national governments) or destination (offers from higher structures such as national or provincial and even international programs) of public policies. In the horizontal dimension, local governments interact with all local stakeholders and sectors, stimulating their participation and commitment, and becoming a local administration that is permeable and sensitive to citizens’ demands (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Paradiplomacy and governance.

Source: Own elaboration.

Given the important role of local governments and the multi-scalar articulation that governance has in general, both in the different orders and on different thematic axes, theoretical elaborations have allowed the construction of the concept of local governance understood as: “the emergence of new forms of collective decision-making at the local level, which implies a shift of paradigm in the relationships between the different actors, public and private organizations, and between citizens and these organizations” (Salvador, 2011, p. 44).

The need to strengthen the planning and management capacities of local actors makes the design of training courses, as well as learning by doing strategies, an important catalyst for socio-territorial demands, while at the same time local capacities are rooted through the training of municipal human resources. Following Aguilar (2006), this change is fundamental because the civil society was not granted with capacities to make relevant contributions by its own direction, to define its objectives and carry them out, much less to self-govern, so it was destined to be run and managed by the government.

Governance is a new way of analyzing problems “in a society.” In other words, it is built from “the way in which a society constructs and classifies collective problems and develops responses, content and processes to address them” (Thoening, 1997, p. 28); these solutions must be directed to “a process of promoting the well-being of people together with a dynamic process of economic development” (Midgley, 1995). It is a “useful concept for a better understanding of reality” (Hufty et al., 2006) and, consequently, a concept to promote the action of social actors in changing reality. As a new way of governing, “governance highlights the nature of collaboration among actors of a society to better direct the attention of public problems, as well as the fulfilment of the objectives and goals of the public space” (Aguilar, 2006, p. 119).

Network governance was developed as a model of intermediation of stakeholders in domestic or community politics. “Governance consists of managing networks” (Rhodes, 1997, p. 52); and subnational governments constitute the nodes that strengthen the relational density. Community policymaking moves from national negotiations between actors endowed with territorial responsibility toward negotiations in transnational arenas.

Modifications in terms of actors, competencies, scales, agendas, and functions in the framework of cooperative processes, proposed by governance, occupy a central place in the theoretical reflections linked to subnational governments and paradiplomacy.

Governance is generally expressed through networks of public policies that allow, or should allow, a plural participation, although not egalitarian, response to different criteria of representativeness. The institutions do it according to the general interests and the other actors, according to their respective individual, sectorial, or diffuse interests. Governance is synonymous with managing complex processes and this has huge implications for public institutions that have to learn to manage such complexity. It is therefore a slow, complex, and contradictory learning process because it must serve to improve and increase, precisely, social capacities.

(Morata, 2011, p. 37)

Local learning communities and the consequent modifications of social capacities resulting from multilevel governance systems are generating the emergence of new territorialities: new territoriality that will make sense if it is structured from a level of social cohesion that facilitates the integration of actors, agendas, policies, and financial means for the sustainability of regional development; new territoriality that finds its reason for being in the functionalist approaches that characterize the international actions of subnational units and their contributions to governance systems.

Formulation and implementation of public policies increasingly involve different agencies and levels of government, and multiple interactions between public authorities and private organizations. Functional and territorial differentiation has produced decision-making systems in which the problem-solving capacity of governments has been disaggregated into a collection of subsystems that are limited in tasks, competencies, and resources, and in which relatively independent participants own different pieces of information, represent different interests, and follow separate and potentially conflicting courses of action (Aguilar, 2010).

In short, multilevel governance systems constitute a platform for making consultative or binding decisions that involve a multiplicity of interdependent public and private actors located at different territorial scales in a continuous process of negotiation, deliberation, and implementation of shared strategies. From this perspective, multilevel governance will offer the structure on which the relational matrix of development will be built, given that it is “a system of continuous negotiation between governments located at different levels or territorial scales” (Marks, 1993), and of decision-making processes in which the participation of multiple actors should be allowed based on the increase in their social capacities (Morata, 2011).

Along these lines, Elkin Velásquez highlighted the role of paradiplomacy as a form of dialogue and work, for the reduction of asymmetries and the creation of public goods by proposing practical solutions and sustaining global governance in a context of “polylateralism” (Universitá di Bologna, 2021). This last concept is not new; it was used for the first time by Wiseman (1999) to identify the international relations of the state and other actors with international presence. Polylateralism is characterized by the fact that various actors of different natures collaborate, regardless of their legitimacy, to exercise diplomatic functions (Wiseman, 2004) and, from there, a multiplicity of instances is built where national governments, non-central governments, private corporations, civil society actors, and academia are clear about the importance of the internationalization of territories and communities (Universitá di Bologna, 2021).

Conclusions: Where Is Paradiplomacy Going?

What we (. . .) call the discipline of international relations has come a long way in history before it was considered as a scientific discipline within the framework of the social sciences. So long that it begins with the first considerations and interpretations of international reality. Theoretical interpretations of an international practice that goes back in time beyond the appearance of the sovereign State and the constitution of the European system of States.

The study of international processes, the study of international change, is usually the focus of international relations, and, as such, the actors—whether protagonists or marginal and in constant evolution—occupy a central interest. That is, do they have an active or reactive role in the face of change as a structural characteristic of international relations? As a result, “changes in epistemological assumptions and interpretations that help formulate and structure collective understanding and action constitute the most significant notion of learning in international relations” (Adler & Haas, 2009, p. 164).

Subnational governments have increased their participation on the international scene through the development of paradiplomatic strategies, fundamentally since the end of the Cold War. Regional integration processes have provided specific motivations for the international involvement and participation of subnational units. Regional integration and the development of multilevel governance stimulate a growing role for paradiplomacy as a specific mechanism for articulating translocal interests, especially in border areas.

Paradiplomacy has different profiles depending on the foreign policy of each state, the real nature of each of its borders, and on how the state understands that nature. Even today, national governments can facilitate or hinder paradiplomacy experiences. Foreign policy remains a matter of national competence, which can encourage or limit the international projection of its subnational governments. Paradiplomacy has grown either due to spontaneous phenomena, arising from the territories, or due to induced phenomena because of the dynamics of international cooperation and, particularly, because of decentralized international cooperation. In addition, it finds a fundamental impulse in the regional integration processes given that the participation of subnational governments is increasingly contemplated through their different programs.

Experience in paradiplomacy has generated “cooperation trajectories” that have allowed local institutions and actors to equip themselves with new capacities, both technical and financial, as well as political. Given that institutions tend to be shaped following similar institutions that perform in the same field of action or that are perceived as legitimate or successful (Di Maggio & Powell, 1983), institutional isomorphism has been a fundamental characteristic in paradiplomacy. The nonexistence of a single institutional framework for the development of paradiplomacy implies that its design will depend on the ability of local authorities and private agents to come to agreements, the available resources, the accumulation of other experiences, and the possibility of imitating similar structures, as well as proposing endogenous courses of action.

With a systemic structure more sensitive to changes and uncertainty, the theoretical diversity of international relations is one of its strengths as a disciplinary field, and the progress made toward a multi-paradigm shows that international relations constitute a complex reality (Oddone & Luna Pont, 2019). The evolution of paradiplomacy case studies toward comparative studies has allowed a theoretical organization in five perspectives: (a) international actors, (b) foreign policy and decision-making processes, (c) territorial development, (d) regional integration, and (e) governance. These approaches have been characterized by Cornago (2019) as relational approaches and have drawn the attention of researchers representing multiple disciplines in the social sciences. Similarly, the study of paradiplomacy has become a substantive part of the discussions on public diplomacy and new diplomacies, thus allowing the channeling of “intellectual innovations [that] help governments to redefine their expectations (. . .) and to coordinate their actions” (Adler & Haas, 2009, p. 157) for political innovation.

Beyond the frequently raised controversies, paradiplomacy is today a vibrant field of study in international relations (Cornago, 2019). Paradiplomacy worldwide is gaining momentum in terms of its diffusion to the extent that ideas and recommendations cross borders and spread through the academic communities through congresses, seminars, publications, and/or technical meetings. Nevertheless, the paradiplomacy research agenda can still be considered an incipient theoretical research agenda. Although important efforts have been recognized for the delimitation and conceptual systematization, it is timely to deepen the analysis at global and regional scales.

Further Reading


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  • 1. Other actors considered by Duchacek are the opposition, ethno-territorial communities, interest groups, and immigrants.

  • 2. Its definition implies three steps: (a) its establishment and formulation, (b) determination of available positions, and (c) choice of courses of action (the adoption of the decision).

  • 3. The foundation of foreign policy is the national interest, understood as the social, political, and economic needs that a state has for its existence and functionality (Velázquez, 2005, p. 70).

  • 4. Waltz (1954) proposed in the book Man, the State and War three levels of analysis for international relations: a first image centered on man, a second image on the state, and a third on the system.

  • 5. Following Beck (1997), it is interpreted that:

    multilocality or polytypicity, the transnationality of biography and the globalization of one's own life; provide a further motive for the undermining of the sovereignty of the Nation State . . .; thus, the interdependence between place and community (or society) dissolves. The act of changing and choosing place is the godfather of the glocalization of biographies. (p. 111)

  • 6. According to Mostov (2008), national sovereignty has to do with the jurisdiction of the territory and borders of the nation-state and the right to make laws, including the right to determine who has citizenship and who enters the country. This aspect of sovereignty (external dimension) constitutes the foundation that makes it possible to belong to international organizations and participate in the interstate system. Recognition of the sovereignty of a nation-state implies recognizing the inviolability of its borders and ultimate authority over what happens within those borders. This notion of external sovereignty (as a relationship with other states and international institutions) is based on the concept of hard borders (Milani & Ribeiro, 2010).

  • 7. Horizontal governance and vertical governance are used to refer to the social participation of communities in decision-making processes, to understand the articulation of the different levels of government, their institutional links up and down, in the decision-making process.