From places to flows? Planning for the new 'regional world' in Germany
conference contributionposted on 07.12.2011 by John Harrison, Anna Growe
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The last two decades have been dominated by discourses describing a resurgence of regions. Part and parcel of this discourse has been how leading proponents of what is labelled the ‘new regionalism’ documenting how the collapse of Atlantic Fordism and onset of globalization is seeing the region challenge the nation-state as the ‘natural economic zone’ (Ohmae, 1995), alongside its primacy as the site/scale at which economic management is conducted, social welfare delivered, and political subjects are identified by their national citizenship. Captivating academics (interested in interpreting capitalism’s new economic and spatial form) and policymakers (casting increasingly ‘envious eyes’ toward the regional zones of the Atlantic and European growth economies) alike, the new regionalist orthodoxy of the mid-to-late-1990s saw the region canonized in academic and political discourse as a functional space for economic planning and governance. Nevertheless, despite largely unprecedented levels of intellectual and political energy being invested in the conviction that regions are central to modern life, critics of the new regionalism generally, and normative claims relating to the formation of the ‘regional world’ in particular, responded to the blind faith in which regions were being championed to expose a series of deep-rooted problems, contradictions, and challenges. Of paramount concern among critics has been the exposition of widespread conceptual amnesia when it comes to defining the region. Often assumed, rarely defined, it is hard to dispute how the region remains an ‘object of mystery’ (Harrison, 2006), an ‘enigmatic concept’ (MacLeod and Jones, 2007), and a ‘complicated category’ (Paasi, 2010) for those trying to engage with this most durable of constructs. Even in the work of the political scientist, Michael Keating, one of the most consistently insightful scholars on this aspect of the new regionalism, while it is acknowledged that regions take various forms (e.g. administrative, cultural, economic, governmental, historical) his focus, and that of those advancing claims we were now living in a ‘regional world’, became narrowly focused and remained principally with regions as actual or potential subnational political units – be they administrative or governmental.
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