Applied Geography: Principles and Practice: An Introduction to Useful Research in Physical, Environmental and Human Geography

By Michael Pacione | Go to book overview

27

Political spaces and representation within the state
Ron Johnston

regional geographers may perhaps be trying to put boundaries that do not exist around areas that do not matter.

(Kimble 1951:159)

‘Region’ is one of the commonest words in the geographical lexicon, adopted by adherents to a range of different philosophies within the discipline as a key concept with which their area of study can be identified. Much effort has been expended on the definition of regions, a great deal of it ad hoc. To some, defining and describing regions is the highest form of the geographer’s art (Hart 1982), whereas to others, like Kimble (1951), regions are largely irrelevant, geographers’ constructions of reality rather than reality itself: those constructions may become reality, however, as illustrated in this chapter. Two major types of region have been identified. Formal regions are relatively homogeneous areas on one or more predetermined characteristics—whether physical (such as climatic regions), human-made (social areas, say), or both (landscapes). Their definition involves determining the salient criteria, mapping those over the selected area and defining the boundaries around the separate regions, either subjectively, using a single identifier (such as the number of frost-free days per annum), or by statistical procedures based on the analysis of variance, in which the units within each region are more like each other than they are like the units in adjacent regions. The result is a mosaic of areas, with each relatively homogeneous internally. Functional regions are defined on a more limited range of characteristics, usually flows: the goal is to define areas dominated by a particular flow pattern—usually focused on a node (hence the alternative term ‘nodal region’). The outcome is a set of regions (which may not each comprise single contiguous blocks of territory), each focused on a particular core— such as the hinterland of a shopping centre or market town and the commuter-shed of a factory or industrial estate. From Kimble on, some geographers have argued that both types of region are largely irrelevant in the contemporary world, because of the growing interconnectedness of life, frequently expressed in relatively vague concepts such as ‘globalisation’ and ‘the global village’. Against this, it is argued that regions are crucial elements of the structuring of economic, social, cultural and political life, for three main reasons:
1 Regions (or places, or localities) provide the contexts within which most people are socialised, particularly although not only during the early years of their lives. We learn to be people in contexts that are both culturally and territorially defined, and from those among whom most of our daily interactions take place. Local cultures are spatially constrained—at a variety of scales—and their structuration (i.e. their creation and continual recreation) is the basic cause of the complex mosaic of cultural regions that comprises the contemporary world.
2 Although information technology allows the rapid movement of ideas and abstract

-375-

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