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Paasi (2013) denotes regional identity as social construct, which is subject to competing discourses embedded in power relations. According to this constructivist approach, it is defined as not being fixed, but rather temporal and therefore alterable. Reproduced through hegemonic discourses, regional identity is at the same time representative of and constitutive for socio-spatial orders, by for example influencing our mental maps and collective action. Consequently, it plays a pivotal role for the construction and institutionalization of regions (Zimmerbauer & Paasi 2013)
In order to deconstruct how regional identity is made, by whom and with what consequences, Paasi (2003) differentiates between the identity of a region and regional identity. The former resembles the image of a region. Like other forms of collective identity, the identity of a region heavily relies on anticipated similarity which is (re-)produced through boundary-drawing and othering processes (cf. Barth 1969, Jenkins 1996). In order to distinguish one region from another, discourses in sciences, politics, cultural activism, regional marketing, and governance draw on a range of identity sources as features of nature, culture and people. Jasso (2005), Messely (2014), Raagmaa (2002) and Paasi (2013) have for example identified the following: (1) nature, landscape and built environment, (2) culture and folklore, (3) significant objects and symbols, (4) community and ownership of place, (5) socio-economic situation, (6) language and dialect a well as (7) history and memory. In contrary, the latter refers to a sense of belonging, a regional consciousness and identification of people with the institutional practices, discourses and symbols that are expressive of ‘their’ region. Image of and identification with the region can but most not coincide.
As other collective identities, regional identity does not only have to be claimed, but also recognized by others in order to be successfully performed (Jenkins 1996). This means that also internal identification and external categorization do not necessarily have to overlap (Brubaker & Cooper 2000), which leads to the question how regional identities are manifested. This is what Paasi (1986) calls institutionalization of or socialization into regional identity. Corner stones of this naturalization process are symbols and communication by which regional identity becomes temporarily fixed as a self-evident subject (Jenkins 1996, Raagmaa 2002).
For more information, see: Barth, F. (1969): Ethnic Groups and Boundaries. The Social Organization of Culture Difference. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.
Brubaker, R.; Cooper, F. (2000): Beyond Identity. In: Theory and Society, 29 (1), pp. 1-47.
Jasso, M. (2005): Regional Identity. Its Background and Management. In: Roch, I.; Petrikova, D. (Ed.): Border-Free River Basins. Mitteleuropäische Ansätze zu Entwicklung und Förderung landschaftsbezogener Identität, pp.171-180.
Jenkins, R. (1996): Social identity. Key Ideas. London: Routledge.
Messely, L. (2014): On regions and their actors. An analysis of the role of actors and policy in region- specific rural development processes in Flanders. Ghent University: Ghent, Belgium.
Paasi, A. (2013). Regional planning and the mobilization of ‘regional identity’: from bounded spaces to relational complexity. Regional Studies, 47 (8), pp. 1206-1219
Paasi, A. (2003): Region and Place. Regional Identity in Question, in: Progress in Human Geography, 27 (4), pp. 475-485. Paasi, A. (1986). The institutionalization of regions. A theoretical framework for understanding the emergence of regions and the constitution of regional identity. Fennia 164(1), pp. 105-146.
Raagmaa, G. (2002) Regional Identity in Regional Development and Planning. In: European Planning Studies, 10 (1), pp- 55-76.
Zimmerbauer, K.; Paasi, A. (2013): When old and new regionalism collide: Deinstitutionalization of regions and resistance identity in municipality amalgamations. In: Rural Studies 30, pp. 31-40.