United Nations University Open Course Ware
What, then, is a region? It’s a simple question, yet one that defies a simple answer.
The term “region” means different things to different people. Regions can be defined variously by: geography, economic interaction, institutional or governmental jurisdiction, or by social or cultural characteristics.
“Regions are subjective artistic devices, and they must be shaped to fit the hand of the individual user. There can be no standard definition of a region, and there are no universal rules for recognizing, delimiting, and describing regions. Far too much time can be wasted in the trivial exercise of trying to draw lines around ‘regions'”.
This quote, given by Hart in 1982 Quote states well that “there is no standard definition of a region”. Regions are not preordained, given, or natural, and a region is not a formal organisation.
Regions are not somewhere ‘out there’, waiting to be discovered. No, they are constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed through interactions between various actors in response to changes in their internal and external environment on the basis of what is most appropriate for the pursuit of their commonly held goals.
For instance, the fact that the Mediterranean country Italy became a member of a regional organisation called North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was certainly not determined by geography, but was due to an act of political imagination and a subsequent political process. Today the location of a Mediterranean state in the North Atlantic is not any longer considered as something “odd”.
The construction of regions is part of the perpetual transformation of the international system, in which regions emerge, subsist and eventually cease to exist. Or, what we might label the process of regional integration and disintegration.
This also means that regions are not unitary or homogeneous units, they overlap and come in plural.
Although regions are not naturally constituted geographical units, they cannot exist without having a physical reality. Thus, territoriality is a sine qua non of regions. The territorial shaping of a region implies that regions require some kind of boundaries. After all, a territory can be defined as ‘a cohesive section of the earth’s surface that is distinguished from its surroundings by a boundary’. Boundaries have a dual role in the creation of a ‘sense of place’, namely the establishment of who is ‘inside’ and who is ‘outside’. Regional borders are the products of a continuous process of construction and deconstruction, which implies that regional borders are mutable.
An example of changing perceptions of a region is the change from regarding the border of Europe as falling between East and West Germany to including all the former Eastern European countries as potential members of the EU.