This paper first reviews and critiques the dominant realist and constructivist accounts of ASEAN, which have enjoyed much prominence in The Pacific Review since the journal’s founding in 1988.ASEAN behaviour and outcomes cannot be fitted into neat theoretical categories that emphasize either material or ideational variables in explanation. Instead, ASEAN displays complexities in behaviour that are the product of the contingent interaction between the material (power, territory,wealth) and the ideational (norms, ideas, identity) as member states actively seek to manage domestic order as well as regional order within and beyond ASEAN. In all of this, state interests and identities remain paramount, which means that the longstanding ASEAN norms of sovereignty/non-interference remain central to regional governance. Under these conditions, and despite the Charter’s newly articulated political norms of democratization, human rights, and the rule of law, the prospects seem doubtful for building a people-centred ASEAN Community in which regional governance displays inclusiveness, seeking to address the interests and needs of the region’s ordinary people as opposed to what its elites deem appropriate. The final portion of the paper explores what a critical approach to studying ASEAN might reveal. In particular, the paper attempts to identify whether there may be any political spaces opening up within existing structures and practices from which progressive change could emerge, even if slowly, particularly in the area of human rights and social justice, key elements in building an inclusive, ASEAN Community.
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