2002 Volume 75 Issue 6 Pages 421-442
In the changing process of traditional geography through spatial science to social science, the concept of regions has undergone remarkable changes, not only in content but also in the point of view and research methods. Recently, many Western geographers have investigated the process of rapid social changes and competition with related sciences, because it is inevitable for human geography to continue to adapt to the ontology of contemporary society and to develop concepts in connection with the other social sciences. In this paper, the author refers to research trends on the concept of regions in German-speaking countries where geography has proceeded in a somewhat unique way since World War II. The results obtained are summerized as follows.
1. Giddens (1990) and Werlen (1995, 1997) define contemporary society as a late-modern society, rather than as a postmodern one, characterized by the three characteristics of disembeddedness time-space distanciation, and globalization. However, the former two seem to be inherent properties of late-modern society characterized by the remarkable development of information and transportation technologys. We should more clearly define the basic properties of the contemporary late-modern society.
2. Based on the paradigm shift of geography, the concept of regions and their significance in geography have also obviously changed. While the research objective of traditional geography was to determine physically existing regions and to understand their structures as a whole, space-science geographers mainly study the functions of space, especially of distance, when considering a region as an analytical construct. After the change to space-science geography, a region became to be considered as a social rather than physical construct. In the 1980s, the investigations of regional consciousness and identitity regions were added in German-speaking countries.
3. Although the concept of regions has been actively discussed by many geographers, no consensus has yet been reached. Some tried to determine the structural principle of systems within it, while others considered it as a mere figure of thought for geographers. Although Werlen (1995, 1997) argued that the spatial actions of actors can play a more important role than the studies of regions themselves, Blotevogel (2000c) considered that three overlying regions consisted of real regions, activity regions, and identity regions as “regions in a complete sense.” In Europe the unit of regions became more important than the unit of countries owing to the progress of globalization, especially in the EU. However, a few geographers regard regions as only remnants of traditional societies.
4. Based on the loss of the central concept of geography, geographers in German-speaking countries recognize that the field is rapidly declining. However, the author believes that regions will remain as a central concept of human geography in the future and thus should not be neglected. We must consider regions as areas constructed by society. With the geographically uneven development of capitalism, the international division of labor will become clearer. Therefore, it will be important to investigate regional structures due to the overlaying relations of a region with networks to other regions in national and global scale.