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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.
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 (Barth 1969, Jenkins 1996), the identity of a region heavily relies on anticipated similarity, which is (re-)produced by boundary-drawing and othering processes. In order to distinguish one region from another, discourses in sciences, politics, cultural activism or regional marketing draw on a range of identity sources referring to the nature, culture, history and life of local people. In contrast, regional identity resembles 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).