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The resurgence of the ‘Region’ and ‘Regional Identity’: theoretical perspectives and empirical observations on regional dynamics in Europe



‘New regionalism’, ‘region’, ‘city-region’, ‘cross-border region’, ‘border’ and ‘identity’ have become important catchphrases on the global geo-economic and geopolitical scene. The resurgence of these terms has been part of the transformation of both political economy and governance at supra-state, state and sub-state scales. Regions have been particularly significant in the EU where both the making of the Union itself and the ‘Europe of regions’ are concrete manifestations of the re-scaling of state spaces and the assignment of new meanings to territory. Such re-scaling has also led to increased competition between regions; a tendency that results from both the neo-liberalisation of the global economy and from a regionalist response. Regional identity, an idea at least implicitly indicating some cohesiveness or social integration in a region, has become a major buzzword. It has been particularly identified in the EU’s cohesion policy as an important element for regional development. In spite of their increasing importance in social life and academic debates, regions, borders and identities are often studied separately, but this paper aims at theorising and illustrating their meanings in an integrated conceptual framework and uses the sub-state regions in Europe, and particularly in Finland, as concrete examples. Regions are conceptualised here as processes that gain their boundaries, symbolisms and institutions in the process of institutionalisation. Through this process a region becomes established, gains its status in the broader regional structure and may become a significant unit for regional identification or for a purported regional identity. This process is based on a division of labour, which accentuates the power of regional elites in the institutionalisation processes.



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* This research has been carried out when the author has served as an Academy Professor of the Academy of Finland and when leading the projects financed by the Academy (No. 1210442 and No. 121992). This support is gratefully acknowledged. I am grateful to Rick Fawn and two anonymous referees whose comments were very helpful in developing this paper.

The resurgence of the ‘Region’ and ‘Regional Identity’: theoretical perspectives and empirical observations on regional dynamics in Europe



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