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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 (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 for example features of nature, culture and people. 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, 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:
Jenkins, R. (1996): Social identity. Key Ideas. London: Routledge. 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.
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.