Regions and regionalism

Michael Keating
2011 Regions and Cohesion / Regiones y Cohesión / Régions et Cohésion  
It is notoriously diffi cult to defi ne the region. It is a territorial space, certainly, so we can exclude virtual spaces from our consideration, but it can take a number of territorial confi gurations. There is a conventional but still useful distinction between substate regionalism, studied traditionally by geographers, planners, sociologists, political scientists and historians, and supra-state regions, studied by other geographers and in international relations and strategic studies.
more » ... egic studies. Economists may make use of both. A third conception is the transnational region, which cuts across the boundaries of states, taking in some but not all of the territory or more than one political community. All these meanings, however, are relative to the nation-state, being above, below, or across it but not questioning its standing as the authoritative defi ner of territorial boundaries. Most of them also unproblematically use the term "nation-state" to defi ne both a sovereign polity and one in which state and nation coincide, although in plurinational polities these are quite diff erent meanings. A more radical use of the term region dissociates it from any necessary connection with the state in general or a specifi c state in particular. Regions in this broader sense may be defi ned by functional systems, notably economic ones, by culture, by history and the interpretation of history, by political opportunity, or by institutions. Their relation to the system of states is not given a priori and is o en problematic. It is this more radical interpretation of the region that has driven the revived interest in regions and regionalism in the last 20 years, including the two "new regionalisms," the one in regional economic, social, and political studies, and the other in international relations. Here regions are seen as spaces in their own right rather than as either aggregations or subdivisions of states. Much of the drive to new regionalism comes from functional considerations. Economic change and development have escaped the bounds of the state and become global; but at the same time the specifi c character of particular places is ever more important in explaining economic dy-
doi:10.3167/reco.2011.010102 fatcat:6iwu3j5fnfdrniqprh562h3uau