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Geographical Approaches

Regions and Regionalism

Wouter van Westerop Ferdi Pol

0412511 0439185

Tutor: Huib Ernste


Regions and Regionalism

1. Introduction

The world is often seen as a whole, consisting of a lot of countries. However the world can also be seen as a whole, consisting of a lot of different regions. All these different regions can be found on different scale levels. For example you can think of a group of countries which together form an economic alliance. But you can also think of a group of villages that are surrounded by big cities and for that reason stick together. Because of this diversity of scale levels all the people in the world have to deal with some kind of region, one way or another. As a result of this there are a lot of different points of view. For geographers it is most important and interesting to unify all these different thoughts and vision concerning regions and regionalism. This will come up for discussion in this paper.

This paper will pay attention to both regions and regionalism. However, these both subjects are connected with each other, because regionalism is about regions but regions are also formed by regionalism. In the second chapter we will explain what regions are. We will describe some definitions and after that we will describe five important visions about what regions are like. Also we will describe the ideas of some geographers. The third chapter is about what regionalism is. First we explain what regionalism is, and after that the we explain two visions within regionalism; the old regionalism and the new regionalism. We will end our paper with an example of a region and the development of it.



Because of the globalisation all over the world, the world is becoming more uniform. Some people even think that because of this process differences between regions will disappear. Of course there are examples of regions which changed because of the globalisation. But there are still a lot of regions which are unique and still are very different from other regions. Regions are often unique because of different aspects like culture, climate or landscape. Because of these aspects there will always be regions in the world. A region can be defined in a lot of different ways. In the next paragraph we will describe the most important definitions.


Definitions of region

In the literature about regions and regionalism there are different definitions of what a region is. For example, The Betuwe can be seen as a region, but Europe is also a region. When you define these regions you will have two definitions that are good, but at some points they will also be different from each other. Because of this there are many definitions, we will describe three of them.

A region is a territorial unit which has a relative independence in relation to the spatial history of individual actors. A region is produced en reproduced through various institutional practices (policy, culture, economy, etc) by individuals and groups (Paasi, 1996, p. 208). A region is any more or less well-defined geographical area of a country or continent, defined by geography, culture or history (wikipedia, 2006) A region is a part of the world with specific features and which is a part of a threezone division of core-regions, periphery-regions and semi-periphery-regions (Taylor, 1990, p.184-185). The differences between these definitions are not so big. For example, in the first definition regions are defined as territorial units. When we talk about territorial units we often think about small regions or units like the Betuwe or the Achterhoek. But a continent like Europe is also a sort of territorial unit. However, the third definition (region as a part of the world) describes regions like Europe better.

The definitions above are just a few of the various definitions that exist. Each definition is true but still they differ from each other. This diversity points out that there is not just one way to look at a region. This will also be explained in the next paragraph in which we describe different visions.


Visions on regions

Geographers (and also other scientists) have had different visions about what they see as a region. In this paragraph we describe five important visions about regions. There are lot of other visions, but these five visions give a good representation of the diversity of visions. The first vision is a traditional one while the other four are more modern.

A region as a part of a mosaic A region can be seen as a part of the world that can be isolated from that world. This means that the world includes a lot of different regions and each region has a unique character. This character is created by intra-regional relations within the region. All the regions together can be seen as a mosaic. Alfred Hettner (1859-1941) was one of the most important geographers within this vision. In his opinion the character of a region is made by a combination of different aspects (cultural, physical, economical, biological and social aspects). The Zusammensein (gathering) of all these aspects explains the Zusammenwirken (collaboration). This collaboration is responsible for the uniqueness of a region (de Pater, 2002, p.47). In other words, Hettner points out that intra-regional relations within a region are responsible for the development of the character of that region.
Alfred Hettner (1859-1941)

Within the traditional vision of regions as part of a mosaic there is a traditional typology of regions. This typology, made by the geographer Derwent Whittlesey (1890-1956) divides regions in three categories: 1. The uniform region A uniform region is also known as a single feature region. This means that in the region there is one main phenomenon, for example a wheat-region. 2. The homogeneous region In this region there are more features that are connected with each other. These regions are also known as multiple feature regions. 3. The polarised (or nodal) region A polarised region is a region that includes different places that are orientated on one central place. For example, all places where 30% of the citizens work in the central place belong to the polarised region of that same central place. (de Pater, 2002, p.48)

A region as an element of a world-system In this vision the character of a region is made by the relations that this region has with the world-system (all the other regions in the world together). When these external relations are changing, the character of the region will change too (de Pater, 2002, 59). Immanuel Wallerstein is a historical sociologist who saw three categories of regions within the world-system: core-regions, periphery-regions and semi-periphery-regions (Taylor, 1990). All these regions have to deal with the relations they have with other regions. For example, a core-region is often taking advantage of periphery-regions. In other words, the peripheryregions are responsible for the development of the core-region. This core-periphery-model of Wallerstein explains that regions are an element of a world-system and that each region is made by the relations with other regions.

A region as a combination of layers A region is made by historical layers. This means that each layer is made by the position of the region within the international economic system at a specific moment in time. All these layers will have influence on the possibilities of the region in the future. An example of this is the regions in world-system of the 19th century. In this century, during the Industrial Revolution, the existence of coal in regions was important. This coal was

needed for the iron/steel-industry (in that period this industry was very important). Because of this, these regions developed very fast and became rich and wealthy. When the iron/steel-industry moved to other places and regions the regions became less important and that lead to unemployment (de Pater, 2002: p65). This example explains that different periods in time will influence the development of a region. And therefore they will also have influence on the opportunities of the region in the future.

A region that creates his own opportunities This vision puts the accent on the initiatives that a region itself develops. These initiatives will form the development of the region. However, a region will always be in some way dependent on external conditions and resources (de Pater, 2002: p76). A region can create his own opportunities on different ways. For example, a region can collaborate with other regions on different levels. This can lead to development of the economy of that region. An other example is the development of new industries in a region. This can lead to more employment and after a while that will be good for the economy.

A region as a network of social relations A region is a network of social relations. Because of these relations a social group can construct their own region. When the social relations are changing, the character of the region will change too. Because of the different social groups within a region, the region itself will also have more characters (de Pater, 2002: p71). For example, immigrants that moved to a specific region will see it as a region with a lot of changes and possibilities for the future. But the working-class in that region will associate the region with work, school and other obligations.



A main point in Geography is regionalism. Since it is a main point in the Geography you should think that the thoughts concerning regionalism are mainly homogenous, but that is far from the truth. There are many different ways of thinking about regionalism. However there are two leading visions concerning regionalism. In this paper we will call them the old regionalism and the new regionalism. These are the two visions that will be dealt with in this paper. Like it was said before, this will make sure we cover the biggest part of the thinking about regionalism. First up is a description of the two leading visions (the new and the old regionalism) and after that we will describe an examples. Before the two leading visions within regionalism will be explained we will first describe shortly what regionalism is. In this paper regionalism is seen as a phenomenon closely related to nationalism. It focuses on the rights of the people within the region, such as nationalism focuses on the right of the people within the nation. In fact in some extreme cases regionalism has lead to the emergence of nation-state. Within nation-states all the people feel part of the nation; there is a strong national feeling. If a region like the Basque Country will actually become a country, this will result in a nation-state. Furthermore, and more prominent in this paper, regionalism is the way of thinking about regions. How do geographers think about regions? How do they think the regions are constructed? These are some questions on which regionalism focuses itself.


The old regionalism

The period before the mid-1970s was mainly dominated by what we call the old regionalism. In this decennium and the ones before the way of thinking in the science sphere can be called modernistic. In the modernity, scientist wanted to capture the reality in absolute truths and scientific laws. This way of thinking was also represented in geography. This meant that the majority of the geographers (in this time) wanted to seize geographic phenomena in absolute truths and laws. In this way there was no room for own interpretation or interaction between phenomena in the geography, and with this neither in regionalism. In the old regionalism geographers thought that regions changed automatically over time, by adaptation and evolution. If, for example, two regions came in conflict with each other, the old regionalism stresses that one region will adapt itself over time and reform itself into a region without conflicts. If necessary this means that one region has to redetermine its borders.

Looking at evolution, the economic state of the region comes to mind. A region that has lower economic growth than another will automatically grow and eventually well evolve itself into a region with higher economic growth. At the global scale level you can think of a third-world country which automatically evolves into a medium country and eventually into a first-world country. Because of these thoughts geographers, who thought in a way that can be determined as old regionalism, regional differences were seen as vanishing. The different regions that were still visible were seen as symbols of resistance (Gillbert, 1988). Furthermore regions had clear-cut borders and there was no discussion possible about this.


The new regionalism

In the new regionalism geographers start seeing systems and structures as more localized and open for interaction, so that the differences between regions were becoming more important in geographical studies. As mentioned, the new regionalism changed the scale level on which geographical research (concerning regionalism) was done. As Sayer puts it: the new regional geography does not privilege a particular scale of analysis equivalent to the traditional geographic region; any scale of study from global down to spatial divisions within buildings would apparently qualify, provided it involves geohistorical empirical research (Sayer, 1988). The emergence of the new regionalism around the mid-1970s can be seen as a response to new developments in social theory and changing societal goals. Social theory is mentioned here because of the fact that, in the time the switch from old to new regionalism was made, more and more geographers became aware of the need to integrate studies. Apart from only looking at the geographic point of view, geographers started to pay attention to related scientific research in for example social studies. Not only on the part of the integration of studies did the geographers broaden their horizon. They also switched from simple, aspatial material determinism to locality studies which situate people in the pace-time settings of everyday life and hence grasp their circumstances concretely instead of abstractly (Sayer, 1988). This meant that the ordinary people who should profit from geography became more important. The fact to switch to the concept of locality is by some geographers called to be one of the arguments for a new regional geography. As mentioned by Nigel Thrift: It is not just that localities differ from one another; even if they do not they are still required in the explanation of action and practical consciousness (Thrift, 1994). In the old regionalism regions were given a place within much bigger geographical systems. So the focusing on the local level is specific for the new regionalism. 8

The new regionalism rejected many aspects of chorology, being the old regionalism (Gilbert, 1988). In the new regionalism geographers tent to agree on the point that not adaptation or evolution changes regions, but also more the dialectical relationships within the society, form regions. With dialectical relationships is meant that the region has effects on the society within itself and the society has effects on the region it is part of. The interaction between society and the region is constant, because of the constant interaction it is a process. It is this process that creates the homogeneous unity (concerning thought and action) which distinguishes one region from another(Gilbert, 1988). This theory can be summarized as follows: Regions are not the fortuitous result of any sequence of independent events in a portion of the earth. they are formed through historically determined sequence which both stems from the social relations specific to the region and allows them to be reproduced (Peet, 1978).


Some different dimensions within the new regionalism

In the paragraph above we described that not all the thoughts about regionalism are the same. But that does not only count for the difference between the old and the new regionalism. This also goes for different dimensions within the two different forms of regionalism. There are given some examples for different point of views within the new regionalism.

new regionalism and capitalism One of the definitions that is most prominent in the new regionalism concerns that the mode of production (and the social processes associated with this mode) contributes to the differences between regions. A capitalistic way of production differs from a communistic way of production; this is (according to this dimension) the main cause of the difference between the USA and the former USSR. new regionalism and identity Another definition of new regionalism focuses on the identity of people. It states that the region is a specific set of cultural relationships between a group and particular places. These groups have a certain awareness of there common culture and there differences from other groups. People from the south of Limburg will have a very different identity then people in a city like Amsterdam, because of these different identities the regions are different from one another.

new regionalism and social interaction Some other geographers think that the role of domination and power within the society is the main factor that makes regions different from one another. They focus on the relationship that link together individuals and groups. These links concern a wide band of aspects from the social life such as economics and culture. The role of power is different in the Western part of Europe then in most part of the Middle-East. This is the main focus for this dimension; this is exactly why these regions are different from one another. new regionalism and interest of labour Another dimension within the new regionalism is the one where the differences in interest of labour are the priority of thought. In this dimensions geographers approach differences between regions, by looking at the different interests of labour. If, for example, in region A they main interest of labour fishing is, then this region will be different from region B where trade is the prominent interest of labour. About this dimension it is often said that it is firmly rooted in political economy.

However these dimensions are different from one another, they have one fundamental thing in common. They all approach the region in a structural way. This structural approach is one of the main aspects of the new regionalism. The structural approach of the region means that the region is seen as a whole that cannot be reduced to its parts; it is based on relations between these parts rather than on the parts themselves. These relations develop because of the whole, and the whole does not exists without them. Sayer calls this necessary relations (Gillbert, 1988).



The case of Europe (a practical example)

In the previous chapters of this paper we have seen that the concept of regions and regionalism is not unequivocal. When we will describe Europe we also encounter this. Europe can be described as a group of countries, but that doesnt directly mean that these countries together form one region. Namely there are a lot of differences (cultural, political, economical, etc) between the European countries. Because of these differences its often very difficult to see Europe as one coherent region.


The development of Europe as a region

The concept of Europe is very old. However, in the beginning (19th century) of Europe it was only a continent that existed of many different countries. All these countries were not coherent and had little to do with other European countries. A lot of countries in Europe were superpowers (for example Germany, France and the United Kingdom). Because of the status these countries had, they often had irregularities which sometimes lead to conflicts and wars. There was little collaboration between them. In the next century (the 20th) the European superpowers lost influence on the world-scale. Two other superpowers became more important; The United States of America and USSR. With this, the conflicts Europe had to deal with became bigger and more complex. In the first instance this lead to less unity in Europe, but at the end of World War II this was proved wrong. Shortly after the end of this War the so called Cold War started. The two superpowers (USA and USSR) made the European superpowers realize that they had to work together. Otherwise they would become a prey to the USA or Russia. Eventually the Cold War (and with this the power of the two superpowers) has lead to continually growing unity in Europe. Europe became more and more one region. The last two decades there developed a new region within Europe: The European Union. This region is mainly generated by economic and political interests. With the arrival of the European Union regions on a lower scale level became more important. De borders between countries became more and more vague and this lead to the revival of border crossing regions. For example: The European Union provides her subsidys more on a regional level than before.


We can conclude that Europe has transformed from a continent with mostly unconnected countries to a more united region. The Cold War played a important role in this development. After this, regions became more important within Europe (read The European Union). Because of these impetuous developments in the past it is very difficult to predict the development of Europe in the future. What kind of region will Europe be the next decades? At this point there is no one-sided answer to this question and therefore this is an interesting subject to discuss about.




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